Fri, Jun 09, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Peru gives Chavez's populist politics a reality check


President-elect Alan Garcia says Peru's voters sent a clear message to Hugo Chavez: Stay out.

But with the Venezuelan president's ally Ollanta Humala controlling much of Peru's Congress, Chavez's anti-American brand of politics may be here to stay.

A majority of Peru's voters effectively anointed a regional rival to Chavez by returning Garcia, 57, to the presidency. Garcia himself drove home that point in his rousing victory speech when he denounced the growing influence of oil-rich Venezuela in Latin America.

"Our homeland's independent destiny was at stake here, threatened by total domination and imperialism," Garcia told supporters on Sunday night. "Imperialism does not come only from great powers but also from nearby domination, by those who seek to subordinate and steer us because they have wealth."

Moderate leftist

A moderate leftist who left his first term as president in disgrace 16 years ago, Garcia held an insurmountable lead of 53.1 percent against 46.9 percent for Humala with 93 percent of the vote counted, Peru's national electoral authority said on Monday.

The country's financial markets rallied on Monday, with the Peruvian stock market's broad general index surging on the election news before cooling off in the afternoon to close up about 0.6 percent.

"Garcia's victory eliminates a key link in the Andean chain that Hugo Chavez is forging," Peruvian political analyst Mirko Lauer said.

But halting a Chavez-fueled domino effect -- the political mobilization of Latin America's traditionally downtrodden -- may be easier said than done.

Many Peruvians saw Humala, who once led a military uprising as an army lieutenant colonel, as unpredictable and dangerous to democracy. They were apparently wary of electing another loyal ally of Chavez, who already has extended his influence to Bolivia, where the Aymara Indian Evo Morales was elected president in December.

Like Morales, Humala had pledged to punish a political class widely perceived as corrupt and redistribute wealth to his country's poor Indian and mestizo majority.

But Humala's message resonated among many other Peruvians -- and that could pose a major obstacle to Garcia's presidency.

Humala's party won the largest number of seats in Congress in elections on April 9, evidence that Chavez's anti-US brand of politics remains influential in Peru. And he won in 14 of Peru's 24 states on Sunday, giving him a power base in the country's poorest regions that could handcuff Garcia initiatives.

"Ollanta Humala will continue to be a formidable opponent for Garcia," Lauer said.

Humala, 43, has vowed not to let his election loss halt his "grand transformation" of the country.

"We have managed to awaken the Peruvian people's awareness," he told supporters at his campaign headquarters. "In only one year we have constructed a movement that changed the political map of the country and created a new political agenda that gives priority to the real problems of most Peruvian families."

No constraints

And Chavez may continue to try to influence events in Peru, said former US Ambassador to Peru Dennis Jett, who directs the University of Florida's Latin American studies program.

"Chavez has no constraints -- he has the money, he has the ambition," Jett said.

"And if imitation is the highest form of flattery, if you can create imitators, then you flatter yourself," Jet added. "That is, I think, what he's trying to do: demonstrate his model works not only in Venezuela, but also in Bolivia and, by extension, in Peru and other places."

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