Can a Chávista become a Lulaista?
Peru’s Ollanta Humala and the rebranding of the South American left.
BY MICHAEL SHIFTER |MAY 23, 2011
Yet despite all of these changes, there are signs that most of Lima’s middle and upper classes are reluctant to take a chance on Humala. They fear that he would derail the economic progress that has been made — either because of his wayward ideology or his incompetence. Most also have serious reservations about Fujimori, but with financial markets spooked and ready to react negatively to a possible Humala win, most will be risk-averse. So Fujimori may benefit from the “hidden vote” among the middle class. One well-known exception is Peru’s Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who lost a presidential run to Alberto Fujimori in 1990 and has said he will vote for Humala, albeit “unhappily and with fear.”
Fond memories of the elder Fujimori among a loyal consituency help explain his daughter’s appeal. She has linked herself to her father’s success in curbing hyperinflation and brutal insurgencies, along with carrying out popular social programs. She has promised continued economic growth and improved access to housing with enhanced sanitation. Fujimori has also campaigned as a law and order candidate who supports restoring the death penalty for certain serious crimes; she even hired former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as an adviser on crime issues.
With less than two weeks before the final vote, the media wars have been unleashed in Peru, with both camps trading nasty charges and accusations. The climate is tense, ugly, and polarized, and is bound to become even more so as the two candidates contest for the nearly 45 percent of Peruvians who opted for one of the other three, more moderate candidates in the first round.
The rest of South America — particularly Brazil, Chile, and Colombia — is following the Peruvian election with keen interest, but also some measure of anxiety. Neither option in the runoff is attractive to the region, as both choices appear to be out of sync with the more heartening tendencies in the continent towards greater democratic governance combined with effective social policies.
By now, the battle among the different varieties of leftist politics in Latin America has been settled. The contrast between a buoyant Brazil and a badly deteriorated Venezuela is striking. The dramatic differences in performances reflect two kinds of governance, with the former prizing negotiation and compromise and the latter relying chiefly on arbitrary rule.
There has been a cumulative process, marked by trial and error and constant re-examination, in the Latin American countries where moderate, pragmatic politics with a leftist cast have taken hold: Brazil under Lula and Dilma Rousseff, Chile under Ricardo Lagos and Michele Bachelet, Uruguay under Tabaré Vásquez and now José Mujica, and El Salvador under Mauricio Funes. All have combined progressive, social reforms while hewing to mainstream economic policies, while others like Ecuador and Bolivia have seen more confrontational tacks, rewriting constitutions and taking sharp aim at traditional political and business elites.
Some Peruvians see an apparently more temperate Humala as an opportunity to fill a similar political space as their Brazilian and Chilean neighbors. If Humala pulls out a victory on June 5, then he’ll have a chance to prove that his transformation is genuine. Should he do so, that would be yet another major blow to Chavez and further evidence of his growing irrelevance in the region.