Peru's Swing Left?

Parsing the 2011 Elections

Courtesy Reuters

For the past ten years, Peru and the United States have been good friends. A succession of fairly elected presidents in Lima pursued closer ties with Washington, culminating in a free-trade agreement approved by the U.S. Congress in 2007. During the controversy following the 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, Peru supported the United States in recognizing elections in Honduras in November. Yet, in Peru’s presidential election this month, the pro-American candidates were defeated. Instead, Ollanta Humala, a mestizo leftist who in 2006 had been allied with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, won the first round of the elections and eked out a narrow victory in the runoff.

In the run-up to the first round of voting, on April 10, Peru’s mainstream politicians seemed overly confident that their market-friendliness and proven democratic credentials would carry them to victory, as in the decade’s previous elections. After all, the past ten years had seen enormous growth: Peru’s GDP had risen by more than 6 percent annually, the highest rate of any country in South America. Much of Peru’s economic boom was thanks to a worldwide surge in mineral prices (Peru is the world’s largest producer of silver, its second-largest of copper and zinc, and sixth-largest of gold). The growth lifted millions out of poverty: between 2001 and 2011, Peru’s poverty rate fell from 55 percent of the population to 31 percent. Unemployment declined considerably. And projects to improve infrastructure and communication were visible nationwide.

It stood to reason that Peru’s voters would want to maintain the basic economic and political principles that had guided the past decade’s policies and elect one of the three mainstream candidates who upheld them -- Alejandro Toledo, Peru’s president from 2001 to 2006; Luis Castañeda, the mayor of Lima from 2003 to 2010; or Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, one of Toledo’s premiers and finance ministers. These three candidates were overconfident, however, and failed to ally. In the first round, they split the market-friendly, pro-democratic vote. They won 44

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