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Peru and that “sea-change” in Mexico

11 April 2011

The thing about conventional wisdom is that it is often wrong. In February, regarding the Peruvian elections, I wrote:

It appears that former President Alejandro Toledo (Perú Posible) has a commanding lead, but not enough to avoid a run-off. The big fight is for second place, with Luis Casteñada (Solidaridad Nacional) and ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza 2011) fighting it out between them, and both angling for undecided, other, and uncommitted voters.

At the time, I described Ollanta Humala as “far behind and losing support”.  Oh well:  the early returns show Humala leading by at least 12 percentage points over his nearest competitor, either Keiko Fujimori, or a candidate who didn’t even rate a mention in my February post,  Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.  Peru has multi-party elections, and a run-off if no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote (and voting is mandatory in Peru).

Toleda and Casteñeda basically evaporated as candidates since February, and “PPK”, being the last best hope for a conservative neo-liberal (or at least not rocking the boat) economic policy, received late support from the main party, APRO.  The conventional wisdom is that IF “PPK” is the second place finisher, he’ll win the run-off.  Of course, that may be wishful thinking on the part of foreign observers, Ollanta and Fujimori (the likely candidates for the run-off) — who are both popular with the have-nots (the Peruvian majority) scare the bejesus out of the establishment… having been famously described by Mario Vargas-Llosa as a choice between AIDS and cancer.

I described Humala as a “conservative populist”, basically because I was discussing social policy and politics:   Fujimori, Casteñeda and Toledo had all backed gay civil unions or gay marriage in their bid for what has been an overlooked voting bloc, while Humala had — in his previous bid for the presidency — used vehemently homophobic rhetoric.

Fujimori, seen as a stand-in (at least in the foreign press) for her father, the rightist (and now imprisoned) Alberto Fujimori, probably will be considered preferable to the foreign powers to Humala, who last time out was presented as a Hugo Chavez clone (like Chavez, he is an economic leftist from a military background), although part of his success has been in crafting a less radical image, appearing in business suits, rather than a red tee-shirt, and taking pains to avoid allowing his opponents to tag him as a tool of the Venezuelans.

Alberto Fijimori’s economic politics, “Fujishock“, did — in the short run — improve Peru’s economic condition, and the lot of many Peruvians.  But, much like Ronald Reagan’s policies in the United States, the neo-liberal assumptions that wealth would trickle down proved untrue.  Keiko’s economic policies seem to be pretty much the same as her father’s, although perhaps with a bit more promises of public assistance for those left behind.

And, while the conventional wisdom is that Keiko Fujimori holds the 20 percent or so of support any Fujimori backed candidate would receive (even after his imprisonment, the ex-president’s political machine remained powerful), and one can assume that the other neo-liberal candidates will reluctantly throw their support to Keiko.

But, Humala is very much in the “mainstream” (if that’s the right word) of Latin American — especially Andean — leftists.  Peru is surrounded by left-wing populist governments, and its two closest neighbors, Bolivia and Ecuador, both have chosen leaders attuned to the indigenous majority, the “have-nots” and their customs and beliefs, who have been able to co-opt the intellectuals by packaging their programs in post-modern formats (think of the “rights of nature” in Ecuador, putting environmentalists and indigenous peoples on the same side of the Correa administration).  Secondly, no one can seriously deny that these “leftist” countries are succeeding in the one way  that the rich countries measure success… they’re showing economic growth.

Peru’s growth has been good, but — and this seems key — the “have-nots” have not benefited.  Even the Miami Herald — known for clutching their collective pearls whenever the left appears anywhere in Latin America — can’t miss this salient fact:

From beyond its borders, Peru’s breakneck growth — it’s expected to surge 7 percent this year — is a matter of envy. But inside the country, many feel left out of the boom, said Manuel Torrado, president of the board of the Datum polling firm.

Only 5 percent of the population say they would keep the current economic model, and a full 51 percent say they want a dramatic change, according to Datum figures.

Which brings us back to Mexico, where the Presidential elections are still fifteen months in the future.  The “sea-change” in attitudes towards the “drug war” has, perhaps, less to do with the gangsterism and security issues, than a sense that the security situation is a symptom of a sclerotic political system in need of radical change.   Mexico’s growth rate is well below that of the “leftist” countries, and the excuses — the “war on drugs”, the flu, the U.S. banking melt-down — for the anemic performance are also being questioned.

As with the Peruvians,  vast numbers of Mexicans feel left-out of the neo-liberal economic system favored by the two largest parties (PRI and PAN) and accepted, to some degree or another, by almost all of them.  At the same time, what might be labeled “progressive” social issues (abortion and GLBT rights, justice system reforms, environmental protection) are pushed to the back burner by the focus on crime and punishment.

Humala received about a third of all Peruvian votes, about the same percentage AMLO and the “Benefit of All” coalition got in the 2006 election here.  With a large abstention, at least a good part of which was due to the Zapatista calls to boycott the election precisely because the present system didn’t work, the percentage of Mexicans ready for a radical change may be even higher today.

Is there, as in Peru, a call for “dramatic change” by 51 percent of the populace?  I have no idea if Humala can transform that call for dramatic change into success at the ballot box in the second round. Or is it clear that Peruvians see Humala as the agent of whatever change they want.

But, win or lose, the Peruvians will be demanding change.    In Mexico, the attempts to change within the existing system having been thwarted in 2006, the movement towards radical change has been on hold, seemingly for the duration of the  “drug war”.

The sea-change in Mexico is not calls by a poet for a separate peace in the “drug war.”  Al Giordino (NarcoNews) gets a little carried away (ok, goes overboard) in his rhetoric, but hits on the important point:

… those who have long had and voiced their grievances with “the evil government” of Calderón have intelligently latched on to the anti-war-on-drugs cause as their own, too, because they smartly percieve it as a “wedge issue” that encompasses the whole of national discontent and which could very possibly result in the toppling of an authoritarian president, “elected” only via well documented electoral fraud, with absolutely not a shred of moral authority among his own people. In just one week, humble and dignified Javier Sicilia has collected the free-floating moral authority that nobody else could credibly assume in this Failed State named Mexico and supplanted the napoleanic Calderón as the moral leader of a nation.

It’s not the “napoleonic” Calderón  that’s holding back the sea.  As Charles DeGaulle (a Frenchman often compared to Napoleon — Calderón, being Mexican, has been better compared, unfavorable, with Santa Ana) observed “the cemeteries of the world are full of indespensible men.” Calderón is only one tiny part of a system of political and economic stagnation, likely to be washed away when that sea-change turns into a tsunami of protest.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 April 2011 1:45 pm

    I just stumbled upon this site – and am glad that I did!

    I’m currently living in Mexico and just came back from Peru where my partner and I visited his family and friends (we left on election day) so this article was very interesting to me.

    I will make sure to pop by regulalry to check out this site – as you seem to focus on very relevant information on life in Mexico, in fact this has been the best site so far. Keep up the good work!


  1. Mexico: Bloggers Reflect on Elections in Peru · Global Voices
  2. Le Ciel et La Terre | Revue de presse | Mexico: Bloggers Reflect on Elections in Peru
  3. Mexico: Bloggers Reflect on Elections in Peru @ Current Affairs

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