Peru: What Happened To Progressive Politics In Lima?

Source: NACLA Report on the Americas

This article is the first of three installments devoted to analyzing the upcoming municipal elections in Lima. Read the Spanish translation of this article here

On October 5, 2014 voters in Lima, Peru will cast ballots in the metropolitan mayoral election, likely either granting incumbent Mayor Susana Villarán another term or returning control of City Hall to Luis Castañeda, who served as mayor in 2003-2010.  After a tumultuous four-year term, Villarán’s re-election bid has drawn international attention due to her status as Lima’s first leftist mayor in 20 years and first female mayor ever, yet the upcoming election—in which 13 candidates are competing—may also unfold as a bellwether of regional efforts to challenge neoliberalism at the metropolitan level.  Unlike Pink Tide neighbor Bolivia, where leftist mayors take their anti-neoliberal cues from the national leadership of Evo Morales, in Peru the broad acceptance of neoliberalism by Presidents Alán García (2006-2011) and Ollanta Humala (2011-present) has left Villarán on her own to articulate a progressive metropolitan vision.

Villarán initially articulated a progressive vision that challenged Peru’s neoliberal paradigm, but subsequently failed to adhere to that vision, steadily losing support among the poor, working class, and middle-class professionals, many of whom had supported her in 2010.  Three factors help explain this trajectory: First, a relentless and well-financed opposition besieged her administration even before its inauguration.  Second, Villarán’s effort to reduce informality was conceived as pro-poor and anti-neoliberal, but this unconventional framing was not well-communicated, turning those who Villarán sought to support against her.  And third, Villarán’s pragmatist leanings accelerated when under heavy media attack while her coalition-building across the political spectrum eroded her base.

In 2010, Villarán’s unexpected election provoked enthusiasm from diverse sectors dissatisfied with Castañeda’s leadership. Former City Councilmember Marisa Glave explains that Villarán’s team had expected to garner perhaps 8% of the vote, but when the candidacy of governor of Callao Álex Kouri was invalidated for failing to meet residency requirements, Villarán emerged to capture 38.4% of the vote, beating out establishment favorite Lourdes Flores.  Once in office, Villarán attempted to change the core of city governance with new projects focusing on entrepreneurship, women and children, and education.

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