A Peruvian teen is interviewed by an American High School Newspaper Team
Background: On Sunday, April 9, voters went to the polls in Peru to elect a new president. The election was exciting because the current president, Alberto Fujimori, who has held tight control over the government, was in a close race with Alejandro Toledo, a former shoeshine boy who emerged from poverty to become a World Bank economist.
That election was so close that a runoff election was scheduled. Toledo asked Fujimori to postpone that vote until international observers could clear up lingering questions. But Fujimori rejected his request and Toledo dropped out of the race. Fujimori won the run off election as an unopposed candidate. Many within and outside of Peru now believe Peru's elections did not meet democratic standards.
Extra asked the staff of the "Saxon Scope", a school paper out of Langley, Virginia, to interview a Peruvian teenager before the elections.
1. How do the politics of your country affect you?
For the past few months I've seen billboards, news advertisements, radio shows, and commercials-- all featuring candidates, urging Peruvian citizens for their vote.
As an 18 year old student, I think politics affect youth all over the world in a similar manner. Personally, I often feel enthralled by the furor of appealing offers coming from the new candidates.
Since this is the first year that I will be voting, I have been quite interested in finding out what each candidate intends to do with this country, what their goals are, and how plausible their methods seem. I have found that I have developed my own strong opinion on who the best leader is at the time. I also find that history class in school has helped me understand current politics, and how utopian some proposals really are.
2. Do you think that the elections are fair even though Fujimori has the reputation of a dictator?
Before directly answering this question, I'd like to point out (and this might seem very radical but I think many educated young students agree) that democracy is not always possible, especially in third world nations.
Throughout history a pattern can be identified, where before achieving true democratic governments, there was a period of dictatorship. I think Peru might presently be undergoing this period, the difference is that the majority of the population stands behind him, and is supporting him, even though a third term is unconstitutional.
Dictatorship immediately has a negative connotation, but I believe this is relative, and in a country where stability is essential, a change in government at this stage may be fatal. As to the fairness of the electoral process, I don't think it's "fair" for president Fujimori to run for a third term, as it ultimately is unconstitutional, despite the loopholes that have been found.
However, I do believe that the process will be fair, in that the votes will be properly accounted for. There is a separate body, independent from the government, in charge of this process. If other political parties weren't aware that Fujimori might attempt to arrange the elections in his favor, I'd think there might be a possibility of an unfair election. But since there is such great awareness regarding this issue, I think we will undergo a clear process.
3. In your opinion, is it important that Mr. Toledo studied in the USA?
I think in many ways, as most candidates do, Toledo attempts to sell a certain image to a certain group. For the upper class, he is a Stanford graduate, married to an educated Belgian; while for the lower classes he conveys an image of the "New Inca," born and raised in a province, educated in the capital and now a real contender in the presidential elections.
In that sense I think he is a great example for people throughout the country to see that there is a possibility of getting a proper education.
On the other hand, it is not a reality for all who attempt it. Mr. Toledo is an exception. Millions immigrate from small provinces to the capital, seeking an education and better paid jobs. This leads to a series of other problems that arise from overpopulation.
If the question refers specifically to "would you vote for him because he studied in the U.S.?," I think the fact that he is a Stanford graduate demonstrates that he is quite intelligent, however academics is not the only requirement to be a president.
4. If you could vote, who would you vote for and why?
Actually I can vote. These are my first elections and I will vote for Fujimori. The main reason for my decision is that, even though I was only 8 years old, I still remember what this country was like 10 years ago.
I remember not having lights because a terrorist group had brought down a power plant. I remember not having water because there were no water-saving plans, no wells that functioned properly.
I also recall not having essential items such as milk in the stores. We could only purchase a certain amount of milk per week.
Finally, I remember not being allowed out because it was way too dangerous, nobody could guarantee that a terrorist group wouldn't bomb the movie theater- we weren't even safe at home for that matter, and school was also canceled a few times. My father had to move out of the country due to violent threats, etc.
Now the situation is evidently far from being perfect, but there is no terrorism-- I often go hiking in the Peruvian mountains, and go on photographing excursions to small towns deep in the Andes, and it is very safe.
I feel that Fujimori has done a lot for this country, and there is more to do. I am aware that Fujimori has been in power for a long time, and I acknowledge the fact that power corrupts people, however, I am very scared that my country might go back to what it was 10 years ago.
At least Fujimori guarantees status quo, while any other candidate is a major risk.
5. Is it important to you, to be able to vote? Do you think the obligation to vote is fair?
I think it is obviously important to be able to decide who will rule our country.
As to 'should the vote be obligatory,' I think it shouldn't. I believe that we would get better results if those who are truly interested vote, those who have cared enough to have some information about the candidates. What happens many times, is that candidates will go on tours across the country giving gifts, and basically "buying" voters, which is definitely not the point of democracy.
6. Do you agree with the ideas and morals of Mr. Fujimori?
I agree with the goals he set for the country before, the way he managed to accomplish them, and I agree with the goals he has set for this term, and the ideas he has.
As to the question of morality I think it is very relative. Generally I wouldn't agree to a violation of the constitution. However, this document was designed to protect the citizens, and provide a set of rules, and these citizens support the candidate.
They have said that, once they approved the referendum, a president could not serve for more than two terms, but what if this president is the best option for a third term? And what if most of the population wants him? I'd rate his actions as immoral if he had proclaimed himself leader, run for a third term while his people wanted him out. He would be immoral if he cheated at the elections when most of the population wanted another candidate.
As I see it, however, the majority of the population is with him, and isn't democracy when the people decide?
7. What are the most important things for youth in Peru?
Once again I believe this question is very relative, and there are therefore many answers.
For the upper class the most important thing is probably being a fulfilled human being, developing a holistic and well balanced lifestyle, that includes education and recreation. For the middle class youth, the most important thing is probably an education, and they must therefore also find a job to afford it. The lower class must worry about more basic things like getting food and shelter, they are many times responsible for their large families at a very young age.
8. What do you worry about most in your life?
I am fortunate enough, to be among the few privileged teenagers who have very little transcendental worries. I worry about the test I have next week, and that I didn't have time to go to the gym today, that my parents argued, or my sister had an accident. But as I have mentioned before, other people my age, in this same city, have much greater responsibilities.
9. What are you going to do after you graduate from high school?
I'm going to medical school.
10. What do you do on weekends?
Depends...During summer we go to beaches an hour south of Lima, and party at the discos there. I also windsurf so I might go to the bay of Paracas, 3 hours south of Lima as well. During winter, we pretty much stay in Lima. There are good night clubs. During school times, I enjoy going to the movies and hanging out with friends, going out for ice cream, etc. Pretty much throughout the year, I'll go on hiking or photographing trips, as these are two of my hobbies.
Copyright © MacNeil-Lehrer Productions All Rights Reserved