The Challenges of The President of Peru, Alejandro Toledo
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Fireworks last night in Lima, Peru, marked the end of nearly two years of continual campaigning by Alejandro Toledo. He’s the son of a sheep herder, and is Peru’s first elected ruler of Indian descent sine the 1930′s. After the official results were announced, Toledo told supporters that his victory marked the end of the country’s long political crisis and the beginning of an economic turnaround.
ALEJANDRO TOLEDO (Translated): In spite of adversity, I will never deceive you, my brothers and sisters. Tonight I promise I will never mislead you.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The 55-year-old head of the Peru Possible Party defeated Alan Garcia of the leftist APRA Party with a 4 percent margin. During the campaign Toledo had promised to restore stability after a decade of political turmoil. Former President Alberto Fujimori’s increasingly autocratic rule prompted criticism from within Peru and abroad. He resigned abruptly in november after a scandal involving a top intelligence official, and is living in exile in japan. Since then, Peru has been run by a transition government whose prime minister was former United Nations Secretary-General Perez DeCuellar. Toledo also led the opposition against Fujimori in last year’s presidential election, forcing him into a runoff. Toledo boycotted the second round, claiming it was rigged and led massive street protests. Despite the fraud charges, Fujimori won a third term. This year’s campaign was also vicious. Toledo was accused of using cocaine and fathering a child out of wedlock. And Toledo charged that Garcia, who served as president from 1985 to 1990, would bring back the corruption, high inflation, and rebel violence that marked those years. After conceding defeat, Garcia pledged cooperation with the new government, and told his followers to respect the national vote.
GARCIA (translated): I reaffirm to Dr. Toledo that in the exercise of his government and his presidency, he will have my full support as a loyal collaborator in the political, social, and institutional reconstruction of our country.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Toledo, a U.S.-educated economist and former World Bank consultant, campaigned for lower taxes to spark investment. He called himself “El Cholo,” a Peruvian term for mixed Indian-Spanish heritage. Indian and mixed race people together make up more than 80 percent of the Andean nation’s 26 million people. International election observers, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, pronounced yesterday’s election clean and fair. Alejandro Toledo will be sworn in on July 28.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For more on the election in Peru, we turn to Dennis Jett, who served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 27 years, and was ambassador to Peru from 1996 to 1999. He’s now dean of the International Center at the University of Florida in Gainesville; and Carol Graham, who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She was born in Peru, and has written extensively on Peru and Latin America. Ambassador Jett, were the elections and their outcome a victory for democracy in Peru?
DENNIS JETT: I think they were. I called the president-elect this afternoon and congratulated him on the victory. He said it was a long walk, but democracy triumphed. I think that’s a very apt description of the situation. It was his fourth election in 14 months, but finally he got a majority and he got an election that everybody respected. The international observers, as your piece mentioned– Carter Center, NDI, the OAS– all agreed that it was a well-run election. So I think it is a triumph for democracy.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Carol Graham, what’s your view on that?
CAROL GRAHAM: I agree wholeheartedly. I think it was a long run. It was four elections. And I think that had a cost not just for Toledo personally, but for the country. And I think we really are now at a point that leaders in Peru and Toledo in particular can work on the really pressing problems facing that country. ‘ ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Carol Graham, some press reports have cast this as a great victory for indigenous people and people of mixed race ancestry. Is that true?
CAROL GRAHAM: I think that – well, yes, it’s a marking point. I’m not sure it’s a great victory. I think that may be a little bit overblown in that Peru really has a mixed society, the majority, 80 percent of the people, are Mestizo. And they’ve had several different kinds of marking points like this. The government, the military government of Juan Velasco– which was a military, not elected government — played the Mestizo cause as a major cause and implemented many reforms along that front. I think really Toledo stands more for the poor of Peru, and coming – it’s more of a rags-to-riches story than – I think — than it is a racial story. And I think one of his most pressing challenges is to seriously address poverty in Peru. And he has the credentials to do it and a background, I think, that makes him sensitive to the issue.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ambassador, do you agree with that, that it’s more rags-to-riches than racial, his story?
DENNIS JETT: I think that’s right. I think you should remember that when Fujimori was first elected in 1990, he was elected because he was different. He wasn’t a rich, white male, Spanish descendent from the rich suburbs of Lima, the typical politician who had been elected president. And so people voted for someone else and reelected him. So I think it’s less an ethnic story than people putting their hopes in someone who can solve their economic problems.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Ambassador, how strong is Alejandro Toledo’s mandate? I know there are a lot of hopes placed in him. How strong is the mandate?
