U.S. Meddling in Peruvian Presidential Race?


Something smells funny about the recent denunciation of maverick Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala for alleged human rights violations. Before the accusations, Humala was riding high as the leading candidate in Peru’s presidential elections. Investigations illustrate that Humala’s accusers are subsidized by the US Government funded Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Washington may be interfering in this election to protect its own interests.

The former army officer heads a nationalist and anti-neoliberal coalition between his new Peruvian Nationalist Party and the ten-year-old center-left Union for Peru party. Humala, a mestizo, was never part of Lima’s white ruling elite which has traditionally run the major institutions of the country. He is often derided for being an upstart “cholo” (indigenous), which sheds light on the colonial racism still inherent within Peruvian society. So much of Humala’s support comes from the impoverished non-white majority who has suffered from the “neoliberal reforms” of the unpopular sitting president Alejandro Toledo.

Humala has met with Evo Morales, Bolivia’s recently-elected indigenous president. Like Morales, Humala supports the commercialization and expanded international marketing of coca leaf products while at the same time being strongly against the cocaine trade. He also favors greater control by Peru over the exploitation of its natural resources. In the case of its large natural gas fields, he would demand that the government receive at least 49 percent of the profits and has made similar proposals for Peru’s mining industry. He has also promised to hold a national referendum on the recently-signed free trade deal with the United States, which is widely believed to favor U.S. corporate interests over those of Peru.

This type of talk has not only scared Peruvian elites and multinational business interests, but has also drawn the ire of influential policy wonks of the neoliberal “Washington Consensus,” who fear of another country going to a left-talking “anti-imperialist” populist candidate—especially after the spectacular December victory of Morales in neighboring Bolivia. Yet unlike Bolivia’s Morales, Humala is a relative newcomer to politics, which has lead some people to fear that if elected he could turn out to be a disappointment in the mold of Ecuador’s discredited Lucio Gutiérrez, another army officer who sold himself as a populist during elections. Regardless, even “liberals” and academics have joined the right-wing chorus in Washington of professing a preference for an electoral victory by right-wing candidate Lourdes Flores Nano over Humala. Washington was unified. Humala had to go.

Humala has also met with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez. Both were military officers who led failed military uprisings against their respective presidents – Chávez in 1992 and Humala in 2000. But unlike Chavez’s Venezuela, Peru has no major oil deposits.

On Feb. 15, Humala was accused of a series of war crimes. The charges included forced disappearance, torture and attempted murder that are alleged to have taken place when he commanded a jungle counterinsurgency base in 1992 at the height of the bloody civil war with the extremist Maoist Shining Path and Guevarist MRTA that engulfed Peru through much of the 1980s and 1990s. It is a charge that Humala vehemently denies, but it is a charge that has stuck and rapidly knocked him down to second place in the polls.

The “non-governmental organization” (NGO) that led the charge against Humala was the National Coordinator for Human Rights, the umbrella organization for several human rights groups commonly known as the “Coordinadora.” Whether or not the Coordinadora’s charges are true or fabricated, nobody in the press has investigated its history or who backs it. Is the Coordinadora merely a disinterested and neutral human rights organization doing its job, or was this denunciation the result of another more nefarious hidden agenda?

To anyone following Latin America recently, it should come as no surprise that the accuser, the Coordinadora is an “NGO” that has been funded by the U.S. government for years.

Although it is not mentioned in the Coordinadora’s “official history” written by the Washington, D.C. based nonprofit called the Washington Office on Latin America, it has been funded by both the Agency for International Development (USAID) and the smaller National Endowment for Democracy (NED) on and off for more than a decade. While both USAID and NED are civilian entities, they are largely controlled by the State Department and are indispensable instruments of U.S. foreign policy.

Does U.S. funding of a foreign “NGOs” affect their behavior? Andrew Natsios, USAID’s former head, stated unequivocally in a widely distributed 2003 speech that even foreign USAID-funded contractors and NGO’s “are an arm of the U.S. government.” And the role of the much smaller NED was made clear when Allen Weinstein, one of its founders stated in a 1991 Washington Post article that, “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

During some of the years that USAID funded the Coordinadora, the money passed through the USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) in Lima. USAID’s OTI offices – just as their name indicates – are devoted to “political transitions” and are temporarily located only in countries where the U.S. government has an interest in either “regime change” or in politically and economically shoring up its allies.

OTI offices exist or have existed in several Latin American and the Caribbean countries, including Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Haiti. Not surprisingly, the biggest OTI office worldwide is in Iraq. In both Venezuela and Haiti over the last few years, USAID’s OTI has contributed far more money to “NGOs” working for the U.S.’s political and economic interests than the more notorious yet much smaller meddler, the NED.

According to an email from the USAID’s press officer, USAID has given the Coordinadora some $762,750.00. But Francisco Soberón, the Coordinadora’s director, told Upside Down World that such grants have “happened in the past—but right now for us at the Coordinadora there is nothing at all.” But he later said that “some [of the] other organizations that are members of the Coordinadora have received or are presently receiving” funding. One of these, APRODEH, received at least $53,246.39 from USAID. One-year-old Freedom of Information Act requests to USAID to determine the exact amounts of all of the grants have not yet been answered.

Soberón denied that the Coordinadora has received funding from NED, but the NED’s own website lists it under their list of grantees and former grantees. However, there is no indication of how much it received or when. At the time of this writing, telephone requests to NED’s press officer Jane Riley Richardson for information on the exact amount of funding have not been answered. Neither have a series of FOIA requests to NED been responded to. However, if Venezuela and Haiti are any guides, NED funding of the Coordinadora has probably been considerably less than that of USAID.

What has been the Coordinadora’s role vis a vis the U.S. Embassy? According to a declassified State Department response to the Freedom of Information Act, as early as 1993, Coordinadora officers were debriefing the U.S. embassy in Lima about their trips to the conflictive areas of Peru where insurgents were still active. Given the U.S. government’s assistance to the Peruvian government during the counterinsurgency war, such debriefings could have been considered as spying.

Is the U.S. getting anything out of this funding? The Coordinadora’s Soberón responds with an emphatic “no,” adding that “we do not accept conditions from anyone.” But with the denunciation of Humala and his resultant drop in the polls, it looks like the U.S. may have gotten a lot for its money.


*Photo of Ollanta Humala was taken by José Cruz/ABr, of Agencia Brasil.

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