Exit Alan Garcia
29 April 2019
Alan Garcia’s suicide removes one of Peru’s most influential politicians, even though that influence declined notably in the last few years.
Ever since picking up Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre’s mantle as leader of APRA (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana) in the early 1980s, García exercised a strong presence, even during lengthy periods of absence from Peru.
He led APRA to victory in 1985, only to see it suffer the consequences of his own policies in the 1990 elections. Following this political debacle, few predicted that he would ever be president again. But Garcia challenged the naysayers when he fought the 2001 elections and only narrowly lost to Alejandro Toledo, and once more when in 2006 he took on Ollanta Humala and won.
Garcia was a consummate political operator and his instinct for power was ever present. But he was constitutionally barred from running again in 2011 (when the APRA candidate withdrew from the race) and was personally humiliated in 2016 when he ran for office again and attracted only a paltry 4% of the vote.
And as the Odebrecht investigations seem likely to prove, he also saw politics as a route to personal enrichment. He managed to dodge accusations of corruption during his first administration, but looked like being formally accused for corruption in his second at the point when he decided to take his own life.
Supporters of APRA will echo Garcia’s claims that he was a victim of persecution, but most Peruvians are unlikely to accept this line of argument. Media commentators gave him a respectful adios when the news of his death was first announced, but few have bought into the idea that he was innocent of the charges levelled against him.
Rather the picture that emerges is that Peru’s political elite, no matter where they have stood in the ideological spectrum, has engaged freely in illegal activity during more than three decades. No wonder that voters feel a widespread revulsion for the political class.
With the honourable exception of the caretaker Paniagua administration (2000-01), every Peruvian president since 1985 stands accused of corrupt activity. One (Alberto Fujimori) was jailed for 25 years for corruption and human right crimes; one (Pedro Pablo Kuczynski) appears to be about to go to jail if and when he emerges from hospital; one (García) was about to go to jail when he killed himself; one (Ollanta Humala) has already spent a considerable time in jail pending further enquiries; and one (Alejandro Toledo) will almost certainly go to jail if or when his extradition from the United States is realised.
Furthermore, the leader of Peru’s largest opposition party (Keiko Fujimori) is also in jail pending enquiries into corrupt activities, and a former mayor of Lima (Susana Villarán) may follow the same path in the not too distant future.
That so many are in this position is, at least in part, due to the determination of a sector of the judiciary (both public prosecutors and judges) to follow through with prosecutions irrespective of the political standing of those accused. And they too have had to fight their own battles within the judiciary which, gradually, they seem to be winning.
The big question that remains, of course, is whether this will lead to a change in political behaviour in the future. A new generation of politicians will emerge between now and the next elections in 2021. And new rules may reach the statute book designed to deter a repetition of the sort of illegal behaviour that has been the hallmark of recent decades.
But it remains to be seen how many of these new rules will be finally enacted and, even if they are, whether they will lead to a significant shift in the way in which politics is conducted in practice.