Mon, Nov 20, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Erotic sculpture park is focus of spending row

SPREAD THE WEALTH The original idea was to increase revenue-sharing but the municipalities do not know how to deal with their new power and cash

AP , HUAYRE, PERU

A group of girls walk in the central plaza in Huayre, Peru on Nov. 6. The occasional visitor is surprised to find in the central plaza a 20m-high purple-colored replica of the maca root, a tuber traditionally consumed as an aphrodisiac, and, nearby, a sculptured phallus rising from a wading pool.

PHOTO: AP

When Peruvian officials set out to spread the wealth, they probably didn't mean mayors should build extravagant town halls and heated swimming pools.

And they almost certainly didn't expect this frigid, wind-swept hamlet high on the Andean plateau to spend its windfall on an erotic sculpture park.

The sexually explicit creations in this isolated village 170km northeast of the capital have become the focus of a furor over public spending that dominated yesterday's nationwide local election and is posing a political headache for President Alan Garcia just four months after he was elected in a stunning comeback.

The original idea was to increase revenue-sharing from surging prices for gold, copper, zinc and other minerals, and indeed, municipalities in the mountains and jungles have seen their income from taxes on mining rise more than 1,000 percent during recent years, to nearly US$1 billion this year.

But the extravagances prompted by the cash bonanza have prompted fears of a voter backlash that will elect a more radical brand of leadership from outside the established political system.

People in Huayre are bemused by the uproar. National rulers, they figure, have been squandering their riches for centuries, so what's the big deal if Mayor Alderete hoped to attract tourists by gracing the village's central plaza with outsized images of genitalia and the maca root, a tuber traditionally consumed locally as an aphrodisiac?

The federal government had hoped for more attention to priorities in towns like Huayre, which still lacks paved streets or a sewage system -- typical among Andean towns in a country where half the population lives on less than US$2 a day.

Alderete, an independent who is not running for re-election, said he is aware that his US$158,000 park is being skewered in the media as typical of towns that are misspending their money.

But he says it's the job of the regional government, not the mayor's office, to build infrastructure such as sewer systems so that people don't have to rely on outdoor toilets.

Long governed by strong central regimes, Peru moved to create autonomous regional governments and give them more revenue following the 2001 ouster of Alberto Fujimori's administration.

But many local officials have yet to learn how to handle the new-found power and cash, said Eduardo Ballon, a senior analyst at Peru's Desco think tank.

"There is a wealth of deep-seated problems that cannot be hidden, one of which has to do with the lack of training at the local government level and the limitations for fulfilling functions and duties," he said.

Garcia's center-left Aprista party was the big winner in 2002 regional elections, taking about half of the 24 regional governments. Now he stands to lose ground in the provinces because independents with no direct ties to any national party are expected to become the new caudillos, or strongmen.

In Huayre, meanwhile, the residents seem to be taking the unusual park in their stride, and are still dreaming of an influx of tourists.

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