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The United States and Peru relations under the future Ollanta Humala administration

June 8, 2011

The election of Ollanta Humala will be good for the relations between the United States and Peru, nations that share a strong relationship that will continue growing under the future administration of president-elect Humala.

The election of Ollanta Humala has been a historical outcome for the history of Peru, where millions of the poorest Peruvians organized themselves independently, to defeat the terror media campaigns of the ruling elites that included threats to workers, journalists and students. This is good for Peru, and it should be for the U.S.

Photos Reuters

The bonds between the U.S. and Peru are not only economic but also cultural and political, and they have grown with the increase of investments of U.S. corporations in Peru especially of extractive industries, with the implementation of U.S. designed neoliberal policies in the last 20 years, and with the FTA or “Free” Trade Agreement passed in 2007. There is a permanent presence of the Pentagon in three Peruvian military bases.

Add to this, the notable increase of the migration of Peruvians to the U.S. in the last decades. There are about 1.5 million Peruvians living in the U.S., most of whom are undocumented. The active participation of the Peruvian American community in the economy, politics and cultures of the U.S. is remarkable, especially in the cities of Paterson, Miami, New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles and Houston, where most Peruvians live.

The recent election of leftist former-military leader Ollanta Humala in Peru is seeing with concern by conservative sectors of the U.S. especially by Wall Street and the Republican Party, who wrongly assume that Humala as a close ally of Hugo Chavez, or that he will implement exclusively a socialist agenda.

The limited coverage by the U.S. media on the historical triumph of Humala in Peru, reflects on the fact that powerful groups in the U.S. didn’t want him to get elected. For instance, CNN, The New York Times, Miami Herald and the Washington Post have always presented Humala as a threat to the interests of the U.S. in Peru, which is absolutely innacurate.

In the first interview given to the press after the elections, Ollanta Humala said to CNN en Espanol, that he wants to visit the U.S. before his inaugration on July 28th.

The Obama administration has already approached Ollanta Humala with respect and discretion. U.S. secretary of State Hillary Clinton called by telephone to congratulate him on his election, and U.S. sub secretary for the Western Hemisphere, Arturo Valenzuela showed a bit of optimism:

“We are very willing to continue to work with him, just as we worked with the (current) Peruvian authorities. My congratulations to the Peruvian people for the Sunday election which has evolved peacefully and is an exemplary way”

On the issues

In an interview with Ollanta Humala last year in Washington, DC, I asked him why he visits a country that many think he considers as an enemy to his “nationalist” platform. He responded by saying: “Our nationalist ideas are not against any country; otherwise I would not be here, we consider the U.S. as a partner.”

About the Peru-US FTA, Humala responded during his conference at George Washington University [see video in Spanish] “We believe that there hasn’t being an honest debate in Peru about the FTA, I see it as conditioned trade agreement, it looks like a Lutheran Bible with so many regulations, but we see it as a consumed act, so now we need to use its own mechanisms to defend the national interests, which to us are not renounceable. We have to see ways [within the FTA rules] to defend the national production and industries.”

On drug trafficking and national security Humala opposes legalizing the drug commerce, he said “Peru is going to be soon the first producer of cocaine in the world, and that has promoted levels of crime never seeing before in Peru. If we don’t regulate things we will end up as a Narco state, and that is a problem of national security. We want a supra-national regulation to fight this problem, including those who are part of the demand and the offer.

Internally in Peru, “the most important actions is the role of the State entering coca-growing regions with education, health, infrastructure, schools, agro industries, tax incentives to promote alternative crops. Also the law enforcement needs to control the territory and the population, with an integral strategy of separating cocaleros from the drug mafia’s networks. We need an effective agriculture policy because if coca crops are more profitable, that’s what farmers will grow, so we need to separate farmers from that by creating an internal market for the national production, give them economic opportunities of progress.” Humala added.

On undocumented immigration, Ollanta Humala said during a meeting with the local DC area Peruvian community “We need to respect the laws of each county, is about mutual respect. We can work with diplomacy to protect the rights of Peruvian migrants, but is a problem of several nations; however, the final word is for the hosting nation. What I would do, is to create conditions so that Peruvians living abroad can have an opportunity to return, give them economical chances to return, those who want to.”

