Monday, June 6, 2011

Humala Declares Victory in Peru

With more than 86 percent of the vote counted, Peruvian candidate Ollanta Humala leads Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori by just over two percentage points in the country’s presidential runoff election. According to the official tally of the National Office of Electoral Processes (Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales – ONPE), Humala took 51.183% of the vote, while Fujimori won 48.817%. WOLA’s Jo-Marie Burt and Coletta Youngers, reporting from Peru, cited the watchdog group Transparencia which gave Humala a marginally bigger lead (51.3% versus 48.7 %).

Interestingly, in the lead-up to the elections, there was a flurry of talk about the importance of the Peruvian migrant community living abroad. As the Wall Street Journal reports, expats make up around 4% of Peru’s total electorate, giving them a more crucial role than they have held in any other previous election. Because of this, some analysts predicted the group would give Fujimori campaign a much-needed lift.

If such a “bump” occurred, however, it was likely offset by support for Humala in more remote, rural areas of the country. As this election map produced by El Comercio shows, Humala won the majority of votes in the central, southern and jungle regions, while support for Fujimori was strongest in the north and among urban voters, especially in Lima and Callao.

In the U.S. press, the commentary on Peru’s elections is largely homogenous, with most major outlets choosing to focus less on the results as a bellwether of declining support for the country’s dominant economic model, and more on Humala’s leftist politics. In the eyes of investors, it looks as if it’s time for the probable winner to finally answer the question that’s been dogging him for months: is he more of a Lula, or more of a Chavez?
 According to Reuters, analysts expect Peruvian shares and the sol to fall this week, with investors hopeful that he will prove himself to be more like the former, and appoint moderates to key economic policy posts. As Reuters puts it, “Losses could prove short-lived if Humala shows himself to be a moderate leader in the vein of Brazil's popular former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.”

The L.A. Times account quotes a spokesperson for Humala's Gana Peru party, who blames this speculation on Fujimori’s campaign, which he says whipped up last-minute fears of an imminent socialist takeover, complete with Chavez-style property confiscations. According to him, however, Peruvians have nothing to worry about. "We won't expropriate even a dog," he said.

In the New York Times, former governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson dismissed comparisons to either Lula or Chavez, and gave an unusual tacit plug for Humala. Richardson, who is in Peru as an observer for the OAS, instead described him as more of a “nationalist with evolving views and a pragmatic streak.”

In Peru, despite some apprehension about Humala, it seems many people are simply fed up with the apocalyptic tone of electoral process and are glad that the whole ordeal is finally over. Carlos Castro writes an insightful critique in the Republica (in Spanish) about the Peruvian press’s coverage of elections, comparing it to the fear-mongering journalism prevalent under Fuijomri, Sr.

Ultimately, it’s hard to see how Humala could “pull a Chavez,” even if he wanted to. His razor-thin victory is hardly a popular mandate, and although his party will have the biggest voting bloc in Congress, once in office there will be no way for him to push an agenda without compromising with the opposition. As such, a constitutional referendum like those seen in Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador are unlikely to get much traction.

News Briefs

·         In other news, The Nation briefly published a story on Saturday about a WikiLeaks-obtained U.S. State Department cable that portrays the Obama administration in an extremely unflattering light. Although the progressive magazine pulled the article in order to coincide with the publishing schedule of its partner Haiti Liberté, the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) has written a nice summary of it. Among other things, the cable allegedly documents how the administration pressured Haiti not to raise its minimum wage to 61 cents an hour (which amounts to $5 a day) in accordance with the wishes of U.S. textile companies in the country like Hanes and Levi Strauss. According to the CJR, The State Department pressured Haiti's president on the matter, who then created a carved out a $3 per day exception for textile companies. Needless to say, these actions are a far cry from the official humanitarian narrative of U.S-Haitian relations, and may spark more dialogue on the matter. The Nation plans on officially publishing the article on Wednesday.

·         Mercopress with a report on Cristina Fernandez’s return from her three-day diplomatic trip to Italy. The Argentine head of state told reporters that her country is back on the world stage “with a bang.”

·         In Cuba, Raul Castro turned 80 on Friday, and IPS wrote a rather optimistic piece on his role in pressing for reforms. According to the report, about 300,000 people transitioned into Cuba’s “private sector” in the first three months of 2011, a process that Raul heavily endorsed during the recent Cuban Party Congress. The author sheds light on the country’s evolving relationship with Brazil as a major source of economic progress, highlighting Lula’s recent visit and the Brazilian-financed $300 million expansion of the port of Mariel.

·         On a regional note, two competing takes on what Humala’s campaign menat for the larger “Latin American Left” from the Christian Science Monitor and the Telegraph

·         According to the Washington Post, President Rafael Correa announced this Saturday that Ecuador will be forced to develop three oil fields in the Yasuni bioshpere unless the international community donates $100 million by December. Correa’s government gained international praise in 2007 with its pledge to abstain from going after untapped oil in the region for a decade if the Global north would contribute $3.6 billion, which was only half of what the country could earn from the oil.

·         A major development occurred in the Colombian conflict on Saturday with the death of Alirio Rojas, known as "El Abuelo." Rojas was wanted by Colombian intelligence for dozens of attacks in the department of Tolima, including the 2008 murder of mayoral candidate Jorge Álvarez Rodríguez.  As Caracol Radio points out, Rojas was the security chief of top commander Alfonso Cano, and has been described as his “right hand.”  His death serves as a major warning to the FARC command, and comes as a reminder to them that no one is untouchable. The fact that the Colombian military have managed to strike so close may be sign that security forces closing in on Cano, and could ultimately signal government’s unwillingness to reach a political settlement to the conflict, considering how close that would make them be to achieving a military victory.

·         More on the “crisis” in the Brazilian Amazon this week. On Friday, AFP reported that Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff announced an emergency military operation in the enormous Para state, in an attempt to bring paramilitary groups that operate in the service of large landholders to justice. InSight’s Hannah Stone has a well thought out analysis of land conflicts in Brazil, complete with maps of the most heated conflict areas. As she points out, a law enforcement strategy may not solve the problem. Brazil has one of the most unequal land distributions in the world, and the government's 2006 agricultural census revealed that the equity of this distribution has been "virtually unchanged" over the previous 20 years.

·         A recent story in the LA Times suggests that GOP candidates are cautiously warming up to immigration reform. As the article points out, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman have all softened their rhetoric on immigration in recent weeks. Still, it is likely that they will be forced to tighten up their approaches if the Tea Party base gets fired up on immigration, much like it did during the midterm elections.

·         The Americas Quarterly Blog with a tidy rundown of Mauricio Funes’s first two years in office. While Funes has implemented a whole range of social policies in El Salvador, his popularity remains mixed due to the country’s tepid economic performance and rising citizen insecurity.'

·       In the wake of recent police scandals, Hugo Chavez announced his intention to press for police reform in the country. As the BBC reports, the announcement came after the death of three prisoners over the past few weeks, and forensic evidence suggested that at least two of them had been beaten and drowned. Four police officers have been arrested in connection with the beatings. According to Human Rights Watch’s 2011 Country Report, Venezuela prisons are among the most violent in Latin America, and hundreds of violent prison deaths occur every year.