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From the June 2001 issue of World Press Review

Latin America

Peru: Democratic Revolution

Robert Taylor, World Press Review contributing editor

What a difference a year makes. An exuberant presidential electoral campaign and a fair election in Peru have banished the specters of authoritarianism and corruption lingering from the administration of disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori.

Regional press commentators agreed that the April 2001 election pitting charismatic pro-democracy movement champion Alejandro Toledo against former President Alan García was conducted without taint of manipulation—in stark contrast to Fujimori’s fraudulent victory over Toledo in 2000. This time, Toledo took first place in the vote but fell short of a majority, with about 36 percent. García won 26 percent. The election will be decided by a runoff in May [Toledo won the election —WPR].

But the contest also yielded fresh divisions over Peru’s prospects for economic development and social unity under the newly elected president, who will be inaugurated in July.

The Fujimori regime collapsed in November, when he resigned amid mounting evidence that his longtime national security chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, orchestrated an elaborate web of political bribery and blackmail and engineered illegal diversions of public funds.

“After the experiences we have been through, an unsurpassed opportunity has opened up for Peru to build its present and secure its future on foundations of respect for moral principles, human rights, and democratic institutions,” affirmed Alfonso Arias-Schreiber Pezet in Lima’s centrist El Comercio (April 9). “The success of the [incoming] government will depend not only on the responsible attitude with which it confronts the nation’s problems..., but also on its capacity to call together all Peruvians.”

Jorge Zavaleta Alegre, writing in the business-oriented Gestión of Lima (April 12), observed that Toledo anchored his presidential appeal on the pledge “to create more jobs within a free-market economy with a human face,” while García surged to a surprising second-place finish in the first-round April vote on a “rejuvenated social democratic” platform tempered by a “recognition of the economic mistakes in his first administration” from 1985 to 1990.

Gestión noted in an editorial (April 10) that García’s political rebirth after a decade in self-imposed exile abroad “heightened uncertainty... among investors,” who recalled the former president’s record of debt default, hyperinflation, and devaluation during his administration.

“Beyond presenting and debating their economic proposals” to mitigate the impact of Fujimori-era free-market reforms on Peru’s urban poor and underdeveloped indigenous regions, Gestión said, “the candidates must work with greatest prudence and seriousness not to defraud the citizenry’s expectations once again.”

Jorge Eugenio Payet, columnist for Lima’s independent Diario Expreso (April 11), noted that Peru’s cultural and ethnic divisions—accentuated by Toledo’s emotion-charged evocations of his cholo (indigenous) ancestry throughout the campaign—recalled a popular writer’s definition of Peru as “17 million independent ‘republics’ in the same land.” In view of the historical failure of efforts over five centuries to impose a unifying national identity by force, Payet wrote, it is critical “that elements of ... cohesion must be created” to prevent the “centrifugal forces” of decentralization from “jeopardizing the unity of Peru as a nation-state.”

Ximena Ortúzar, correspondent for the liberal newsmagazine Proceso of Mexico City (April 8), described the presidential campaign as highly polarized. “In the perception of the citizenry, it became a contest of ‘whites’ against ‘cholos,’ rich against poor, Limans against provincial residents.”

In an interview, Toledo told Ortúzar that he had received 127 death threats prior to the first-round vote, yet he was willing to risk his life “to contribute to changing the economic and social face of this country of mine that I love.” His election, Toledo added, would mark “the first time in 500 years that Peru would have a president from the most marginalized social stratum and the indigenous Andean peoples who make up 95 percent of this nation. I am a part of their flesh, and they are a part of mine.”

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