Humala added “I see it as if my children are being mistreated by the neighbor, I would ask my children to return, but the final decision is theirs. We can create work, education and health conditions to welcome them in Peru, not as pariahs but as workers who left under harsh conditions. My government will not increase the quota of Peruvians abroad, we want them to return to the motherland, because each of you is needed in the construction of the homeland, we need you in our country.”

About the relations with neighbor and historically-rival Chile, a strong U.S. ally since the Pinochet dictatorship, Humala said “I see our relations with Chile with good eyes, we have to work together, we will always be next to each other, it makes no senses to be bad neighbors, we have to reach for a good relation and I will work first on the complicated issues, especially about our borders, that is why we pushed [the government of Alejandro Toledo] to bring that issue to deliberation in La Hague, so that we will finally accept that verdict.”

On private property and foreign investment, Humala responded that his government will respect all private properties and foreign investment, that any other rumors about him becoming an abusive ruler were part of defamation campaigns run by the Lima media, in order to create fear and division among Peruvians. “They said I would do really bad things, but the important thing is that most Peruvians didn’t believe that, there was a fraud in the previous elections [in 2006], because for that minority who benefits from the current system to win, they have to divide the majority”.

About international relations, Ollanta Humala has already said his government will increase the participation of Peru with UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, and the CAN, or the Andean Nations Community. He has rejected the idea of Peru joining Hugo Chavez’ ALBA community of nations.

The strong support of Brazil’s ruling party in Humala’s campaign, will be returned in some way by the new Peruvian government. The first trip after getting elected will be to Brasilia, where Humala will meet with president Dilma Russeff on June 9th.

In his first visit to Washington,DC, in September 2010, Ollanta Humala met with U.S. authorities, including the sub-secretary for Western Hemisphere, Arturo Valenzuela, the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, scholars at George Washington University and the local Peruvian community.

The U.S. media about Humala

This how the U.S. corporate media is seeing the election of Ollanta Humala, via CNN: I have added a commentary to each “fact”:

Five facts about Peru’s new president, Ollanta Humala

By the CNN Wire Staff – CNN’s Patricia Janiot, Dana Ford and Helena DeMoura contributed to this report.
June 7, 2011

(CNN) — Left-leaning Ollanta Humala narrowly defeated rival right-wing lawmaker Keiko Fujimori to become Peru’s 94th president Monday. He will be sworn in on July 28.

Here are five facts about Peru’s new president:

1. Humala is an ex-army officer linked to a 2000 military uprising.

More than a decade ago, Humala led a military rebellion against former President Alberto Fujimori, Keiko’s father, who is currently in prison on a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses. The uprising thrust Humala into the national spotlight. He also battled the Shining Path, a brutal leftist insurgency that terrorized the country in the late 1980s and 1990s. Remnants of that group still operate, and sporadic violence linked to the drug trade is often blamed on them.

The rebellion was against the most abusive and corrupted dictatorship of Peru’s history. Humala was incarcerated, pardoned by president Valentin Paniagua, and later sent overseas by president Alejandro Toledo as a military attaché in South Korea and France. Humala has a military career of 25 years, including the wars against leftist guerrillas, and the conflict with Ecuador.

2. Humala narrowly lost a 2006 presidential bid to current President Alan Garcia.

Humala squared off against Garcia in the last election, losing in a second round of voting by just a few percentage points. In an interview with CNN en Espanol last week, Humala spoke about some of the mistakes he made during that campaign. He said his “radical discourse” alienated other political groups, which then turned to support Garcia.

The 2006 elections was an electoral fraud, Alan Garcia with the support of the Fujimori-Montesinos mafia and the Lima media, promoted fear and covered up the manipulation of the vote in the voting polls. Humala’s party was only 1 year old, and his militants were incapable of protecting the vote. This was probably good for Ollanta Humala, because he matured politically and organized his base in the next five years.

