The sad state of Peru

Former Peru President Ollanta Humala and his wife Nadine both got sent to prison yesterday, ostensibly over the Odebrecht bribe scandal that’s rocked South America politics. This has all been covered in world media but the context is truly sad.

If you think about recent Peru politics, the list goes like this: most recent ex-Prez Humala is in jail, before him came Alan Garcia, before Alan Garcia came Alejandro Toledo who’s hiding out in the US while arrest warrants are out for him in Peru, before Toledo came Alberto Fujimori who’s in jail (I’m skipping the transition gov’t between Fujimori and Toledo).

Walking into the office today I pondered about one of our developers, Carlos. He’s a young guy, 20-something, got a university degree, makes a small bundle of money, has a girlfriend who’s probably going to be Mrs. Carlos soon. Sure he’s still young but he’s also not a kid. How sad is this: with exception of Alan Garcia, everybody who’s been President of Peru in this young man’s lifetime is either in jail or on the run from justice in Peru.

Carlos is not too far from the median age in Peru. That means half of all Peruvians have only known 1 President in their lifetimes who’s not in jail or on the run from the law. Think about that for a moment.

Sadly, the only 2 takeaways are that Alan Garcia is the best political animal in Peru (Otto says so too) and that Peru has very serious structural problems.

It’s all Alan’s fault

Americans have a hard time with my last name and my first name isn’t very common. This led a former boss of mine to observe “Ward is like Cher or Madonna – everyone knows him by one name only”. The same could be said of Alan Garcia in Peru, he’s such a fixture of politics and popular culture (which are really one nowadays) that he’s simply referred to as “Alan”. When you say “Alan” everyone instantly identifies Alan Garcia.

I have a young man working with me nowadays, Alfredo. Recently I asked him about some code we wrote earlier and he replied that he didn’t remember the details, “I have a terrible memory”. I said “you’re young, you should have an excellent memory”. In my case I had a perfect memory until our first child was born, I would never forget important things and even trivial things I would remember perfectly.

Alfredo answered “It’s all Alan’s fault.”

With a mixture of sarcasm and seriousness he proceeded to explain that there was no milk when he was born during the disastrous first government of Alan Garcia, the period of hyperinflation in the 1980s. His mother suffered. “We – babies of his generation – suffered” he said wryly.

I asked Mamacita linda later in the day about that period and although Mamacita doesn’t like to admit to remembering the 1980s she does remember there would be long lines for basic items in the stores and you could only buy powder or can milk. The family “knew a guy” who would sometimes bring fresh milk and “it was soooo good”. Her mom used to “know somebody” at the store and at the bank who would always make sure their family had what they needed. Mamacita said you would only go to the store or the bank at certain times when you knew “stuff came in” and for even a few basic items her mother would pay with fistfuls of cash. I don’t think Mamacita’s family were privileged but they weren’t among the poorest or worst affected either. During this period Peru was also torn by violence and the terrorism of the Shining Path.

It all seems so absurd now. Thanks to demographics more than half of Peruvians have no memory of those bad old days. There’s been financial and political stability in Peru since the end of the Fujimori era in the late 1990s but I have some mixed feelings about the so-called progress since that time. What Peru gained in macro-economics isn’t reflected in institutional governance imho.

kids run at Señor de Huanca

Just a pretty picture

The man knows his food

I just have to chuckle every time I see this…

Picture of Alan Garcia

Posing with the president and a pig...

That would be Alan Garcia, current (and former) President of Peru, next to a huge pig – click on the pictures to see full size.

These pictures hang on the wall at a chicharonneria we go to in Saylla, a town just outside of Cusco known for “chicharron” or fried pig. I positively know there’s no pun intended. I’ve asked the owner (the lady in the picture with Alan Garcia), and there’s no special relation or political affiliation, they’re just proud that Mr. President frequents their restaurant.

Here’s a couple of closeups:

Alan Garcia and a huge pig

Picture of Alan Garcia

Regardless of how you feel about Peruvian President Alan Garcia and APRA politics, one thing is for sure: the man knows his food 🙂

Tim Geithner related to Alan Garcia??

I’m beginning to think Tim Geithner and Alan Garcia are drinking the same Kool-Aid. In the news today:

Geithner sees ‘durable’ signs of stability “Probably why I’m doing this (tour) is to make sure we keep working with governments around the world to continue to provide enough support to lift this global economy back to a sustained pattern of growth,” he told reporters.

