Peru coup update

Manuel Merino, the crooked bully who orchestrated last Monday’s illegitimate ouster of Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra has this morning resigned as interim president.

Initially the thug appeared to have support of the Lima oligarchy and the military but widespread street protests ensued. The Peruvian national police (PNP) repressed the citizen protests with excessive force, allegedly on orders that “nothing is off limits”. Last night 2 protesters, Jack Bryan Pintado Sánchez and Inti Sotelo Camargo, were killed. All indications are they were shot by police.

Subsequent to the deaths of Jack and Inti the Peruvian political class massively abandoned Manuel Merino. My guess is he’ll seek exile in Brazil before sunset tomorrow.

Peru is still in the midst of its most severe constitutional crisis since at least the beginning of this century but the people of Peru stood up and drew a line in the sand for the thugs and oligarchs. Sadly 2 young men paid for it with their lives. I hope Manuel Merino rots in jail for the rest of his days.

What a Keiko Fujimori presidency means for Peru

Keiko Fujimori is favored to be elected President of Peru this Sunday June 5. Peruvian presidential elections are notoriously fickle and an 11th hour momentum swing is not impossible, but it doesn’t look likely.

In my opinion her opponent in the runoff election, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski or “PPK”, hasn’t run a very strong campaign but I don’t think it would have mattered. When Keiko Fujimori wins the election it will be largely for 3 reasons:

She represents change in the minds of the voters.

Since Keiko Fujimori’s father, Alberto Fujimori, got run out of the country 15+ years ago, Peru has had typically center-right, business friendly government and conservative fiscal policy. While macro indicators are generally good, a significant portion of the electorate feels sidelined, they feel that the government cares only for the business/political establishment. Peru isn’t the only place in the world with this sentiment, look at Scotland, the Brexit, the US elections, Dilma’s impeachment in Brazil, it’s a global trend. People want change and here in Peru, Keiko Fujimori represents change from the status quo.

People believe she will get things done.

Peruvians remember the era of Keiko’s father more nuanced than what is reported in English language media. For some background, read Colin’s article on Fujimorismo in Peru. Bottom line: Peruvians feel that under Alberto Fujimori the State did function but in the years since then essential government services have been entirely inefficient, paralyzed by political infighting, corruption and incompetence. Peruvians appear to be willing to accept a degree of autocracy (considering Keiko Fujimori has an absolute majority in parliament) in return for basic government services.

Keiko Fujimori and her inner circle relate well to all Peruvians, including the urban poor and the rural populations.

Although the latter may be in appearance only, appearances matter. PPK seems to relate well to all Peruvians but his team clearly is most comfortable in the business/political establishment of Lima. PPK’s people are not the type of people who would appear comfortable eating cuy in Pampa Wasi. Peruvians feel that Alberto Fujimori’s regime – for better or worse – was a government for all of Peru but the governments since then have been largely a government of wealthy districts in Lima and other big cities.

Barring a last minute PPK comeback, what does a Keiko Fujimori presidency mean for Peru?

In the short term you’re likely to see stronger government and more efficient public institutions. Crime will go down and critical infrastructure projects will advance. Some levels of bureaucracy will get cut and political infighting will end. Tourists won’t notice any significant differences.

However there’s a flip side: Keiko Fujimori has been working methodically since the end of her father’s regime to restore her father’s movement, rebuild her congressional delegation and gain strength in local/regional government. All of this support comes at a cost, especially in a country like Peru where political support is historically based on a direct “quid pro quo”. For example: when you support a local mayoral candidate, it means you’ll get a job in his or her administration when they are elected. There is a “civil service” system in Peru but it’s relatively minor, a very large degree of public employment is politically motivated, as are government contracts.

In a Keiko Fujimori government, anything from justice to building permits will be issued based on who you are (or not) in the regime. Business owners, local and regional government officials will be richly rewarded for their support with contracts, kickbacks, personal favors, etc. Infrastructure projects will advance but they’ll be executed by regime loyalists with generous “extra” compensations and tailored to the needs of government supporters.

Government will be tough on small criminals but big drug traffic rings and other criminal mafias will be allowed to operate within certain confines. Crime is likely to go down nationally but those who support Fujimorismo will have free reign in things like illegal mining, illegal logging, land invasion, etc.