3. Humala has fought to distance himself from his more radical past and from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

During his previous campaign, Humala was seen by many as a loyal foot soldier for Chavez, intent on turning Peru to the left. This year, he tried to put distance between himself and the Venezuelan leader, casting his campaign more in the mold of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former Brazilian president. Humala adopted less radical rhetoric and swapped his trademark red T-shirts for business suits in an attempt to woo more voters.

In the 2006 elections, Ollanta Humala and his wife Nadine Heredia were supported by Hugo Chavez, but there wasn’t proofs of any financial support. However, in the 2011 elections, the political alliance Gana Peru (Humala) worked separated from any support offered by the Chavez government. During all the campaign, there were obvious attempts of Hugo Chavez to get close to Humala, but he rejected his support openly. I can witness this as a blogger supporting Humala.

4. Humala has said he wants to spread the benefits of Peru’s economic boom to the poor.

Peru’s economy is one of the fastest-growing in Latin America, but poverty remains persistently high. Roughly 1 in 3 of all Peruvians are poor and the poverty rate is much higher in the more rural, remote parts of the country. Humala spoke to the issue of inequality throughout the campaign and during his celebration speech on Sunday. “The nation will only advance if the Peruvian family advances,” he said.

The levels of poverty in Peru are higher than what official statistics say. About 85% of Peruvian families live in poverty, but the idea that anyone living with more than $2 dollars a day is not poor anymore, has created a false perception that poverty is disappearing. About 26% of Peruvian children suffer of chronically malnutrition, and 60% of housing lack of running water.

5. Humala’s campaign victory has spooked investors, who are fearful he might raise taxes or otherwise change the cost of doing business in Peru.

Humala’s election victory sent shock waves through Peruvian markets. The nation’s general stock index plummeted more than 12.5% Monday before regulators shut trading, marking the largest one-day drop in history. Shares of mining companies fell particularly hard. In the CNN en Espanol interview last week, Humala said the needs of mining companies need to be better balanced against what local communities want.

Mining corporations in Peru are owned mostly by Canadian, Peruvian, U.S. Americans, Chinese and Australian investors. They are the biggest forces in the current Peruvian economy, followed by remittances of Peruvians workers overseas. The mining companies in Peru work with little regulations which causes labor abuses and pollution. Also, they reject the idea of reinvesting in the regions where they work. In Cajamarca, where the biggest gold mine in Latin America operates, poverty levels go up to 70% of the population. Not surprising fact, most of the media campaign against Ollanta Humala were financed by mining and other private corporations.

The U.S. and the future government of Ollanta Humala in Peru

The U.S. media under pressure of Wall Street and the Pentagon seems to promote a mild campaign of fear against Ollanta Humala. If the United States and the international community think of Humala as a dangerous radical, they would support any attempts of boycotting his future government.

For instance, after the historical election of Humala, the ruling Peruvian elite went in panic, selling in mass at the Lima stock market. Wall Street also tried to promote fear in Lima, but things will calm down in a few days. Unless current president Alan Garcia tries to promote a military coup, which he has mentioned in the past.

The U.S. Embassy in Lima was rooting for Keiko Fujimori to win, under pressure from conservative Americans, especially corporations. This was confirmed to me by Harvard-professor Steven Levitsky in an interview over the phone from Lima, where he is teaching this semester.

It is a mistake for Washington DC, to remain too paranoid about Hugo Chavez or any other progressive leader in Latin America, led by a cold-war mentality which see them as a threat. It’s a very narrow way to see the region’s progressive movements that are similar but also different from each other. This wrong approach at the end keeps decreasing the U.S. influence in the continent.

It is very important that the Barack Obama administration supports the government of Ollanta Humala, because Peru needs to integrate itself as nation, by giving the majorities access to the current economic bonanza, this will help solving the current social crisis of over 118 cases of revolts and protests across the country.

Peru needs a peaceful and democratic transformation, instead of violent uprisings of communities that feel left behind by the current economic, political and cultural policies.

The support of the United States in this process will be crucial and will help changing the negative image that most Peruvians have about this country, and to improve the relations with South America, a region that I can see will unite as a community of nations, if not as a country, in a few years.

Please read: Ollanta Humala’s win is a promise for Peru’s poor by U.S. scholar Mark Weisbrot for The Guardian.

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