Peru’s presidential election in April will come at a time when voters across Latin America are expressing a desire for change.
In November, for the first time since democracy was reintroduced there, a right-wing candidate, Mauricio Macri, was elected president in Argentina. December saw the Venezuelan Socialist Party lose its majority in the National Assembly after sixteen years in power. Dilma Roussef, Brazil’s president and leader of the left-wing Workers’ Party, is under threat of impeachment with approval ratings at an all-time low.
Voters in Peru are no less keen on a break even though their president, Ollanta Humala, has turned out to be far less radical in his populism than his 2011 campaign rhetoric and media coverage may have led them to believe.
A reluctance to devalue the sol, a collapse in world commodity prices and protests at the deregulation of extractive industries promise an uncomfortable year for Peru’s president, Ollanta Humala, before the election in 2016.
After more than decade as one the highest-growing economies in the world, Peru’s expansion weakened last year. Falling commodity prices, particularly a 25 percent price reduction in copper in the last six months, have hit Peru hard.
Last month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Peru brought new attention to a long-standing conflict between those seeking to develop the South American country’s economy and those trying to protect its environment.
Consecutive Peruvian governments have been accused of disregarding the effects of extractive activities on the environment and on its indigenous peoples. A general desire to cash in on Peru’s natural resources is seen as a threat in the north of the country while drug traffickers, illegal miners and loggers have helped contribute to the ransacking of the jungle areas of the east.
The next Peruvian presidential election will take place in less than two years. In many ways this signifies the country’s progress, as it will be the first time in Peru’s history that a fourth consecutive democratic election is held.
As things stand, it is Keiko Fujimori of the conservative Fuerza Popular who has captured the public’s attention. Recent polls put her way ahead of the pack with a 32 percent approval rating. The liberal Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is lagging behind with 11.6 percent.
Fujimori is a familiar name in Peru. It is one that divides public opinion and gave birth to a political ideology, Fujimorism. This all results from the often controversial and never dull presidency of Keiko’s father, Alberto.
His supporters say that his is a legacy of having quelled the threat of Maoist insurgents and of rebuilding the economy. His “Fujishock” free-market reforms started a cycle of economic prosperity that is only now beginning to slow down.
Critics say Fujimori’s means of achieving this were not justified by the results. They believe he has been rightfully incarcerated for gross human rights abuses (when tackling the terrorist threat), for his unlawful presidential coup in 1992, for mass corruption through embezzlement of state funds (to the tune of $15 million) and for browbeating political opposition through his control of the media — all undertaken by his national intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos. Read more “Keiko in Father’s Footsteps: Peru’s Next President?”
Peru’s former minister for women’s affairs and social development, Ana Jara Velasquez, was sworn in as President Ollanta Humala’s sixth prime minister last month. But only on Wednesday, by one vote, did her appointment receive congressional ratification.
When asked about his fifth prime ministerial resignation in three years, President Humala, never a man for hyperbole, said “ministerial postings always come with a limited lifespan.”
Peru’s newly appointed anti-drug chief, Antonio Otarola, claims that his agency, Devida, is on course to meet its coca plantation eradication targets for 2014. Unfortunately, this is part of a rather worrisome picture.
Otarola, a former defense minister, says that in the fight against the growing narcotics trade, his agency is set to reach 30,000 hectares of coca plantation eradication per year, triple the levels managed under the previous government.
Those figures sound impressive and are in keeping with the notion that the war on drugs is a priority for President Ollanta Humala but, as ever, the realities of Peruvian politics are rarely what they seem.
Last month, the Lima Chamber of Commerce announced that annual economic growth needed to remain at 5.5 percent if Peru’s poverty reduction is to continue as anticipated. That may well be attainable though the price could be environmental degradation and social unrest.
The Latin American country has enjoyed something of an economic miracle since the turn of the century. Once the major threat of the Shining Path Maoist insurgency had subsided, Peru experienced steady and then exponential growth. Over the past decade, it has become one of the world’s fastest growing economies.
“War on terror” has been a convenient turn of phrase for some opportunistic politicians since the turn of the century. However, the news last week that twenty four Shining Path members were seized in connection with Peru’s flourishing cocaine trade is a timely reminder of the country’s arduous struggle against terrorism. This has left an unyielding stain on Peruvian society for over thirty years and has not yet been completely wiped out.
Shining Path, or El Sendero Luminoso, is a Maoist guerrilla movement that led what it called a “people’s war” against Peru’s “bourgeois” democracy in the 1980s in an attempt to achieve a pure communist state.
Late last month, an agreement was finally reached between Chile and Peru on a maritime border dispute that dated back to 1985. This followed a ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague which gave Peru over 70 percent of the disputed maritime territory. It is hoped that this will usher in a period of reconciliation and signal an end to border disputes in the region. As Peru’s president, Ollanta Humala, said following the ruling, “Peru has closed the book on the border issue.”
The longstanding rift dates back to the late nineteenth century when Bolivia and Peru on one side and Chile on the other fought the War of the Pacific. Bolivia had a coastline at the time that stretched from Antofagasta to Tocopilla, now both in Chile. As Chile was the economically stronger power and had invested heavily in southern Peru’s nitrate industry and Bolivia’s coastal mines, these two countries felt threatened and reacted through nationalizations and increased taxation.