Posted by: Dirk | April 12, 2011

Mario Vargas Llosa, el amigo de Chavez & the ex-president’s daughter – round 1

Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel in literature, has this to say about the election results of last weekend (source: La Vanguardia):

Perú tiene dos opciones: el suicidio o el milagro.

This is not hard to translate for English-speakers, but let me do it anyways. Literally he says: Peru has two options: suicide or a miracle. I believe that what he wants to say is that nothing will continue the way things are going now, and that with either candidate these two options exist. Peru’s pueblo has upped the ante by voting the two most extreme candidates into round 2 of the presidential elections. Ollanto Humala, amigo de Hugo Chavez, has clinched the top spot in round one, followed by Keiko Fujimori, daughter of Alberto Fujimori, ex-president and currently in jail on a 25-year sentence on human rights abuses. Since I visited Peru in March, here is my dos centimos.

Peru is a country marked by differences, in landscape as well as in people. The capital city Lima includes areas like Miraflores that you could easily mistake for Spain as well as areas as Pamplona Alta, where people settle in the hills to the North without holding property rights and without any permit to build. The inequality in income and wealth is typical for Latin American countries. The spectacular landscapes are not. From the deserts, sand dunes and the oasis (!) of Huacachina towards the islands of Ballestas with its penguins, thousands of seabirds and hundreds of seals, from the city of Arequipa which is framed by three peaks around 6,000 meters high (one of them, El Misti, being an active volcano) to the lake of Titicaca and its floating islands at 3,800 meters, back towards the North on the altiplano with flamingos and alpacas, down to the jungles that lie below Machu Picchu, the diversity of the countryside and its people is breathtaking.

There are two indigenous languages, Aymara and Quechua, still spoken by wide parts of the population. People in the altiplano dress traditionally, chew coca leaves to cope with the changes in altitude and seem to be worlds apart from Miraflores, where people are relatively white and tall. Racism plays a role in Peru, as people with white skin and above average height get better treatment than everybody else. A civil war from 1980-2000 has left mostly indigenous Peruvians dead, while the indigenous share in the total population is well below 50 percent. There is a photo exhibition in the Museo de la Nacion which commemorates the dead on both sides. In a few words, a left-wing intellectual gathered followers at mostly academic institutions and started a bombing campaign, to which the government responded with violence against guerillas and civilians. Massacres were committed by both sides, and the head of the Sendero Illuminoso (shining path) is in prison just as Alberto Fujimori, then-president of Peru. Peruvians want to forget this period and get ahead, at least that was my impression. However, they disagree about how to do this.

As an exporter of mostly primary goods like copper, zinc, and gold Peru’s economy is typical for Latin America. Export earnings are accumulated at mostly multinational firms from the mining sector. Farming is kick-started South of Lima, where fertile desert lands are cultivated under the supervision of Israeli engineers. However, arable land is owned by the few. Income inequality in Peru is high, as you can see by driving through any city. At the fringe of Lima, migrants from the rural areas that were devastated during the civil war have started their lives over, while top-class restaurants cater for the rich. Since Peru is now a bigger exporter of cocaine then Columbia, there must also be some drug money somewhere. During the Civil War, both sides were said to be sponsored by drug lords. In the 2011 election, this topic came up for a short while (a candidate cut off some hairs for a drug test) but the topic vanished quickly.

Now in the elections, there were three candidates from the right that stood for a continuation of the system. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (20.5%), formerly at the World Bank, Alejandro Toledo (16%), a former president, and Luis Castañeda (10%), a former mayor of Lima combined for 46.5% of the vote. However, Ollanto Humala won the first round with 30% ahead of Keiko Fujimori with 23%. Normally, as taxi drivers like to point out, the winner of the first round loses the second since everybody else unites to beat him. However, I was informed, many people dislike Keiko, and if she would come second she wouldn’t stand a chance. In March Alejandro Toledo was number one in the polls, and Keiko second. Now that a candidate from the left with ties to Hugo Chavez and help from former staff of the president of Brazil, Lula, is the only other choice, Keiko might become an option for voters who supported one of the three moderate candidates from the right.

Now, the words of Mario Vargas Llosa seem to make sense. It seems that Peru will kill itself by electing one of the two most extreme candidates that were on the menu. If that doesn’t happen, it must have been a miracle. Maybe that is why voting in Peru is compulsory.

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