Is Peru Next?

On April 9, when Peruvians elect a new President, they will choose between Ollanta Humala Tasso, a nationalist former army commander who proposes radical economic and social change, and Lourdes Flores Nano, who would maintain the country’s current neo-liberal policies. Whoever wins, the results will echo across Latin America.

A victory for Humala would seem to confirm the waning appeal of the neo-liberal policies that have dominated the continent since the 1980’s. It would bolster the informal axis of Venezuela’s populist Hugo Chávez (also a former soldier) and Evo Morales in Bolivia, but also the line supported by Brazil`s Lula da Silva and Argentina’s Kirchner who combine administrative efficiency and left-leaning rhetoric.

On the other hand, a victory for Lourdes Flores would stand out as an exception in the area, together with Alvaro Uribe in Colombia, whose reelection at the end of May seems certain today.

Flores, a Social Christian candidate representing a rightist alliance, wants to maintain present President Alejandro Toledo’s neo-liberal policies, which have boosted economic growth, foreign investment, and exports spectacularly over the past four years. The problem for Flores is that half the population has not yet benefited from Toledo’s policies and lives under the poverty line, giving Humala his political opening. Humala calls for overhauling Peru’s economic policy in particular by revising foreign companies’ concession contracts, increasing taxes on the rich, and lowering the salaries paid to congressmen and government members –“old fashioned populism that will ruin the country,” claim his opponents.