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Welcome to Washington, Mr. Peruvian President

Welcome to Washington, Mr. Peruvian President

• President Toledo, you will arrive to Washington carrying the dubious distinction of being one of the America’s most unpopular leaders since Latin America’s re-democratization commenced a decade ago. As of September 12, your popularity stood at a miniscule 14% while your disapproval rate has hovered around 85%.

• Your continued deference to the international lending agencies such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, have failed to translate into any real change in the socioeconomic status of the average Peruvian and has only further institutionalized the antipathetic policies of your disgraced, corrupt predecessor, Alberto Fujimori.

• Mr. President, you have all but completely reneged on your campaign pledge to create new jobs and obstinately have based your economic policy on unpopular privatization and market strategies as well as favoring export-oriented industries that may satisfy foreign interests but doom your constituents to continued un- and under-employment, poverty, along with a skidding standard of living.

• You shamelessly took advantage of your indigenous ethnicity and empty populist rhetoric to lure Peruvians into voting for you, but subsequently turned your back on them once you became their president.

•Despite promises to the contrary, you have demonstrated a lack of political will to clean up Peru’s corrupt and ineffective judicial system. Instead, you proudly point to your supposed hard stance on criminals, when all you can come up with is the continued unjust imprisonment of American ex-college student Lori Berenson. The Bush administration acquiescence to Berenson’s years of captivity is one of the most unprincipled components of its deeply flawed Latin American policies, with the same being true of the Clinton presidency.

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• Your Peru Posible (PP) party and its governing coalition, have been disgraced by allegations of corruption and nepotism among your innermost circle and are now being denounced daily by a new opposition majority in Congress and persistent popular protests.

• Your uncontested incompetence has led numerous political opponents and civic groups to call for your resignation before your term ends, thus threatening the country’s democratic foundations and possibly adding to a dangerous trend of extra-constitutional regime change throughout Latin America.

• President Toledo, you have mortally wounded your presidency and Peru.

When running for president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo sold himself to his audience as a son of the masses who personally had triumphed over the poverty and limited opportunities available in his homeland and who returned to the country of his birth to lead it to national revitalization. The one time shoe-shine boy, turned Stanford graduate and later a World Bank consultant, showered the Peruvian electorate with the promise of an economic recovery that would create thousands of new jobs and provide the state with the resources needed to expand and improve upon the nation’s anemic health care and education systems. He looked Peruvians straight in the eye and told them that he identified with their plight because as a cholo (a colloquial term for native Peruvians) he faced the humiliation and desperation they were accustomed to and thus had their interests seared in his memory. Toledo convinced enough voters to win the presidency in a run-off election against former president Alan Garcia on June 7, 2001, but promptly came down with a severe case of political amnesia.
For the last three years, Toledo has further institutionalized the structural adjustment programs advocated by his former colleagues at the World Bank and the IMF. He has become a hero in the eyes of international investors at the expense of Peru’s poor majority. His economic and social policies expanded the gap between the country’s haves and have-nots and have alienated his embittered fellow countrymen, even managing to cause many of them to look back with nostalgia to the mendacious and murderous ex-dictator Fujimori. In fact, a poll conducted by CPI, a Peruvian public-opinion firm, and released on August 24, shockingly showed that 18.1 % of Peruvians would vote for ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori if the elections were held on that day. Toledo does not appear to be very troubled with his 10% approval rating, for he has yet to offer his critics or supporters the possibility of initiating a dialogue regarding his intractable and immensely unpopular economic policies.

Increased exports but no jobs
Under Toledo, Peru’s economy grew nearly 5% in 2002, 4% last year and another 4.6% is expected this year. Official unemployment figures have hovered around a barely respectable 10% during his tenure. Unfortunately, these somewhat positive macroeconomic figures paint a very different picture from the realities found on the street. As Peru has increased its exports and received increased loans and credits from international lending institutions, the economy has only produced an average of 350,000 new jobs per year. This amount is barely enough to absorb the growing number of high school graduates that enter the workforce each year; in other words there has been no net increase in the number of jobs created. These figures also conceal the fact that a large number of Peruvians are currently either working for wages that fail to cover their basic necessities, are underemployed, or have simply given up looking for a job and are thus no longer considered to be among the working force.
President Toledo has concentrated his efforts on improving the performance of a select group of industries that help prop up the country’s economic readings but fail to deliver the quality jobs needed to improve its socioeconomic situation. Peru’s mining industry, for example, accounts for half of all exports but employs only 1% of the labor force. Similar statistics apply to other primary industries favored by the Toledo administration, such as fishing. Olmedo Auris, vice-president of the country’s largest union, General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP), states, “Peru needs to produce more of the products that we currently import, or at least develop the manufacturing sector. This strategy would create more jobs for everyone.” President Toledo has refused to waver from his ineffective position. Instead of focusing on streamlining the permit process so more individuals can register and invest in their businesses, Toledo spends much of his time scheming on how to privatize additional state-owned enterprises despite the proven disapproval of the majority of the populace.

