June 6, 2006
The electoral victory of Aprista candidate Alan Garcia was about what was expected, and unlike his historic election in 1985, there is a more subdued atmosphere among the followers of his party. Most people agree that the results were more a rejection of Ollanta Humala than an endorsement of Alan Garcia, or his policy agenda. The circumstances now are much different than what they were at that time, when Peru was in default on its foreign debt, with the budget deficit soaring. Today, in contrast, most economic indicators are fairly positive, but you would never know it from all the complaining that is voiced in Peru. The one glaring defect in the economic recovery since the financial panic that swirled around Latin America a few years ago is that very little benefit has accrued to the poorer classes. That discontent was fully exploited by Garcia's rival, Ollanta Humala.
The role reversal occasioned by the rise of the populist candidate even has the mainstream media confused. For example, the Washington Post cast Garcia has a virtual centrist, which seems bizarre to me. No person in his right mind could possibly think that Garcia or his party put a priority on friendly relations with the United States or international capital. To the contrary, APRA retains a strong programmatic commitment to an agenda of economic nationalism. In fact, Garcia wrote a book at the time of Desert Storm that referred to the United States as the "new totalitarian" force in the world. (I have a copy.) True, Garcia has moderated over the years, as his Enrique Cornejo, Garcia's principal economic adviser, tried to emphasize (I interviewed him in 1994), but you can't change that much in 15 years. The confusion over Garcia's agenda just goes to show that everything is relative.
La Republica (in Spanish) analyzes Garcia's speech, which expressed magnanimity, saying there were no losers in the elections just completed. Easy for him to say, perhaps, but a nice gesture anyway. Garcia has a huge amount of distrust to overcome before he will be able to accomplish much once he takes office. He is a very smart man and a savvy politician, and I'm sure he is well aware that he needs to mend a lot of fences before Inauguration Day on July 28.
As for the international implications, the BBC emphasized Garcia's defiant rejection of Hugo Chavez, saying that his victory signified a choice in favor of Peruvian sovereignty:
[The voters of Peru] have defeated the efforts by Mr. Hugo Chavez to integrate us into his militaristic and backwards expansion project he intends to impose over South America. Today, Peru has said no.
Of course, everyone wants to know what Hugo Chavez thinks, since he had bluntly endorsed Humala and threatened to cut off diplomatic ties if Garcia won. Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez said that diplomatic relations between Venezuela and Peru will depend on what actions Peru takes. See El Universal of Caracas. One can only imagine the enormous pressure faced by Venezuelan diplomats who are obliged to put a positive spin on the absurd rantings of their rogue president.
This marks only the second time in its 80-year history that APRA has won a presidential election (aside from the 1962 election that was nullified by the armed forces). The Popular American Revolutionary Alliance is a fascinating transnational political movement, with perhaps the strongest organization of all political parties in Latin America. In 1985 there was a huge "pent-up demand" by party members for government jobs, which made achieving fiscal objectives much more difficult. The "Peruvian Aprista Party," as it is formally known, is nationalist and left of center in most respects, but what makes it unique is the intellectual legacy left by its founder, Victor Raul Haya de la Torre. He wrote copious volumes of philosophy and practical politics that APRA followers quote as if it were religious scripture. Haya was at once idealistic and pragmatic, and adapted his movement to changing circumstances over the decades, eventually reaching an understanding with the United States. This may set a good example for his "disciple," Alan Garcia, who formed close relations with North Korea in is first term. Although his past record on economic and foreign policy is deeply tarnished, and his ability to rein in graft and corruption in his party remains in doubt, Garcia does have strong credentials in two areas: as a defender of civilian democracy and as a promoter of international cooperation in search of peaceful resolution of conflicts. All we friends of Peru can do is hope for the best, and prepare for something a little less.
One of Alan Garcia's biggest potential assets is his attractive and educated wife, Pilar Nores, who was born in Argentina. She is quite unlike the controversial wife of incumbent President Alejandro Toledo, a Belgian born speaker of Quechua. Señora Garcia played a relatively limited role in his first term, and one way for the President-elect to signal a change in course as he prepares for his second term would be to appoint her to some high-profile social commission.