Thursday, June 23, 2011

Peru; between a rock and a hard place, or finally on course?

After a stressful and well-commented double election round played out under the eyes of the world, Mr. Ollanta Humala was elected to be Peru’s next president. Since I am a former resident (I lived in Peru from 1997-2004), and because an important part of our business still takes place there, I was and still am very interested in Peru’s political well-being. I followed the election process, initially with growing concern, but recently with a tiny flicker of hope.

The people inhabiting what today is called the Republic of Peru have lived in various states of occupation over the past 600 years. Initially conquered by the Incas (for about 100 years, from say 1400AD) and subsequently suppressed by the Spaniards as their crown colony until way into the last century. Peru ‘s political reality in the more recent past has been characterized by the Roman “Panem et circenses”, basically coming down to corrupt governments keeping the majority of the Peruvian people poor and uneducated in order to more easily exploit them as a cheap force of labor. This is in many ways still the case, and in my honest opinion what has happened in Peru this month has more to do with the current government not doing its job correctly - in terms of making sure all Peruvians have an opportunity to share in the riches of their land (education, job creation, etc.) - than with the populist, mass-manipulation of which the upcoming president and his team are currently being accused.

As a matter of fact, to a certain extent, what has happened in Peru shows that the democratic system actually works. A majority (albeit a small one) of the Peruvian people did not agree with the way the current government handled its power (and the country’s wealth) and they chose to go in another direction. A direction they hope will eventually give them and their children a better chance to become equal, well-educated citizens with similar opportunities to their fellow country-men.

This is not to say that I have faith that Mr. Humala will do a better job than Mr. Garcia. That still needs to be proven and it is definitely not my place to predict anything. Sadly it is difficult to find an exemplary president in the country’s past, and neither Mr. Garcia, nor Mr. Humala really fit the bill. I tried to read Mr. Humala’s plan (If you read Spanish and feel like it, please give it a try: and all I can say at this point is that if he really can stick to most of what is outlined there, then he could actually make a good president.

However, his past does not speak for him. He allegedly supported a coup by his brother Antauro in 2005 against then president Alejandro Toledo, and apparently circulated a bi-weekly paper calling for the Peruvian people to rise-up against the Toledo government. Both while in active duty as lieutenant-colonel of the Peruvian Armed Forces. Also, his recently hidden friendship with, and support for, Venezuela’s Mr. Chavez do not inspire the trust that one would expect a people to have in a candidate they just elected to represent them for the coming 5 years. The fact that a couple of months before the elections he switched his allegiance to Brazil’s former president Ignacio “Lula” da Silva and hired some of his former executives to help him reshape his campaign can, up to this point, only be seen as a smug move to throw his competitors off course and win the elections. Ms. Keiko Fujimori, daughter of one of Peru’s former presidents and Mr. Humala’s closest contender, unsuccessfully tried the same approach to shed some of her more right-wing public image.

n the end it does not really matter who thinks what. Mr. Humala was chosen democratically by the same people that chose his predecessors, so like it or not, he is the man for the job. Hopefully he will be held accountable by these exact same people if he fails to keep his promises.

What is happening in Peru today seems similar to what has happened, is happening and will probably be happening for quite some time, throughout the rest of the continent. After centuries of Spanish/Portuguese rule and a series of make-believe republics followed by, or mixed with, military dictatorships, most Latin American countries have only seen modern democracy very recently. Action causes reaction and sadly many of Latin America’s democracies do not really function the way they should. This is simply because large parts of the population do not receive sufficient education to be able to make up their minds about which presidential candidate would best represent them. It takes a people choosing a president who will invest in their education to get that ball rolling. Depending on the outcome of Mr. Humala’s upcoming presidency we will see if this time that choice was right or not. It will depend on Mr. Humala’s decency; will it be his wish to go into history as the man that saved his people, or will he turn out to be just another charlatan lying to his people in exchange for an easy squeeze? I guess we’ll see soon enough.

Mr. Ignacio “Lula” da Silva has become an icon in Latin American politics and it is not strange that Mr. Humala and some others have chosen to want to be seen more like him than, for example, Mr. Chavez. Even though Brazil has seen a series of “lucky” events form part of its current boost to becoming one of the world’s super powers, Lula has still managed to stay on top of things and realize what in many other neighboring countries has not yet been achieved – how to combine strong macro-economic growth with proper transformations of the actual functioning of society, giving a large portion of the country’s poor the opportunity to grow and become part of the middle class. This may seem trivial at first glance, but until the “Lula Miracle” this had not happened in most of South America. The social changes in Brazil over the past 10 years are the biggest in its entire history.

I do not pretend to be a political analyst, nor do I want to share my personal political opinions here, but I do want to try to figure out what is happening in Peru and why politics in general seem to have become more and more about the well-being of the politician instead of that of the people he/she is chosen to represent. Peru sees similar factors to Brazil at the base of its economic growth of the past 10 years, and if managed well, could potentially follow this example on a social level. In my eyes, Mr. Humala has a chance here to wipe the slate clean and be remembered as the president Peru never had before. If he sticks to his word and really manages to combine Peru’s economic growth with sufficient education and job opportunities for its people, he might not only be remembered as Peru’s favorite president, but as the one that helped a new Latin American socio-political model come into existence.

Now, let’s keep our fingers crossed, our eyes closed and pray for rain…

No comments: