Peru poised to shift left?

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The campaign of Peruvian populist Ollanta Moises Humala Tasso appeared to be poised for victory in the April 9 presidential election as the World went to press.

A victory by Humala would doubtless upset the Bush administration and U.S. policymakers who have been disturbed by the momentum of left-oriented movements in South America.

Humala, 43, a former officer in Peru’s military, was initially regarded as a long shot. In recent weeks, however, he has made significant gains among those elements of Peruvian society who most keenly feel the impact of poverty and government corruption.

A poll released two weeks before the election by pollster Apoyo Opinion y Mercado showed Humala leading the field of presidential contenders with 33 percent of the vote, a 1 percent gain from the previous week. His closest competitor, Lourdes Flores, had 27 percent, while former President Alan Garcia had 22 percent.

In the event of a runoff, the poll showed Humala beating Garcia or losing to Flores, although both votes would be close.

Humala’s candidacy has been greeted by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, among others. Both men share military backgrounds. In 2000, Humala led an unsuccessful military rebellion against former President Alberto Fujimori, who later resigned and fled the country in the wake of a bribery scandal.

Some commentators have been at pains to deny that Humala’s strong showing in the polls reflects a shift to the left along the lines of Venezuela and Bolivia. They suggest Humala’s support stems from a general dissatisfaction with Peru’s “broken political system” rather than an ideological shift.

Indeed, while Humala is the leader of the left-oriented Partido Nacionalista Peurano (PNP, Peruvian Nationalist Party), he is also presenting himself as a candidate of the Union por el Peru (UPP, Union for Peru), which calls itself liberal or centrist.

And an electoral coalition called the Broad Front, which sought a common left-wing alliance with the PNP and others, is criticizing Humala from the left.

However, the PNP’s web site, which includes photos of Humala alongside Presidents Lula da Silva of Brazil and Nestor Kirchner of Argentina, reveals views similar to those of figures like President Evo Morales of Bolivia: “Independence, yes, but for whom? For the unknown women and men of color, for the girls and boys with empty stomachs, for the youth and students who have no future, for the workers and the workers who have no pay at the end of the month, for the Quechuas, Aymaras, Ashaninkas ... for the Indians, Cholos and Mestizos, for those who are invisible because they have no DNI (National Identity Document). For the Peruvians, the greatly desired independence still has not come. Refounding the republic is a historic necessity.”

Comments like these make the Bush administration nervous. While the U.S. has often succeeded in installing or backing pro-U.S. governments in Peru, new winds are blowing across Latin America, and the election of Humala might continue to propel things in a progressive direction.