Editorial: 'New APRA'?

Update 124. 30 November 2007

As Peru's neighbours - particularly Ecuador and Bolivia, but also to some extent Chile and Brazil - rebrand themselves as leftist or social democratic regimes, the Garcia government seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Having once posed as the standard bearer of European style social democracy in Latin America, the 'reborn' Alan Garcia is keen to erase this political identity, both in word and deed.

In word, Garcia gave voice to his new convictions in an article written recently in the El Comercio newspaper, entitled "El sindrome del perro del hortelano" (the-dog-in-the -manger syndrome) in which he argued the pressing necessity for Peru to alter its property regime to attract foreign investment. The choice of medium was no accident. El Comercio has long been Peru's most pro-business newspaper, and its hostility towards Garcia's APRA party - once a standard bearer of left-leaning reformism - is one of the legends of Peruvian history in the 20th century.

Garcia's article began by arguing that large-scale property titles should be awarded in the Amazon jungle so that its forestry resources could be successfully exploited. Environmental issues notwithstanding, it specified giving secure land titles "of 5,000, 10,000 or 20,000 hectares, since smaller land concessions there will not bring long-term investment with high technology." It went on to criticise the policy of giving small-scale lots to poor peasants (under the agrarian reform) and the need to grant larger concession to an agricultural "middle class" with the capacity to invest. He attacked the traditional regime of communal landholding for its inefficient use of land.

The article went on to highlight the threat to Peru's mineral development posed by the environmental lobby, citing in particular the Rio Blanco project in Piura, the subject of an ongoing dispute involving peasant communities, a dispute highlighted by the Peru Support Group's recent report. Garcia characterised being behind the dispute "the old anti-capitalist communist of the 19th century, disguised as a protectionist in the 20th century, and donning the clothes of the environmentalist in the 21st century." The same sort of arguments were used to decry those opposed to the development of hydrocarbons in the Amazon and those, such as small-scale fisheries, opposed to industrialised fishing in the Pacific. Garcia's article finished attacking those who seek to extend workers' rights and criticising the teaching profession for failure to raise educational standards.

In deed, Garcia's brand of Aprismo is also far removed from the policies with which his party is traditionally associated.

In its domestic alliances, the ruling party has anchored itself to an informal alliance with the right-wing Unidad Nacional coalition, whose main organised component is the Partido Popular Cristiano. The PPC - a narrow-based elite party with a decidedly conservative Catholic ideology - has long been the main political voice of the business community. The Garcia government has also sought to work with the followers of former president Alberto Fujimori, the disgraced neoliberal autocrat. However these ties have come under strain since Fujimori's extradition from Chile to face incarceration and trial for human rights violation and corruption.

In its foreign policy, too, the Garcia administration has moved to establish the closest possible ties to the Bush administration in Washington, distancing itself not only from the anti-US postures of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, but also the more measured nationalism of other countries in South America. Securing the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States has been the key consideration for Peru's foreign policy, with Alan Garcia trying to pose - alongside Colombia's Alvaro Uribe - as Washington's most faithful ally in the region.

What would Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, APRA's founding father, have said about this transformation in the party's once leftist and nationalist ideological outlook? Such a transformation of traditional party values makes Blairism and New Labour look positively tame.

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