Quick primer on Verónika Mendoza – likely next President of Peru

Years ago when I had recently moved to Cusco we were out walking behind Larapa. There’s a gated neighborhood behind Larapa where the elite and millionaires of Cusco live. While we were lingering around the gate a taxi pulled up and 3 school-age girls jumped out.

Patricia: “I can’t believe it.”

Me: “huh?”

Patricia: “These girls, they go to that school?”

Me: “huh?”

“That school”, as Patricia recognized the girls’ uniforms, was EESPP Santa Rosa. I had no idea at the time but EESPP Santa Rosa is a unique school in Cusco. It’s a public school but unlike all other public schools in Cusco it’s considered a very high quality school and is highly coveted by the elites of Cusco. Most middle class or elites in Cusco would absolutely die before they put their kids in any public school, except for EESPP Santa Rosa. They line up around the block to put their kids in EESPP Santa Rosa.

Patricia’s reaction at seeing the well-to-do girls in their EESPP Santa Rosa uniforms was more dejection than surprise. As I understand it, Patricia’s mom – a single mother – tried to get Patricia’s younger sister into EESPP Santa Rosa but didn’t get in. EESPP Santa Rosa supposedly has a charter of providing quality education to the needy but back in Patricia’s school days the school was (probably still is?) administered by Catholic nuns and the long-time director of the school, madre Aurora, had a reputation for selecting the “needy” based on the quality of the gifts their mothers brought to the school. A few genuinely needy families were sprinkled in but overall EESPP Santa Rosa in those days was highly elitist.

Surprising as it may be, EESPP Santa Rosa was also the school of Verónika Mendoza for most of her childhood education. I say “surprising” because Verónika Mendoza is a classic left-wing politician and a hard core anti-capitalist. Madre Aurora’s philosophy does not seem to have rubbed of onto her pupil.

I don’t know Verónika Mendoza personally but people who knew her in her school days say she was nice and likeable. She has French and Peruvian roots, which explains some of her Socialist convictions. Most French are Socialist except for a few uber-wealthy closet capitalists.

Despite the fact that many in Peru have strong reservations against left wing politics I think Verónika Mendoza has a good chance of becoming the next President of Peru. Elections are slated for April, with a likely second-round runoff sometime in June or thereabouts. The field is wide open, with nobody polling more than about 15% or so.

Verónika Mendoza will have a strong anti-vote owing to her left wing ideology but most of the other well known candidates have at least as strong of an anti-vote as she does. More importantly, the anti-vote against Verónika Mendoza is strictly for her ideology whereas most of the other leading contenders have a strong personal anti-vote. And even though many are opposed to her left-wing ideology, of all the leading candidates Verónika Mendoza is the only one who can legitimately claim to have an ideology. The rest (Daniel Urresti, Keiko Fujimori, Ollanta Humala, etc) are just running on populist or personal cult type platforms and this might just be the time that the electorate is tired of those types of candidates.

On the other hand there’s a bundle of people with no name recognition vying for the middle-of-the-road vote. Owing to the amount of candidates vying for that slice of the vote and their lack of name recognition, it’s not at all guaranteed that any of them will even make the second round. Also, many Peruvians feel like they’ve voted for the least-bad or middle-of-the-road candidate in most of the recent elections and only got shafted for it. I suspect there are many people willing to take a chance on someone who isn’t running on a least-bad middle-of-the-road type argument.

With about 2 months to go before the elections the field is wide open but don’t rule out Verónika Mendoza as the next President of Peru. If she wins or even just gets to the second round runoff be ready to recalibrate your expectations of the neo-liberal/neo-conservative policies that have been the law of the land in Peru since at least the beginning of this century.

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