[Marxism] Humala and the Peruvian left
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Apr 25 07:40:46 MDT 2006
Peru's Populist Gamble
by MARK ENGLER
[posted online to www.thenation.com on April 18, 2006]
On April 9 Ollanta Humala, a stocky 43-year-old ex-military officer who
exudes a plainspoken charisma, claimed victory in the first round of Peru's
presidential elections. Campaigning on a left-leaning platform, he vowed to
pull his country out of a pending free-trade agreement with the United
States. Humala's campaign echoed criticisms of market-driven "neoliberal"
globalization from reformers like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in
Bolivia, Néstor Kirchner in Argentina and Luis Inácio Lula da Silva in
Brazil. But Humala--a political figure with a dubious past and an uncertain
ideology--does not fit easily into the political trend embodied by these
Garnering 31 percent of the vote, Humala bested a wide range of less
striking opponents--although he did not win enough votes to avoid a runoff,
expected to be held in late May or early June. In an unusually close battle
for runner-up, centrist former president Alan Garcia, who governed Peru in
the late 1980s, currently has a thin lead over conservative business
candidate Lourdes Flores, who campaigned to be elected the country's first
woman president. With just over 88 percent of votes counted, Garcia leads
24.42 percent to 23.34 percent in his bid to enter the runoff against Humala.
Relative to these two competitors, Humala has clearly positioned himself as
the most progressive candidate in the running. Yet whether he genuinely
belongs within the region's resurgent left is hotly debated.
That large segments of the Peruvian left are critical of Humala is a fact
not often noted when comparisons are made to Chávez and Morales. "He
bandies about socialist ideas in a highly improvised manner, but cannot
explain how he plans to bring about change, nor with whom," said Socialist
Party leader Javier Diez Canseco of Humala in an interview with the
Inter-Press Service. "There is a divorce between what he says and what he
Diez Canseco, a steadfast activist and political organizer, would better
fit the mold of Latin America's new progressive leadership. He polled under
1 percent in this week's elections, however. Since Izquierda Unida, Peru's
coalition of progressive parties, fell apart in the early 1990s, the left
has been weak and divided. "This has allowed figures like Humala to fill
the void," says Youngers.
Skeptics of Humala's ascendancy fear that the candidate could repeat the
performance of Ecuador's Lucio Gutiérrez, another ex-military officer and
past coup leader. Gutiérrez was hailed in 2002 as a fresh addition to the
New Left when he was elected president on a platform criticizing
neoliberalism. Once in power, he quickly turned on his campaign promises,
alienated his indigenous supporters, backed Washington's conservative
economic policies and tried to pack the Ecuadorian courts to forestall
impeachment on corruption charges. With massive street protests demanding
Gutiérrez's resignation, a special session of Congress voted to remove him
from office in April 2005. Well before then, Ecuador quietly disappeared
from the list of countries whose leaders represent a leftist revitalization.
It is not clear what will happen in the second round of Peru's presidential
elections, nor what outcome would be best for those who have benefited
least from Toledo's neoliberal rule. Humala's first-round win was not as
decisive as some expected. The often-hostile Peruvian press declared it "a
victory with the flavor of defeat." Opinion polls suggest that Lourdes
Flores could prevail over Humala in a runoff. Many analysts believe that
Alan Garcia, a gifted orator, could prove to be both a better campaigner
and more adept at cutting deals with voting blocs whose candidates have
Neither of these candidates, if elected, would go far toward reversing the
policies that have regularly kept Toledo's approval ratings below 15
percent. A large part of Humala's draw, especially among the rural poor, is
a legitimate frustration with an economic system that has provided them
with little opportunity to overcome their hardships and with the political
parties that have failed to instate significant reforms. This is what the
Bush Administration consistently overlooks in its blanket condemnation of
Latin American populism--and what makes it increasingly estranged from the
region's newly elected governments.
If Humala can overcome his authoritarian leanings and live up to his
campaign pledges, he could chart a promising new course for his country.
For the Peruvian people, believing that he can do so of his own volition,
or that they will be able hold him accountable, would be a serious gamble.
But absent a better option, it may be one they are willing to take.
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