Ollanta Humala has forced a runoff in Peru's presidential election. He's positioning himself as a nationalist and a populist who will kick out the foreign corporations and return power to Peruvians, the mestizos and Indians in particular. Sounds great. Except that the last time somebody promised the same thing in Peru it resulted in a guerilla movement that ruled through sheer terror. Peru was an economic mess under Garcia, an environment that allowed the Sendero Luminoso to grab the imagination of the peasants (and then grab them by the nuts once the movement acquired enough machetes, machine guns, and grenades). Vargas Llosa was okay, but Fujimori made a complete mess of the country. He eliminated the terrorist threat posed by the Sendero, to be sure, but did it by effectively declaring himself dictator and suspending the constitution.
Meanwhile, foreign-owned consortiums continue to get fat off the copper mines in the south and the silver mines in the jungle, with very little returned to Peru. The US-based Southern Copper Corporation (formerly Southern Peru Copper Corporation) does some community affairs work, you know, irrigation canals, school funding, and ongoing archaeological projects such as the one I worked on for two summers in the late '80s. Their local workers make okay money, and if they're fortunate enough to live near a company-built hospital they have access to substandard medical care (as opposed to the absent medical care enjoyed by most of the lower class). But for the most part, Peru's a poor country that's been teetering on the edge of stability for decades, a place that's ripe for a dynamic guy like Humala who says the words the peasants want to hear.
But he'd be an even worse disaster. No government is immune to corruption, but the Panel of Me thinks nascent nationalist movements run by former military coup leaders are more susceptible than most. Put the mines under state control and kick out the DEA, and where do you stop? It's a very intoxicating cocktail he's chilling the shaker for. And there's nothing like several thousand guns backing you to fuck up an initially good idea. If he wins, does he really think the Bush administration will sit by idly and do nothing while he takes Peru on the same hard left turn Venezuela and Bolivia recently took? Does he plan on forging Peru's new path without the support of the World Bank? I mean, come on--with Paul Wolfowitz in charge, how many low-interest loans realistically will be heading Peru's way?
Anyway, I care about this because of the time I spent in Peru and the friends I made there, most of them Aymara peasants who owned two changes of clothes, a pair of sandals made from old tires, and not much else. The majority of the population gets shit on no matter who's in charge. It would just be nice to see a power structure that doesn't invite even more misery.