For big foreign investors little will change. However, you’ll have to make that decision as to what legal and ethical confines you’re willing to work in. No matter how many layers you put between yourself and your operation on the ground, you have to be able to sleep at night.

It will be interesting to see how Keiko Fujimori will handle big mining investments, her rhetoric to foreign investors and to her local supporters is somewhat conflicted. While I don’t think she will substantially restrict foreign mining investment, it will be difficult to reconcile the formal mining industry with giving carte blanche to informal miners. Also, expect any big mining project to pay dearly for the approval of the local authorities. Whenever a big mining project comes to town, you can rest assured the local powers that be will come to Keiko looking for their reward for past support.

You could argue none of this is limited to Fujimorismo and I would agree to an extent. All of these issues are part of the culture and only the complete disregard of past governments for the needs and sentiment of ordinary Peruvians have made a return to Fujimorismo possible.

I’d like to believe that government is a noble enterprise, public institutions serve the greater good but sadly I think that’s naive here in Peru, and it’s only going to get worse. Just like I used to think of middle class in a noble kind of way, nurses, teachers, police officers, etc. Upper middle class maybe a doctor or an honest judge. You want to know who’s upper middle class in Peru nowadays? Corrupt mayors, illegal miners, illegal loggers, land invadors, illegal construction etc. Just look for any Toyota Hilux with a Keiko bumper sticker.

Todays Peru politician look-at-me photo-op

On page 8 of today’s Diario el Sol del Cusco:


A few local politicians with their look-at-me foto-op:

  • On the bottom LH article, if you don’t read Spanish, the mayor of Wanchaq (the district where we live) gets his picture in the newspaper for giving toys to 2,000 kids. For all I know he’s done very little during his time as mayor.
  • The top article is about the regional president, Coco Acurio, at an opening ceremony for electricity to 8,500 people in Alto Qosqo.

My mother-in-law was in the crowd at Coco Acurio’s ceremony in Alto Qosqo. Wanna know why? Because she had to pay a fine if she didn’t participate.

All is normal in Belgium

Occasionally I check the news headlines back in the “old country”. Loosely translated, the top headline on Google news Belgium reads:

“Minister Vande Lanotte requests investigation into higher beer prices.”

Belgian minister of economics requests investigation into higher beer prices.  Salud!

Belgian minister of economics requests investigation into higher beer prices. Salud!

Johan Vande Lanotte is Belgium’s new minister of economics and I actually had him pegged as one of the more reasonable politicians in Belgium.

Here in Peru, most Peruvians have a fairly low opinion and approval rating of their politicians. What’s interesting to me though is that during any conversation I have about politics with a Peruvian (for the most part I stay away from the subject) most Peruvians somehow think politicians in those far away Northern countries are really the proverbial cat’s meow.

I love Europe but the leaders there live in such a fantasy world.

Peru presidential elections – Unseriously

Round 1 of the 2011 Peruvian presidential elections is over. The June runoff will be between Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala (some background about the candidates here).

Most of our friends don’t care much for either candidate. Among other things, Ollanta Humala wants to re-write Peru’s constitution, likely giving more power to the poor and less to business and foreign investment.

I thought I’d have a little fun on my Facebook page and see just how much bad stuff about Ollanta the typical jeans-wearing, iPhone toting, middle-class Peruvian (ie. most of our friends) would believe.

Facebook screenshot Ollanta Humala

Facebook screenshot Ollanta Humala plans to outlaw Peruvians marrying gringos 🙂

(click on the image for full size)

The people who commented on my silly joke are all good friends and good people (and not all are Peruvian), but it does show how easy it is to plant irrational fear (Glenn Beck anyone?) about anyone whose ideology may not correspond with your own.

The first round election result is fairly interesting, because both Keiko and Ollanta have their followers but there’s also a significant part of Peru’s population (mostly middle class and business establishment) who don’t like either. The fear is that Keiko will bring back more corruption and Humala may upset business and foreign investment to some extent. Peru’s presidential election runoff is almost akin to, say, a choice between Ivanka Trump (daughter of a famous person) and Michael Moore.

My personal input to the Peruvian presidential elections is only this:

1) As a visitor/guest here I don’t care who becomes Peru’s next president. However the Peruvian people choose to govern their country is up to them and I’m privileged to be here as a guest.

2) No matter who wins the runoff, I don’t think there will be a significant change in daily life in Peru. Even though both candidates are seen as potentially having some issues, I think Peru’s society is strong with very close families, reasonable institutions, a fair economy, etc. Politics here can be interesting and colorful, but in my view politics are not that big of a factor in society.

