|Peru’s Presidential Elections: Campaigning a World Away From Reality|
|Written by Fionuala Cregan|
|Wednesday, 06 April 2011 17:00|
General elections are to take place in Peru on Sunday, April 10th. While the media and the majority of the Presidential candidates avoid serious debate and try to continue with “business as usual”, voters in Peru look set to express their desire for change as left leaning Ollanta Humala tops the polls.
In the slums of the city of Lima, a giant puppet dances alongside Presidential Candidate Pedro Kuczynski, a millionaire businessman and former Wall Street banker. Desperate to ingratiate himself with voters in urban slums who make up the majority of the population of Lima he is accompanied on the campaign trail by a guinea pig - an important and sacred Andean symbol. To a background of catchy traditional pan pipe music Kuczynski and the guinea pig puppet dance while women passers by are invited to touch the Presidential candidate´s groin.
In a country where 50 % of the population in rural areas do not have access to adequate water and sanitation facilities, where over 22% of children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition and where the impacts of climate change and rising food prices mean that the majority of the population go to bed hungry at night, the election campaign for the majority of presidential candidates has consisted of dancing, dressing up in costumes, organising free concerts, participating in afternoon television talk shows and avoiding any serious debate or discussion.
“The distribution of wealth, tax, concentration of land and private property, corruption and human rights are not being discussed by the presidential candidates,” says Hector Bejar of The Global Call to Action Peru, “Peru is on the verge of a serious crisis due to the impacts of climate change, mining projects, drug trafficking, rising poverty and inequality and yet there is no serious debate taking place as part of this election campaign.”
The other presidential hopefuls include – 36 year old Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former dictator Alberto Fujimori now in prison, Luis Castañeda, former Mayor of Lima widely accused of corruption during his mandate, former President Alfredo Toledo also accused of corruption and known to holds close ties with powerful economic groups in Israel and the US, and finally Ollanta Humala, a moderate leftist candidate who is accused by the right wing and corporate controlled media of being an “agent” of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
According to Bejar all of the candidates have been forced to declare their continued loyalty to the neoliberal system imposed by the international financial institutions during the Government of Alfredo Fujimori in the 1990s. Under this system, the Government followed the IMF doctrine of cutting back on social spending (net social expenditure was reduced from 37% in the 1990s to just 27% in 2010) while opening up the Peruvian economy to foreign investment, in particular North American mining companies, who under special Legislative Decrees designed to promote investment, enjoy special tax regimes and the right to contract workers without being subjected to legal regulation.
Due to its strict compliance with neoliberal policies, Peru is held up as an economic success story by many including the World Bank, the corporate media and the Government of the United States. On a recent trip to Latin America, Obama hailed the “tough but necessary reforms” made by Peru which have lead to its current “impressive growth.”
This version of events however does not reflect the daily reality of the majority of Peruvians. While it is true that there has been a rise in income levels, including in some of the poorest sectors of society, the income gap has also widened with 35% of income going to the top richest sector of the population and 1.6% to the poorest sector. While there may be more employment, foreign corporations who do not have to follow national legislation on labor conditions or workers´ rights, deny Peruvians the right to decent work. In addition, the ongoing colonization of indigenous lands has also accelerated with the increase of foreign investment – often leading to violent confrontations in which the Peruvian Government has supported the foreign mining companies, sending in the army and police to repress and in many cases kill anyone who blocks North American mining interests. Just days ago, a protester was killed by armed forces during a demonstration against a copper mine project in the Arequipa region in the south of the country.
“ The conservative sector of the church, the mafia like business leaders and the United States embassy would like to be the only voters in the Peruvian election,” says Bejar, “and so they work closely with the mainstream media, which in Peru represents the interest of the oligarchy, to ensure that a wave of fear is spread through the population that if they vote for anyone other than the 4 business friendly candidates of Fujimori, Kuczynski, Toledo or Castañeda irreconcilable disaster will strike Peru. The message spun out by the media 24 hours a day is: ´Do Not Interfere with Foreign Investment.´
This is reflected in the widely quoted words of novelist Mario Vargas Llosa who ran as a conservative Presidential candidate in election in 1990 who stated last week “ Peru has chosen to follow the path of progress, democracy, an aperture to the world, and investment, and all of this is bringing us good results, this is an undeniable fact; it would be a disgrace if this process stops in our country due to the election of a wrong candidate.”
Despite this aggressive media campaign, exit polls on the last day of campaigning showed that left leaning candidate Ollanta Humala was leading with between 30% -40% intention to vote.
“The Peruvian people are raising their voice, illustrating that they are against the neoliberal system and will not be manipulated by the corporate controlled media,” says Bejar.
Despite the fact that during his campaign moderate left wing candidate Ollanta was forced to distance himself from Chavez, travel to the US to meet with business leaders, hold meetings with the Peruvian Confederation of Private Enterprise, abandon his usual casual blue jeans for a suit and declare in front of an ultra right wing Cardenal that he was catholic, conservative and antiabortion – according to Bejar, his platform represents the potential for change in Peru in that it would at least open up a space for dialogue and discussions on alternatives to the current system, a space that has been lacking in the last 20 years.
For civil society organizations, who have played a key role in attempting to bring substantive debate and dialogue to the election campaign process, the opening of such a space would represent a key opportunity and the first, albeit small, steps towards change.
With election campaigns closing on Tuesday 5 April guinea pig puppets, dances and free concerts will be absent on the streets of Peru, and while serious debate and dialogue has been absent all along, this time will give Peruvians some days to reflect and decide for tentative change or business as usual.
Fionuala Cregan is a freelance journalist based in South America. She can be contacted at email@example.com