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Ollanta Humala’s Limited Options

BUENOS AIRES – The big question in Latin America today is this: Will Peru’s newly elected president, Ollanta Humala, orient his country toward Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and his radical allies? Or will he choose the path taken by Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the region’s other moderate politicians?

Humala’s own ambiguous words offer little guidance. So the direction in which he intends to lead must be read from his actions, and these are unlikely to be definitive in the short term. Peru’s domestic and international situation, however, will frame his main decisions.

Humala is no novice politician rising to victory on charm and luck. In the presidential election of June 2006, he received 45.5 % of the vote – not enough to defeat Alan García, but sufficient to show how deeply he had tapped into the hopes and trust of many Peruvians. At that time, populism seemed an unstoppable force in Latin America. Fueled by an oil boom and vast social spending, Chávez was flying high, blessed and supported by the aging but still active Fidel Castro.

Across the región, Chávez’s influence was strong. His backing was a decisive influence in the election of Bolivia’s President Evo Morales in 2006, and the following year he supported Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, though his impact on their victories is hotly debated.