People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 27

July 03, 2011

 The “Pink Tide” Reaches Peru


Yohannan Chemerapally


THE victory of Ollanta Humala in the presidential elections held in the first week of June has signalled the advance of the leftist “pink tide” sweeping Latin America to the shores of Peru. Humala, a left wing nationalist narrowly beat Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the former Peruvian president, Alfredo Fujimori. Humala, the candidate of the Gana Peru electoral bloc, received 51.4 per cent of the vote. For Humala, it has been a case of being second time lucky. He had narrowly lost the presidency five years ago to Alan Garcia. Garcia, a former leftist, had himself made a dramatic comeback, after a lacklustre presidency in the late eighties. In the 2006 elections, Humala, a former army officer, had openly flaunted his proximity to the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez. He wore red shirts on the campaign trail to highlight his radicalism. 11 years ago, Humala, had led an abortive coup attempt against government of Alberto Fujimori. Chavez, before being elected in 1998, had also led a failed coup attempt in 1992 before going on to win the presidency.  


Humala’s advisers, it seems, had come to the conclusion, that his close identification with Chavez had cost him victory in the last election. This time, on the campaign trail, Humala exchanged his red shirts for staid business suits. The right wing in Peru had claimed that if elected, Humala would be a proxy of the Venezuelan leader. The Bush administration, already rattled by the string of victories by left wing candidates all over the region, had used its considerable influence to prevent Humala from being elected in 2006. Cables released by Wikileaks have revealed Washington’s deep suspicions about Humala in the run up to the 2006 elections. US officials alleged that Chavez was trying to export his “Bolivarian” revolution to Peru through the auspices of Humala. In the 2011 elections, Washington’s preferred candidate was Keiko Fujimori.  Fujimori had openly shown her preference for the US while Humala chose to be identified with Brazil, the economic and political powerhouse of the region. The Obama administration feared that a Humala victory would give Brazilian companies the edge in Peru’s lucrative minerals sector. The rivalry between the US and Brazil for influence in the region is now in the open.


 Now for the first time in recent history, with the pink tide having reached Peru, Washington will have to deal with yet another leftist president in a region that has become increasingly hostile to American hegemonism. Regional groupings like the UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) and ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), have helped regional integration. The US has not been invited to join either of the two groupings. Only Chile and Colombia have pro-American right wing governments. To Washington’s chagrin, even the Colombian government under the newly elected president, Manuel Santos, is veering towards the left wing governments. On July 5, the leaders of the southern hemisphere will be meeting in Caracas to firm up the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). This new grouping will include all countries except the US and its close ally, Canada. The aim of the leaders of the region is to sideline the Organisation of American States (OAS) which was commandeered on many occasions by the US to further its anti-democratic goals in the hemisphere.


During this year’s presidential campaign, Humala distanced himself from Chavez and instead chose another “moderate” leftist, the former president of Brazil, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, as his new role model. In this year’s presidential elections, Humala curtailed his radical rhetoric to present himself as a candidate who would play by the rules of established Peruvian politics. He pledged that he would not amend the constitution to extend term limits, as had happened in other Latin American countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua and Ecuador. Humala has been emphasising that his model of governance for Peru will be the one successfully implemented by Lula in Brazil. At the same time, he has been critical of the generous concessions being given to multinational corporations for the extraction of the country’s bountiful natural resources. The government of Alan Garcia had shown little concern for the rights of the indigenous communities on whose land the mining, drilling and logging activities of the foreign companies were going on. Humala has said that he will make the multinationals pay much more for their exploitation of the country’s resources.


