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Will Peru Go the Way of Venezuela and Bolivia?

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

In a few weeks, Peru will elect a new president. Roughly speaking, the electorate is fragmented into ideological thirds, although Peruvians may not vote exactly that way.

One third supports Ollanta Humala, the neopopulist candidate with an authoritarian bent, allied to various forces of the radical left. The other two thirds, with their own shadings, are part of the same political family that includes social democrats, Christian democrats and some sectors right of center.

In the May 28 election, Alan García -- the social-democratic candidate of that majority segment of the population, former president (1985-1990), leader of the APRA (Popular Revolutionary Alliance of America), lawyer and effective speaker -- will face former putschist army officer Humala.

García has a powerful element against him: He didn't do well in his first presidential term. Perhaps he was too young. He was barely 35 when he came to power. When he left, five years later, the country was in the midst of a severe economic crisis. Yet, it's fair to remember that he was a democrat who respected liberties and did not substantially affect the rules of the game.

He saw both himself and his party as a Latin American expression of democratic socialism. His ideological compass pointed to Willy Brandt of Germany or Felipe González of Spain, not to Fidel Castro or the Russians.

García was part of the system and came from a party (APRA) that had taken on the task of modernizing Peru within Western patterns of conduct. The party's founders did not want to destroy the United States or Western Europe but to emulate them.

That's the great difference between García and Humala. On the political field, Humala -- like Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales and Fidel Castro -- is an enemy of the political values of Western democracies. On the economic field, he is a convinced and avowed collectivist.

Were Humala to win the election, ultranationalism and indigenism would rule together with statism and the rejection of the market. Add his intolerant, anti-Semitic and homophobic character, and this inevitably would lead to an authoritarian, unproductive and increasingly militarized government that would bring only pain to the Peruvian people.

Failure to understand the characteristics of this conflict -- the liberal republic against an anti-Western authoritarian collectivism -- was what dragged Venezuelans and Bolivians toward disaster. In the 1990s, as described by Venezuelan essayist Carlos Raúl Hernández, Venezuela's major parties were incapable of understanding the dangerous phenomenon of Chavism and tore each other apart mercilessly, opening the door to power to the putschist officer Chávez.

Danger looming ahead

Ten months before the 1998 election, Chávez was a candidate with no chance to succeed, but Venezuela's democratic family committed mass suicide, as if enacting a macabre ritual. In 2005, Bolivia's democratic parties engaged in the same (or a similar) political behavior, enabling Morales' electoral support to leap from 20 percent to more than 50 percent in just a few months.

Now the Peruvian society has been placed before the same precipice. Will García be capable of forming a coalition with the nation's other democratic forces? He really needs their support, first to win the election and later to gain a majority in Congress and give stability and efficacy to his government.

Given the immense danger looming ahead, it should not be difficult for Garcia to negotiate some minimal accords on economic matters. Basically, that would include common-sense and transparency in public expenditures and in the fight against inflation; to unhesitatingly support the free-trade agreements with the United States and the European Union; and to develop among all the democratic forces a vigorous policy to combat poverty, the main material and moral problem affecting the country.

But that democratic alliance must go further, as is happening in neighboring Chile, and remain firm at least for the duration of the imperial spasms of collectivist neopopulism. During the next 10 or 15 years, all of Latin America, particularly the Andean region, will suffer the onslaught of that nefarious and impoverishing trend.

The time has come for Peruvians to close ranks. Not to do so would be an unforgivable irresponsibility.

©2006 Firmas Press

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