Monday, July 30, 2012

Assessing Humala’s First Year as President of Peru

A year on from his July 28 inauguration, Peru’s President Ollanta Humala is facing falling approval ratings and widespread discontent, mostly driven by his shift from populist left-winger to a conservative who is seen as putting business interests above the wishes of communities affected by mining projects.

Humala’s presidency so far has been very different from what he promised during his campaign. The issue that has caused the most bitterness is his approach to social conflicts over the exploitation of natural resources, particularly mining. As the BBC points out, he had promised to use dialogue, not force, in handling these disputes.

However, in practice he has taken a hard line towards protests, imposing three states of emergency to quell them, sending the army in and suspending civil rights. Two of these were in Cajamarca, in the northern highlands, where 5 people died this month in clashes over a planned open-pit gold mine. At least 17 people have died in clashes with police across the country in the last year, according to the BBC, while some 245 riots took place across the country in June alone. All this has driven his approval rating down to 40 percent this month.

On the campaign trail last year Humala told assembled crowds in Cajamarca - "I give you my promise that I will respect your wishes,” saying that clean water was more important than gold.

Moves like this have alienated the left, which brought him to power, while gaining him ground with his former opponents on the right -- Humala has delivered a 6 percent expansion in the economy in his year in power. The Associated Press sums up the contradictions of the president by saying that:

Humala has proven most popular among the Peruvians who most feared him as a candidate, and least popular with the poor he professed to champion.
Humala argues that developing natural resources is the way to lift Peruvians out of poverty. The AP highlights two schemes that give a monthly payout to the elderly and the very poor, which the government plans to expand using mining revenues. Humala's administration has also increased the royalties paid by mining firms, and made consulting with indigenous communities a requirement for resource extraction projects on their land, as Reuters reports.

In a speech to Congress on Saturday to mark Peru’s independence day, Humala promised to bring about “inclusive growth,” and admitted that “we have not achieved everything we set out to achieve,” the BBC reports. The president said he would reduce the percentage of the population living in poverty from 28 percent to 15 by the end of his term in 2016, Dow Jones reports.

Humala has already carried out two cabinet reshuffles -- the first, in December 2011, heralded a more militarized approach to the social conflicts, with ex-military officer Oscar Valdes as prime minister. The second, a week ago, replaced Valdes with human rights lawyer Juan Jimenez, who has promised to take a more moderate approach to the social conflicts.

El Comercio points out that Humala has not fulfilled his promise to cut the price of a drum of gasoline to less than $5, or to raise the salaries of the security forces, but that he has created an anti-corruption prosecutor. It also notes that his wife is viewed as a driving force behind his presidency, and that members of the administration are feeding the idea that she could herself run for president.

Michael Shifter has a piece in Foreign Policy that talks about the first lady, Nadine Heredia, describing the questions over the extent of her influence as another headache for the president.


News Briefs

  • Indigenous groups in Brazil released three engineers who they had held hostage since Tuesday due to disputes about the environmental impact of the Belo Monte dam, reports the WSJ. Two were freed on Friday, after their employer Norte Energia and federal prosecutors agreed to meet with indigenous leaders. One of the engineers was freed Thursday, after suffering a “nervous breakdown,” reports Bem Parana. The engineers had visited the village of Muratu, in the southwest of the Amazonian Para state, to discuss measures to mitigate the impact of the dam, set to be the third biggest in the world. The tribes are concerned that the project will stop them navigating the Xingu river. Representatives of indigenous organization Funai said that there was no violence, and that the hostages were well treated, reports O Globo.
  • Cuba’s Interior Ministry has released the first official statement on the death of dissident Oswaldo Paya on July 22, saying that investigators found that the car had been going too fast, and span out of control on a stretch of dirt road, the Miami Herald reports. Suspicions have been raised that it was not an accident, however, with Paya’s wife telling journalists that other people traveling in the car said that it was repeatedly rammed by another vehicle. The LA Times says that Paya’s death, coming nine months after that of fellow dissident Laura Pollan, a founder of the Ladies in White, is a serious blow to Cuba’s opposition. The newspaper notes that “in both cases, the families raised questions about the circumstances and suggested the possibility of foul play, though they presented no evidence.”
  • The Christian Science Monitor and Al Jazeera have pieces on the efforts of Colombia’s indigenous Nasa group to eject the FARC rebels and the army from their homeland in Cauca province. The CSM reports from the public flogging of three guerrillas and a young accomplice captured by the Nasa. “The prisoners’ evident pain during the flogging divided the crowd. 'You have the hearts of dogs,' and 'Don't you have sons?' yelled some at those demanding the whippings be completed. The 16-year-old captive fell to the floor in tears after just a few hits, as his family pleaded for mercy. Each lashing was stopped early.”
  • Damien Cave at the NYT reports on the Uruguayan government’s proposal to legally regulate the sales of marijuana. It notes that, as it is already legal to possess the drug, some users see the government’s idea, with a registered list of users, as an "Orwellian" step backwards. Bloggings by Boz points out that the proposal will not wipe out the black market, as there will be artificial limits on the quality and quantity of the drug sold.
  • The WSJ has a report on a more affluent form of drug war refugee -- rich Mexicans who are fleeing across the border into the US to escape the threat of kidnap or extortion by drug cartels. This has helped support property prices in some Texan border towns like McAllen, where “until recently, most Mexican immigrants to the McAllen area were low-wage service industry workers.”
  • The offices of Mexican El Norte newspaper have been attacked for the third time in a month, reports the AP, with an arson attack a branch in Monterrey.
  • The Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer has a piece arguing that the biggest challenge for Latin America’s governments is to focus on the “boring stuff,” as economist Paul Krugman put it in an interview with him: “The economies that seem to do the best are the ones that seem to have somewhat middle-of- the road policies, that are basically free market, responsible fiscal policies, but also make some serious efforts at poverty reduction, Brazil being the obvious case.”
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ calls on the Obama administration to cut off Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aid to El Salvador if the Funes government does not comply with a high court ruling on Supreme Court judges.
  • Venezuela’s acting ambassador to Kenya was found dead by strangulation in her residence in Nairobi. Olga Fonseca Gimenez took the post less than two weeks previously, after the previous ambassador left amid accusations of sexual harassment, reports the AP.
  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez turned 58 on Saturday. He marked the day with a campaign rally in the Caracas neighborhood of Petare, where he danced and sang onstage, reports the AP.
  • The LA Times profiles Eike Batista, a Brazilian billionaire who it says has become a symbol of the country’s declining economic fortunes, as investor flight destroyed half his $30 billion wealth.