Peru News Summary: May 2011

31 May 2011

Electoral polls favour Keiko’s candidacy

Presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori overtook her rival Ollanta Humala in this month’s electoral polls. The most recent Datum poll has Fujimori narrowly in the lead with 52.9 percent of the vote, over five points ahead of Humala who has 47.1.

Despite her ascendancy Fujimori continues to prove a highly controversial candidate who has attracted criticism from a number of quarters. This month it was revealed that her Fuerza 2011 party has been donating and distributing food to those living in poor neighbourhoods in Lima. Keiko denies the donations were politically motivated, claiming they were nothing more than “small gifts” for her supporters. Observers note however, that the areas to which her campaign has distributed food generally coincide with the areas in which Humala enjoys greater support.

Keiko’s use of food donations in this manner is highly reminiscent of a similar tactic successfully employed by her father, imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori (1990 – 2000), to gain support during his presidential campaigns. Suspicions that Alberto continues to play a key role in shaping Keiko’s campaign were further reinforced this month when, following a series of media reports, Keiko admitted the existence of an important campaign centre within a couple of hundred metres of her father’s prison cell (to view a map click here). The Fuerza 2011 campaign courted further controversy when Keiko’s (now former) spokesman, Jorge Trelles, declared that under Alberto Fujimori’s administration “we killed less than the two governments that preceded us”.

Human rights groups and anti-corruption campaigners are, for the most part, lining up to oppose Keiko’s presidential bid. The National Coordinator for Human Rights (known by its Spanish-language acronym CNDDHH) has launched a nationwide campaign entitled “Fujimori, Never Again” to remind voters of the human rights violations committed during her father’s presidency. Jose Ugaz, Peru’s public prosecutor for corruption, has also publicly criticised Keiko, deeming “unacceptable” her claim that she was unaware of any abuses committed by her father’s former aide Vladimiro Montesinos.

Such criticism does not appear to have yet deterred the electorate at large from backing Keiko. Her campaign has received a further boost over recent weeks from public declarations of support from a number of notable personalities, including eminent economist Hernando de Soto and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

 

Humala presents new manifesto to win support of centrist voters

In recent weeks inconsistencies have been increasingly evident in Humala’s presidential campaign as he has sought to tack to the centre.

While the reforms he outlined in speeches and interviews were fairly moderate in nature his written electoral manifesto contained proposals for a number of more fundamental changes for example, constitutional reform and the nationalisation of some industry sectors. A number of commentators portrayed this as a dangerously radical document and depicted Humala as a clone of controversial Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Following his recent dip in the polls Humala has made a concerted effort to combat such criticism and to win over centrist voters. In a ceremony this month in front of invited human rights activists, politicians, doctors, intellectuals and business people Humala swore “not to make or even attempt any change to the constitution that would permit re-election.”

The ceremony formed part of the launch of his new electoral manifesto, which rules out some of the more controversial elements of the previous document. The new manifesto no longer proposes far-reaching reforms to the pension system. This pledge had proved unpopular with much of the business community which feared it may lead to the nationalisation of private pension funds, as happened in Argentina in 2008. Lobbying by these groups led outgoing President Alan García to propose a bill protecting private pension funds from meddling by future governments.

Along with his new stance on pensions Humala also promised to protect the constitution and confirmed his commitment to congressional and judicial independence. Renowned author and political commentator Mario Vargas Llosa, who spoke at the ceremony via satellite, reaffirmed his support for Humala, urging Peruvians to vote for him to “defend democracy”. A vote for Keiko, he warned, would be a vote to repeat “one of the most corrupt and cruel dictatorships we’ve had in our history.”

 

UN urges Peru to do more to combat slavery

On 20 May the Peruvian government was advised by a UN expert that it must do more to combat modern slavery. Gulnara Shahinian, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, made the remarks after a 12-day trip to the country to investigate the issues of forced labour in the logging and illegal mining industries, domestic servitude and child labour. Her study also looked at the recruitment of underage boys in the Peruvian armed forces.

Shahinan stated that Peruvian authorities have “demonstrated a strong will to combat contemporary forms of slavery by establishing multi-sectoral institutions at both national and regional level and developing relevant national plans.” However, she also warned that “a lot remains to be done, in particular by enforcing existing legislation, introducing separate criminal sanctions for all forms of slavery, developing comprehensive protection mechanisms, as well reintegration and compensation schemes for victims, and strengthening implementation and monitoring of programs at regional and local levels.”

Her report drew particular attention to the Madre de Dios region, stating that the “ungoverned gold rush has brought lawlessness and with it a whole range of slavery-like practices - mainly forced labour and sexualexploitation of both minors and adults”. Highlighting the country’s rapid economic growth in recent years Shahinian emphasised that the country “should ensure that economic development does not take precedence over people’s rights”.

Shahinan made her comments as Peru was elected to the UN’s 47-member Human Rights Council, where it will serve a three-year term.

 

Protests against mining concession continue in Puno

The last two weeks of May saw large-scale protests in Puno over planned mining projects. An estimated 10,000 locals have marched from the provinces of Chucuito and Yunguyo through the streets of the highland capital, according to the Luz Herquinio of the regional office of the human rights ombudsman (Defensoría del pueblo). Protest activity has led to the closure of local markets and the suspension of public transport and school classes. Demonstrators also blocked many of the roads between Peru and Bolivia, blocking commerce between the two countries and forcing visitors on to boats to reach the Bolivian highland town of Copacabana.

The protestors are seeking the suspension of mining and gas projects in the region, including the Santa Ana silver mine, operated by Canadian firm Bear Creek. The company had hoped to begin extraction by late 2011 following the government’s approval of its environmental impact assessment earlier this year.

However, the renewed demonstrations reflect the local communities’ ongoing concerns about the project. In response to the unrest, the government has announced it would review the situation and created a committee to study protestors’ demands.

In the meantime however, the García administration has sought to control demonstrators by authorising the deployment of troops to the region to bolster the police presence there. Human rights groups denounced the move and voiced concern that the military presence would escalate tensions with demonstrators and provoke violent clashes.

Last month, three were killed and 30 injured in similar protests in the neighbouring region of Arequipa during clashes between state officials and demonstrators.

 

 

Expert warns of drug traffickers' infiltration of Congress

A prominent analyst of the Peruvian drug-trade this month denounced the García administration for failing to stop drug money from entering the Peruvian political system. Jaime Antezana said the government’s lack of action on this issue has left “an explosive inheritance” for the incoming administration.

Antezana also claimed that at least ten of the newly elected parliamentarians could have direct or indirect links with illegal coca production and money-laundering. Antezana declined to mention the names of the politicians due to concerns over his personal safety. He has instead called on the relevant authorities to investigate.

Eight of the ‘narco-candidates’ are believed to be members of Fuerza 2011 and Gana Perú, the respective parties of presidential hopefuls Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala. The remaining two are believed to be found within the ranks of the Perú Posible and the Alianza por el Gran Cambio parties. If correct, Antezana’s allegations would mean the drugs trade had more than double the congressional seats won by APRA, the party of outgoing President Alan García.

A number of commentators have highlighted the increasing influence of drug-money in Peruvian politics in recent months. According to Devida, the state agency responsible for Peru’s counter-narcotics strategy, the illegal drugs trade in the country is now worth between US$ 2 and US$ 6 billion annually.

Following Antezana’s announcement, both Fuerza 2011 and Gana Perú declared they would immediately expel any party members if reasonable proof existed that they were involved with any such illicit activity.

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