DENNIS JETT: Well, I think it’s strong enough. He won 52 (percent), 52.5 percent of the vote. I think with the system they have, which is a strong executive, he has the mandate to rule. And Alan Garcia has made very statesman-like comments about supporting the government, which will help. I I think that will make governing somewhat easier, so I think he has the mandate to rule. The real question is whether he can handle the economic necessities, deliver on those in short order and show people that he’s going to have an impact on their daily lives and at the same time rebuild the institutions that were so sabotaged, undermined during Fujimori’s years, and that takes years, if not generations, to do so. It’s a two-part agenda; neither are easy and he’s got to perform on both.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Carol Graham, let’s start with the first of those agendas, the economic problems. What must he do? What has to be done? How bad are the problems?
CAROL GRAHAM: Well, if you look at Peru’s growth rate over the past decade, it’s not all that bad. The last year has been bad largely due to uncertainty surrounding the electoral process. Of the many things the Fujimori government did wrong, the one thing they did do largely right was get macroeconomic management in place in a stable fashion. They put Peru in a situation where it could generate the kinds of foreign investment and trade that it needs to generate growth, and growth is necessary, if not sufficient for poverty reduction. That said, the uncertainty created by the way the Fujimori government ended has been bad for investor confidence. I think Toledo is well positioned. He’s given markets a very strong signal largely through the selection of his main economics advisor, Pedro Paulo Kacinsky, who is from Wall Street himself. So that’s part of the agenda. The other part is going to be in institution building, innovative strategies to reduce poverty. And that is a very tricky agenda. I would say generating investment will be less difficult than really tackling the poverty problem.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Ambassador Jett, let’s talk about that institution building little bit. This caretaker government has been very interesting that has been in power. It had a former congressman as president and a former secretary-general of the U.N. as a prime minister. Has a base been laid for some real strong institution building?
DENNIS JETT: I think the interim government did a heroic job. They really guided the country through a very difficult time and culminated it with some elections that, as i mentioned, were heralded by all as free a fair and a model, but they really didn’t do much – couldn’t do much in terms of laying the foundations for the institutions. As I said, that takes years, if not generations. You have to reform particularly Judiciary; you have to make sure that the media is free. A good bit of the media was used by Fujimori to attack a small part of the media; it tried to report the truth. You have to reform – perhaps the interim government had some effect reforming the electoral mechanisms, the organizations that were supposed to run the free and fair election, which were also subverted by Fujimori. But I think the key is getting a judicial system in place and reforming the Congress is more representative and better able to supervise and act as a check and balance on the power of the executive.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Carol Graham, how important will it be to bring back former government executives, perhaps even including President Fujimori, and try them for alleged crimes committed during their government? I know that’s something that Alejandro Toledo has called for.
CAROL GRAHAM: Well, I think it could be an objective. I think it would be a very difficult one to obtain given that Fujimori in Japan and there is no extradition at this point, no extradition possibilities. I think the government would be much better placed focusing on looking forward rather than looking back. They have a lot of challenges, as I’ve mentioned, on the poverty front; as Ambassador Jett has mentioned the institution-building front, they have a lot to do. And I think that precisely because this was not a conflict where you had sort of mass murders, as in the case of Chile and other cases where the human rights violations were really depending on the national agenda for years afterwards, I think here there was a lot of corruption; there were some minor human rights violations, but I really think that the most important agenda for the – is to get the economy growing and to work on the kind of the political, institutional, and social sector institution reforms that the country needs to move ahead.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Final question for both of you, beginning with you, Mr. Ambassador. What does the election of Alejandro Toledo mean for U.S./Peruvian relations, and especially for the whole issue, all the issues involving drugs?
DENNIS JETT: Well, I think it will be a very strong relationship. We have no issues that would lead us to a confrontation between both countries. We have a lot to cooperate on. We want to see them defeat narco terrorism and drug trafficking. And we want to see their economy growing and a stable place for investment. So I think it’s a very good indicator for a very solid relationship in the future.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you feel because he spent so much time here, for example, there will be a pretty close relationship?
DENNIS JETT: Well, not just that, but I think ideologically there are many differences. He believes in free market principles. He believes in fighting narcotics trafficking and Peru has been very effective. One has to give Fujimori credit for a few things, one of them being successful in the struggle against narcotics trafficking, at least in reducing the cultivation within Peru. So i think it will be… the basis is laid for a strong relationship, and there are no fundamental disagreements which would be… which would make things difficult.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Carol Graham, on that?
CAROL GRAHAM: Well, I think Ambassador Jett covered the narcotics side very well. I would say that President-elect Toledo is equally well placed to navigate the international financial institutions, the investor community. I think his experience here contrasts very strongly with both of his predecessors, not just Fujimori but Elan Garcia, and in both – on both fronts, I think relations were quite difficult at times. I think Toledo really has an advantage there, given both his experience in the U.S. and, as Ambassador Jett mentioned, his espoused commitment to both democratic principles, which he has demonstrated in his fight in his four elections, and to market economics. And I think that commitment is quite sound as well. So i also am optimistic for the future.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Carol Graham and Ambassador Jett, thanks for being with us.
CAROL GRAHAM: Thank you.
DENNIS JETT: Thank you.