 In the first round of elections, held in early May, Humala had come out on top followed by Fujimori. The three candidates who lost out in the primaries were Alejandro Toledo, a former president, a former finance minister Pedro Pablo Kucynski and a former mayor of Lima, Luis Castaneda.  These three candidates shared the same neo-liberal ideology and in the process split the right wing vote, helping Fujimori to emerge as the standard bearer of the right in the final round. The influential right wing media aided by the business elites switched their support behind Fujimori. According to commentators in the region, there was also a racial element that influenced the voting process. Humala’s support was among the dispossessed and marginalised. Humala himself has indigenous roots and is called “el Indio Humala” in the country’s elite owned media. The lighter skinned Peruvians and the majority of the white middle class residents of Lima, the capital, which has gained a lot from the economic boom of the last decade, voted overwhelmingly for Fujimori.


Many Peruvians still consider president Fujimori as the man who revived Peru’s economy and saved the country from anarchy.  Fujimori Senior is currently serving a long 25 year prison term in Peru after having been found guilty of ordering the death squad related killings of civilians during the brutal campaign against the left wing Shining Path and Tupac Amaro guerrillas.  Many of the disgraced president’s former close advisers had joined his daughter as advisers in her bid for the presidency. She had promised to adopt the tough style of governance that had characterised the Fujimori era of the nineties. “If we defeated terrorism in the 1990’s of course we can defeat common crime now, with a heavy hand”, was one of her quotes. Peru in recent years has attracted narco-traffickers in a big way. Militant groups like the Shining Path have started reorganising and begun to stage attacks on the security forces. Keiko had invited the former New York Mayor, Rudi Guliani and a right wing Republican to campaign with her. Guliani is credited with having made New York a relatively crime free metropolis.


What helped Humala tilt the electoral scales in his favour was the eleventh hour support he received from some right wing intellectuals and politicians, including Toledo. Toledo had received 16 per cent of the votes in the first round. The Peruvian Nobel laureate for literature and a former politician, Mario Vargas Llosa, had appealed to his countrymen to vote for Humala in the second round. Before the campaign had entered the run-off stage, Llosa was critical of both the front runners, saying that choosing between them was like choosing between “AIDS and Terminal Cancer”. Llosa had lost to Fujimori in the 1990 presidential elections. Over 100 Peruvian intellectuals signed a letter against the “resurrection of Fujimorismo”, stating that “the biggest triumph of Peruvian democracy was the rejection of this dictator”.


After his victory, Humala has not departed from his campaign script. He was quick to reassure the multinationals which have invested heavily in the country’s mining sector and said that the US continues to be a “strategic partner”. After his victory, Humala embarked on a five nation Latin American tour.  Noticeably excluded from his itinerary were Venezuela and Bolivia, whose leaders are the most vehement critics of American policy in the region. Humala’s first port of call was Brasilia, where he met with the current president, Dilma Roussef and his current mentor, the charismatic former president, Lula.


 Peru despite being one of the major metals exporters in the world and also one of the fastest growing economies still has one-third of its population mired in poverty. Eight per cent of the population live in absolute poverty. Humala has promised to give a greater share of Peru’s mineral wealth to the poor and a guaranteed pension to people over 65. The other measures he plans to introduce include the introduction of windfall profit tax on the mining industry to finance increases in public sector salaries and expanding health care facilities in rural areas.


“It is not possible to say that the country is progressing when 12 million people are living in miserable conditions without electricity or running water”, Humala said after his victory at the polls. The financial markets were initially jittery after Humala’s victory with the stock market plunging by 12.5 per cent on the day the results were announced. But the financial markets have since rebounded. Humala has once again received a certificate from Llosa. “Humala’s victory, contrary to what his adversaries say, does not put economic development in danger. I believe he has given enough proof, above all in the second round, that he will respect political democracy, the market economy and private property”, Llosa said from his residence in Spain.   


As Humala himself has acknowledged on several occasions, the market economy has left a significant section of Peruvians marginalised. In his neighbourhood, it was state intervention that rescued millions of people out of poverty. Humala’s core support bases in the impoverished rural areas of the country expect radical measures from him to alleviate the dire situation they currently are in. Humala has already said that he proposes to give Amerindian communities the right to veto mining developments on their lands. Interesting times are ahead for Peru.