Peru presidential elections are almost here

Peru’s 2011 Presidential elections are almost upon us. April 10 is the big day, and I believe tonight is the final televised debate between the leading candidates.

Let me say 2 things first:

1) I am a guest in Peru so it doesn’t matter to me who wins or loses. I’m privileged to be here and however the Peruvian people choose to govern their country is up to them.
2) I’m Belgian, so you should never take my advice on any matters of politics or government. When it comes to politics, the only thing we Belgians can say is “Thank God for Italy!”

Having said all that, here’s a few notes about the leading candidates in Peru’s upcoming 2011 Presidential elections, for no purpose other than to show how the candidates come across to a gringo. Official bios, photos, web pages and the like can be found here.

1) Alejandro Toledo: He was Peru’s president from 2001 to 2006 and was first Peruvian president of native Indian (Quechua) heritage, but his politics were free-market oriented. He left office to rather low approval ratings, due to the fact that many felt the macro-economic gains that were made did not extend to all Peruvians. On the other hand, nothing bad or particularly controversial happened during his tenure, which was a welcome change from the late 20th century. He’s considered a strong candidate in the upcoming elections, but I know someone who knows some people who know Toledo and say less than favorable things about him.

2) Lucho Castañeda: He was mayor of Lima (home to about 30% of Peru’s population) from 2003 to 2010 and enjoyed generally good approval ratings, easily winning re-election. He implemented the Metropolitano bus system in Lima, which has to be regarded as a great success – although it’s only a small first step in Lima’s transportation solution. Otherwise I don’t know much about Castañeda’s ideology. He’s divorced and conventional wisdom says he has little chance of becoming president without a first lady.

3) Ollanta Humala: He’s the villain of them all, widely painted by his opponents as a “leftist” of the same mold of Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez. Humala narrowly lost the 2006 Presidential elections. He seems to have moderated his stance on some issues like foreign investment, but he remains a controversial figure. His opponents and the establishment in general paint a sad picture of Peru heading for the same abyss as Bolivia under Evo Morales should Ollanta Humala be elected, ignoring the fact that Bolivia has one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America and Evo enjoys high approval ratings. But since when does reality trump ideology in this world? Of all the leading candidates Humala is the only one who’s married to a Peruvian, so at least outside of politics he has good judgement 😉

4) Keiko Fujimori: She’s the daughter of former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori. Her father was president from 1990 to 2000, when he was driven out of the country by a popular revolution. During Alberto Fujimori’s regime, Peru saw an end to terrorism and the economic chaos of the 1980s, but his regime was also marked by human rights abuse and corruption, especially in later years. Keep in mind that Peru has a very young population (partly due to the stability that was brought under Fujimori) and something like 20% of the voting public has no adult memory of Fujimori’s presidency. However, there has remained a strong “Fujimori” following and political party in Peru, led now by his daughter Keiko. I don’t know much about Keiko’s ideological convictions, but her VP candidate is ultra-conservative. I guess Keiko has a chance only if someone can be elected president just for being the child of a well-known ex-president. Eerrrgh, wait, where did I see that one before?

5) PPK or Pedro Pablo Kuczynski: He’s Patricia’s favorite, and the favorite of many of her friends as well. I have a PPK poster on the window, but my dog barks at it. It has to be said my dog is one of the dumber dogs you’ll ever meet. In seriousness, PPK is perhaps the most Western of all the leading candidates. He held US citizenship (I think he renounced it before the elections) and has worked on Wall Street. He has a free-market ideology and as minister of economy under Toledo should take some credit for the macro-economic gains that Peru has made. Although I’m not a fan of this ideology (ie. what’s good for business is good for everyone), I have to say that PPK appears to be a thoughtful and reasonable person, and considering his age and previously successful career I would be more inclined to believe that he’s running to serve the country as opposed to running in order to make financial gain for himself and his inner circle.

Finally, it always strikes me how so many politicians no matter where you are would like you to believe the world as you know it would end without their magnificent leadership. Consider this quote from the Ottawa Citizen about Belgian politics, titled No Government, No Problem:

Take Belgium, for instance. It’s a European country riven by ethnic tensions. Its public debt is almost as big as its total annual output and it’s in the middle of a political crisis so deep that this week it passed Iraq as the modern-day state whose politicians have taken the longest to form a government.
Yet the buses run more or less on time, the garbage is collected twice a week, exports of pharmaceuticals, chocolate and beer have gone on without interruption and it can still take about a month to get a new telephone line. Life goes on.

