Editorial: Arana Seeks to Establish a 'New' Left
Update 136. October / November 2009
In his speech to the PSG Conference in Oxford last month, Marco Arana called for a coming together of the Peruvian left around truly democratic values. Arana, a Catholic priest, has all but declared himself a candidate for the presidency, and is busy organising his Tierra y Libertad (Land and Freedom) party. His campaign hopes to reunify the left around a broad-based movement against the neoliberal policies pursued by the present García government and its predecessors.
Arana is pitching into what promises to be a crowded field for the April 2011 presidential elections. Proto-candidates already abound: Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori; Luis Castañeda Lossio, the mayor of Lima; ex-president Alejandro Toledo, undaunted by his previous term in office; Ollanta Humala, the nationalist who came in from the cold to top the poll in the first round in 2006 (only to be defeated in the second). And the list will not stop there.
In competing for the left vote, Arana's main opponent will be Humala. Many prominent people on the left supported Humala in 2006 as the candidate with the most vocal anti-neoliberal discourse. Humala, a former military officer, first emerged onto the political stage as a fervent nationalist and supporter of the so-called ethno-Cacerist group which sought to blend pro-indigenista leanings with a stridently anti-Chilean rhetoric. Cáceres was one of the main figures to resist the Chilean invasion of Peru in the 1880s during the War of the Pacific.
However, there are other long-established tendencies within the left which regard Arana's pretensions with some disquiet: the rump of the old Communist Party, the Maoist-inclined Patria Roja (still strong in the teachers' union, SUTEP) and some of those who have supported the Socialist Party. Other factions within the left adopt a more social democratic stance, and they too need to be won over. Arana will have to convince them that he is capable of reviving the strong electoral support that the left had in the 1980s. He enjoys a number of advantages:
- He is a relative newcomer to the scene. He is not one of those who - rightly or wrongly - are seen as having torn the left apart in the internecine struggles that accompanied the downfall of the Izquierda Unida in the late 1980s.
- He is closely associated in the public mind with the protests by peasant and other communities against the environmental depredation of extractive industries. This has been a highly-charged political issue in recent times. Arana has played a key role in his native Cajamarca rallying public opinion against the damage caused by Yanacocha, the giant largely US-owned gold mine just outside Cajamarca city.
- He is a Catholic priest. Although the number of practising Catholics has declined in Peru, the Church (notwithstanding some of its leaders) is still regarded as a positive force. Opinion polls repeatedly put the Church at the top of those institutions which enjoy public confidence; they routinely put political parties at the bottom. To pursue his political career, however, Arana will need to secure a special dispensation from the Catholic hierarchy.
But it will be an uphill struggle to reassert the moral leadership in politics once enjoyed by the left. Peru has stood in stark contrast to other parts of Latin America in recent years where the left has reasserted itself. The 'pink tide' has not washed up along Peruvian shores. This has much to do with the lasting legacy of Sendero Luminoso, even though 17 years have now passed since Abimael Guzman's capture in 1992.
Sendero engendered a profound sense on insecurity among most Peruvians, a legacy which the authoritarian right under Fujimori was quick to take advantage of. The left is still regarded with suspicion, and the García government has repeatedly referred to those involved in anti-government protests as "terrorists". In this context, the appeal of authoritarians - whether on the left or on the right - should not be underestimated.