One of Toledo’s few remaining admirers appears to be newly appointed IMF chief Rodrigo Rato. During a trip to Peru this September, Rato stated that, “(Peru) is one of the countries in which macroeconomic policies have been improving notably.” Perhaps if Rato had taken the time to visit desperately hurting areas such as Huaycan and Villa El Salvador, he would have seen first hand the noticeable effects of Toledo’s macroeconomic “successes.” Rato, of course, sees Toledo’s attitude as one of cooperation; a majority of Peruvians, however, view it as a matter of bootlicking the international lending agencies at the expense of Peruvian living standards.

In response to such clear inequities, Toledo has implemented a series of decentralization programs (i.e. electing regional governments in 2002) that would grant each region semi-autonomous control over its finances. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) views this as a positive step, but there is a growing concern in Peru and abroad that his measures will be plagued by the same incompetence and negligence that has characterized other presidential initiatives, thus rendering them ineffective and possibly even disastrous to the future stability of the country’s finances.

This lack of political will and Toledo’s incompetence as an administrator can be illustrated by the president’s plans to revamp Peru’s crippled educational and health services. A campaign was created around the theme of improving the educational infrastructure of the nation; Toledo himself went to many rural towns, ordered the building of schools and donated computers. His actions attracted criticism instead of praise because, as noteworthy as the donations of computers may seem to be, what these schools really need are basic services like running water and electricity, competent and better paid teachers, and modern textbooks.

Perhaps Toledo’s administrative inability to coherently plan and implement effective policy directives can be blamed on constant cabinet reshufflings and his often arbitrary and inappropriate appointments. Or perhaps he never had any intention of fulfilling all or even many of his campaign guarantees. Whatever the reasons, his promises for a better tomorrow always seem to be left behind on yesterday’s agenda.

Justice for none
Reforms to Peru’s endemically corrupt judicial system have been conspicuously absent. This is especially distressing considering that Toledo inherited a judicial system rife with vague anti-terrorist legislation, and a lack of clarity of how to deal with state-sponsored human and civil rights’ violations. Following Fujimori’s self-exile in late 2000, the transitional government ordered the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) to investigate the massacres and other violations perpetrated by his and the Alan García administrations as part of the nation’s two decade-old civil war. In its final report to the Peruvian government in 2003, the CVR detailed the most violent and polarized period in Peru’s history. From 1980 to 2000, 69,280 people were killed and approximately 30,000 more were arrested, few of whom ever received due process of law.

Although the report unequivocally blames the Shining Path guerilla group for mainly initiating the conflict and committing a larger share of the atrocities, it clearly acknowledges the state’s huge role (particularly that of its security forces) in the abuses. Due to the atmosphere of intense hatred and frustration during the two decades of terror, the authorities learned to turn a blind eye to the inalienable rights of individual Peruvians. Fujimori’s administration condoned the institutionalization of torture techniques and prejudiced behavior that translated into grave transgressions against numerous accords on international and regional human rights law, of which Peru is a signatory. More importantly, these acts violated standards of human decency and responsibility. One year after the release of the CVR’s report, its recommendations lie gathering dust due to Toledo’s lack of personal courage or a public passion on his part to implement them. Some would say that he is too preoccupied with his own self-indulgencies to respond to the public’s needs. As long as the perpetrators of crimes committed during two decades of internal warfare remain unpunished, a future recurrence of such heinous acts remains a distinct possibility.