And in other news:

Geithner’s rhetoric is like that of Alan Garcia, who keeps claiming Peru is on track for strong GDP growth and has an iron-clad, recession-proof economy. The numbers, souped up to begin with, show otherwise (courtesy IKN) :

Chile and Peru GDP

Chile and Peru GDP

The root of the problem in the US, put simply, is that people bought houses they couldn’t afford. Without steep wage inflation, the foreclosure crisis and falling home prices may continue for some time (see Japan). For all the monetary easing (printing money) Geithner et al are doing, the only thing that achieves is to temporarily prop up the feeble balance sheets of overleveraged banks.

Tim Geithner and Alan Garcia both use optimistic rhetoric to appease the general public but sadly their policies serve rich old guys in suits before the general public.

Peru: good news update

After the violence in Bagua on June 5 it is good to read a few promising Peru news items:

This does not mean all is well in the world of politics in Peru, it’s only words at this point. But it’s hope for a beginning to the end of Alan Garcia’s sell-out-Peru, money-at-all-cost policies.

Alan Garcia must go!

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time you know I love Peru. However, the government of Alan Garcia and its implementation of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA/TLC) between Peru and the US has put Peru on the brink of becoming a Police State:

All this because of years of neglect (NY Times) of the indigenous people in Peru combined with Free Trade policies that have zoned 72% of the Peruvian Amazon for development and exploration (Duke University).

Alan Garcia cartoon, protest in Cusco

Alan Garcia cartoon, protest in Cusco

At the Corpus Christi celebrations in Cusco this week we saw this poster as one of many expressions of solidarity with the people of the Amazon. Unfortunately US and European media and governments have been largely quiet on the troubling developments in Peru. I’m convinced if the same kind of things took place in Ecuador, Venezuela or Bolivia – countries with left wing governments – there would be widespread media coverage and political condemnation.

People with different points of view may blame political opposition or foreign influence, but even if only 10% of the independent and eyewitness reports are true, the events at Bagua are still enough to demand Alan Garcia’s resignation.

It’s time to put ideologies aside and demand that Alan Garcia and his entire government resign!

How to bring a dictator to justice – or not?

My good friends at CIP are participating in a presentation on the successful extradition of Alberto Fujimori.

“The recent conviction and sentencing of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori have been widely applauded as a remarkable achievement in transitional justice. Thorough, transparent, and impartial, this historic trial marks the first instance of a national court bringing an elected head of state to justice. Much of the success of the trial proceedings relied on groundwork and actions initiated by the Ad Hoc Solicitor’s Office, established in 2000 by the Peruvian government to build criminal cases against Fujimori and his associates. In his role as Ad Hoc Solicitor, Mr. Antonio Maldonado capitalized on Fujimori’s ill-considered decision to travel to Chile in 2005 and led efforts to marshal evidence and extradite the former president. Critical to the success of the extradition was the use of the precedent-setting “autor mediato” (indirect-author) theory, a legal instrument which held Fujimori criminally liable for human rights violations committed by his network. In his presentation, Mr. Maldonado will explain the extradition process and examine the significance of this paradigmatic example of international cooperation in the pursuit of justice. His presentation will be followed by comments by Dr. Cynthia McClintock and Dr. Jo-Marie Burt and will be moderated by Dr. Diego Abente Brun.”

I don’t mean to be insensitive to anyone who suffered from abuses under the Fujimori regime, but I have to disagree with the folks at CIP on this:

The Fujimori verdict and the “autor-mediato” principle give everyone in Peru who was complicit in the abuses of his regime a way to escape responsibility, and that is bad for Peru.

After the bloodbath in Bagua last week, you have to ask how the country is any better now than a decade ago, and how can a government that kills its own citizens and manipulates the media possibly have any credibility bringing their predecessors to justice?

Look, I love Peru but I’m not naive, there are a lot of issues. I worry that saying “justice has been done”, now that Fujimori is in jail, puts a false stamp of approval on the Peru of today. But the problems in Peru don’t begin or end with Alberto Fujimori or even Alan Garcia, just changing the puppet master at the top without changing the culture only gives us a false sense of improvement and a convenient excuse to escape accountability.