And that quote is more than a month old by now, still no Belgian government, beer exports are still going on fine 😉


Occasionally I get sidetracked into something totally unrelated to life in Peru, like the current news about violence and government crackdown in Egypt.

Here’s a bit of information from Congressional Research Service about US economic and military aid to Egypt:

Since 1979, Egypt has been the second largest recipient, after Israel, of U.S. foreign assistance. In FY2009, Egypt was the fifth largest aid recipient behind Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq respectively. In the last decade, overall U.S. assistance to Egypt has declined from $2.1 billion in FY1998 to $1.6 billion in FY2009 owing to a gradual reduction in economic aid. In July 2007, the Bush Administration signed a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Israel to increase U.S. military assistance from $2.4 billion in FY2008 to over $3 billion by 2018. Egypt received no corresponding increase in U.S. military aid; instead, the Bush Administration pledged to continue to provide Egypt with $1.3 billion in military aid annually, the same amount it has received annually since 1987.

And for illustration:

APTOPIX Mideast Egypt Protest

Your tax dollars at work... (c) AP

Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Sort of strange how we found it necessary to bring democracy to places like Iraq and Afghanistan but you never hear many calls for democracy in places like Egypt, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia.
  • All that military assistance ($1.3 billion in military aid annually) is reminiscent of the 1970s fiasco when we provided F-14s – then the biggest and baddest weapon around – to the flimsy regime of the Shah in Iran, only to later regret it. Lesson learned? Didn’t think so.

All this is very similar to the US involvement in Latin America during the so called Cold War. Regimes that were aligned with Washington received all sorts of military and economic assistance. Oppressive regimes just pulled the “communist” card whenever they encountered any sort of opposition, and in swooped Washington to fight for freedom and democracy. Or was it bananas we were fighting for?

Here’s a comment from Ambassador Bob White about US involvement in Central America during the so called Cold War:

In 1981, the Reagan administration erroneously attributed revolutions in Central America to the Soviet Union and Cuba; “What we are facing in Central America,” said then Secretary of State Alexander Haig, “is a straight case of external aggression, nothing more, nothing less.” This of course was utter nonsense. If there was one thing we were not facing in Central America, it was foreign aggression. The rebellions in the region were home-grown and authentic, popular uprisings against the heaped- up injustices of decades. There would have been uprisings in these countries whether the Soviet Union and Cuba existed or not.

We have a gazillion dollar “intelligence” budget. Your tax dollars go to reports on Alan Garcia’s emotional and physical health and people who check out your *ss every time you board an airplane, but at the end of the day the US intelligence community is clueless. They’re just a bunch of people stuck in the same old ideologies, they will always arrive at the expected conclusion. The US intelligence community didn’t foresee Egypt any more than they did the fall of the Shah in Iran.

Still believe you live in the “Land of the Free” up there?

l’histoire se répète

Good article on Kyrgyzstan in the NY Times today. Reminiscent of the de-stabilizing effect of foreign influence in Latin America during the so-called Cold War, with disastrous results from Chile to El Salvador.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Let’s be honest, Kyrgyzstan is turning into a collapsing state, or at least part of it is, and what was partially responsible is this geopolitical tug-of-war we had,” said Alexander A. Cooley, who included Manas in a recent book about the politics of military bases. “In our attempts to secure these levers of influence and support the governing regime, we destabilized these state institutions. We are part of that dynamic.” Read the full article here.

Otto agrees

Adding on to my recent post about LatAm media coverage, where I said:

“…Hugo and Evo are hugely popular in Latin America because they’re good for Latin America”

Apparently Otto agrees in his recent post about the Bolivian economy, saying:

“A once and future coca leaf grower runs countries better than teams of dumbasses in suits (you know them by the name ‘economists’) with multisquillon dollar eddycations…”

My only issue with that is that Otto narrowed it down to economists, instead of the more general rich old guys in suits. Whether it’s Alan Garcia or Jack Welch or Al Gore, be leary of rich old guys in suits who profess to know what’s good for average Joe. Far too often said rich old guys in suits have made big bucks robbing said average Joe blind.

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.