Toledo’s laxity in reforming the country’s justice apparatus contrasts greatly with his conduct towards the matter of imprisoned American Lori Berenson. COHA has for years written extensively on the particulars surrounding the arrest, trial and incarceration of this former M.I.T. student and free-lance reporter. In 1995, Berenson was arrested, tried and convicted as an alleged accomplice to a plan conceived by the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) terrorist group to kidnap several Peruvian legislators. She was originally sentenced in 1996 to life in prison but it was later revoked and a new 20-year term (she is scheduled to be freed in 2015) was handed down. Berenson’s rump trial was plagued by irregularities. Not only was she tried and convicted in Star Chamber proceedings before a hooded military tribunal with a 97% conviction rate, but when a civilian court later overturned the decision, she was retried and convicted again for her supposed participation in “abetting a terrorist organization.” Although Toledo has been nothing but contemptuous regarding the unprincipled treatment of Berenson, the sad truth is that keeping her in prison is the one pseudo-manly thing (at least in his personal perception) that he has done during his rather pathetic time in office.

Toledo now faces perhaps the last opportunity to correct the injustice of Berenson’s condition, but when the Inter-American Human Rights Commission ordered him to release and compensate Berenson, he refused to do so. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is now set to rule this month on whether she received a fair trial, though the facts demonstrate that she obviously did not. To redress his knavish and unethical behavior, Toledo must be assertive and personally order a civilian review of her case to determine once and for all the facts surrounding Berenson’s imprisonment. While the president claims to be tough on terrorists, he must understand that by denying due process and condoning illegal incarceration, he is undermining the very tenets of Peru’s constitutional authority.

A crisis of governance
Uniformly, it is agreed that President Toledo’s dismal tenure threatens Peru’s recent transition to democracy. His hold on power is tenuous at best and due to an overriding lack of popular support, Peru Posible and its allies in Congress recently lost the legislative body’s presidency to Antero Flores-Aráoz of the center-right opposition party, Unidad Nacional. Considering Toledo’s free-falling political standing, it should come as little surprise that several Peru Posible congressmen voted for their political rival in the balloting of the legislature’s top post, a sharp slap in the face for the president.

Recent allegations of corruption involving close advisors to the President and members of the first family (including First Lady Eliane Karp and Toledo’s siblings) have also tainted the tattered remains of Toledo’s credibility. A poll released on July 19, conducted by Apoyo Opinion y Mercado, Peru’s most respected polling firm, revealed that between 75% and 82% of the population believe Toledo had been aware of the two most recent corruption allegations involving his advisors and family members. Toledo cannot lead effectively without his constituency’s trust, which he palpably lacks.

Furthermore, 23 out of the country’s 25 regional governments are led by officials of the opposition parties following the November 14, 2002 elections, widely seen as a test of the President’s popularity. As previously mentioned, Toledo championed the idea of decentralizing the government in order to give more decision making powers to regional leaders, particularly those from impoverished regions like Madre de Dios and Ucayali in Peru’s Amazon. This decentralization, however only resulted in a much greater manifestation against Toledo’s continued stewardship.

Many analysts and political opponents now openly speak of initiating removal proceedings against Toledo in the Peruvian Congress. COHA fears that such an action will endanger Peru’s already fragile democracy and exhorts these individuals and organizations to act responsibly and resist the temptation to partake in a campaign of political opportunism. Despite our intense misgivings regarding President Toledo, peaceful and democratic presidential transitions must be respected under the terms of the Organization of American States’ Lima and Santiago declarations, and thus he must be allowed to finish out his term however scandalous a figure he may be.

Final Goodbye
Mr. Toledo, you have slightly less than three years left in office. Peruvians were thankful for your strong display of character during the 1990’s when you stood up to the dictator Fujimori. Your election as president of your Andean nation was, some would say, a reward for your actions. You claimed to be an Indian, a cholo, a new kind of popular leader who would guide Peru on the path to development. However, in reality, you have terribly misused your opportunity by deceiving 25 million Peruvians and by bequeathing a wretched legacy to them. Three years into your rule, you have not helped anyone except perhaps yourself, your family and several close friends to gain rank and grow wealthy. In fact, your policies almost mimic those of the dictator you worked to overthrow. In a sense, you are perceived by many of your people to be worse than Fujimori, as you and your wife, shamefully enough, are despised to a degree never felt against that miscreant. You lied about your intentions, about your ideology, about your vision and most everything you touted during your 2001 campaign. The time you have left in office must be used to atone for your multiple transgressions, but judging from experience, you have no intention of doing so. We wish you the best, not so much for yourself because you have proven to be undeserving of this, but for the hopes and aspirations of the Peruvian people whose future greatly depends on the faint prospects that you might improve.

This analysis was prepared by Gabriel Espinosa Gonzalez, COHA Research Associate.

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