I’ve seen nothing but apathy here in Cusco around the Fujimori verdict, perhaps because many people remember how Peru was before Fujimori.

Bagua, Peru – what you can do

I’ve seen a number posts with ways you can express your voice about the bloodbath that happened yesterday in Bagua, in the Peruvian Amazon. Some good sites are Peruanista, Amazilia’s blog and IKN.

But frankly, the most effective action a US citizen can take is to write your elected representative and tell them no amount of free trade or money can ever be justification for bloodshed. Tell your reps that sections 16, 17 (labor) and 18 of the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement are nothing but pie-in-the-sky promises that have no validity outside the wealthy areas of Lima. The US ought to demand the FTA is frozen or revoked until the government of Peru gets a dose of social equity.

Because of what happened, and Alan Garcia’s comments, there can be no other alternative: Alan Garcia must resign. If this kind of bloodshed had taken place in Bolivia or Venezuela, there would be international condemnation all the way from the White House. The accepted belief in the US and Europe that the government of Alan Garcia (30% approval rating) is somehow better than that of Evo Morales or Hugo Chavez (60% approval ratings) is perhaps understandable due to ideologies, but nevertheless completely false.

The macro-economic gains that Peru has enjoyed have not translated to improved quality of life for people in the provinces. The deep-rooted divisions between ethnic groups have only been amplified as the wealthy in Lima sell out the country’s natural resources with little or no benefit for indigenous people. And finally, all the so-called economic gains are extremely short-sighted. If the world economy experiences significant inflation for a few years – which is entirely possible – the large sums of foreign investment Alan Garcia and his cronies now rave about will seem like a pittance. But by then it will be too late, Peru’s vast natural resources will have been sold out. Future generations will work for pennies-on-the-dollar to pay for today’s windfall for a bunch of rich old guys in suits.

There are many great opportunities in Peru, the idea that bloodshed and selling out 72% of the Peruvian Amazon is somehow justifiable or necessary for progress is deplorable.

Peru says 5 police killed in Amazon protest

Here’s the news about sad, needless loss of life in the ongoing dispute between the Peruvian government in Lima and the indigenous people in the Peruvian Amazon, who are trying to protect their lands from development. In English from AP and in Spanish from El Comercio.

Another needless tragedy in a country that has fantastic human and natural resources.

There’s no justification for violence, and blame on both sides. Check out IKN for more insight on the developments leading up to this.

If the global events of the last year or so prove anything, it’s to be leary of rich old guys in suits. The money-at-all costs Peruvian government of Alan Garcia and APRA need to realize money is just a funny printed paper, making money in Lima is fruitless if it doesn’t improve the lives of all Peruvians.

UPDATE:

There are now 7 police and 22 indigenous civilians reported killed in the unrest in Bagua, in the Peruvian Amazon.

Pictures and reports of reporters possibly also killed at La Republica.

Protest in Bagua, Peruvian Amazon

Protest in Bagua, Peruvian Amazon

More on the Bagua situation and how you can voice concern:

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As they say in Belgium “Trop is Te Veel, and Te Veel is Trop”. Time for Alan Garcia to resign.

“China fears bond crisis” – buy$ Peru

Interesting article about the Chinese Central Bank again questioning US monetary policy.

“…Simon Derrick, currency chief at the Bank of New York Mellon, said the report is the latest sign that China is losing patience with the US and aims to diversify part its $1.95 trillion (£1.3 trillion) foreign reserves away from US Treasuries and other dollar securities.

Hans Redeker, head of currencies at BNP Paribas, said China is switching into hard assets. “They want to buy production rights to raw materials and gain access to resources such as oil, water, and metals. They know they can’t keep buying bonds,” he said …”

Since the US government has been printing up money as if it’s going out of style, the Chinese are worried that their dollar-denominated foreign investments (US Treasuries) may soon become, well, Monopoly money.

Peruvians should pay attention to these developments, as Peru recently signed a free-trade agreement (TLC) with China, giving China greater access to Peru’s natural resources as well as infrastructure projects. Look for the Chinese to continue investing in Peru (say, La Oroya).

Finally, unless Prez. Two Breakfasts (Alan Garcia) gets a dose of social equality really fast, don’t be surprised to see some Socialist ideology trickle into Peru along with Chinese investments.