By Camilla Gianella

A Norwegian translation of the op-ed was printed in Bergens Tidende 5 June:

Hvordan har de det egentlig i Peru?

One thing I have noticed over the years living outside Peru is that my country is not as well known as other Latin-American nations.  The Peruvian president is not as famous as Hugo Chávez or Evo Morales and, as our national football team hasn’t participated in a World Cup since 1982, Peru does not share the recognition of some of the other Latin-American countries.

In general the perception is that things are going well in Peru (if your country is not in the headlines of the newspapers, it is because things are going well).  This image has been enhanced not only by the Peruvian authorities, but also by international organizations like the World Bank that ranks Peruvian economy among the "best performers in Latin America.

This could explain why the Peruvian presidential elections campaign does not receive much coverage in the Western media. Media notices Peru when the two Presidential candidates who made it to the run-offs in June might deviate from the ”successful” route of liberal democracy.  

On April 10th, the population voted and decided to have a runoff  between Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori.  For some people this has been an illogical and irrational vote: a kind of punishment vote which put the country between two disastrous options; this is what Mario Vargas Llosa called "thr cancer and the AIDS". But is this the only explanation? Is it true that Peruvians voted blinded by rage to punish without thinking through the options?  Despite the fact that Peru has been portrayed as a successful? history, the presidential election reflects a reality that part of the Peruvian society as well as the international community do not want to see and accept.

In 2001, Peru returned to democracy after eight years of authoritarian rule.  Alejandro Toledo won the presidency with 53.1 percent of the votes, mainly with votes from the poorest provinces.  The poor believed in Toledo’s promises of change.

Toledo continued Fujimori’s liberal economic politics, and the country has continued its economic growth resulting in good macroeconomic indicators. Peru became internationally recognized as an example for the region, as a government that managed to deliver on its promises of economic growth. Yet, within Peru, for the poor populations who had voted Toledo into office, their economic situation did not improve significantly. In spite of a reduction in monetary poverty, there have not been extensive improvements in social services like health care, education and formal employment opportunities.

The 2006 presidential elections provided the first alert of the fact that people were not satisfied with the liberal economic model. 30.6 percent of the population, mainly voters from the poorest regions, voted for Ollanta Humala who promised an alternative economic model.

In 2006, Humala was accused of being too close to Hugo Chávez, which worried the middle- and upper classes in Peru, and also the international community. They wanted to keep the current liberal development model.  In the 2006 runoff, former president Alan García was Humala’s opponent. Despite the fact that his first government (1985 – 1990) was remembered for its hyperinflation, corruption, human rights violations and high levels of internal violence, García won because he promised to keep the current economic model and to improve the conditions for the poor. 

But the reality is that he has not fulfilled his promises to the poor people.  He has continued to implement the same liberal model that has produced positive macroeconomic figures.  However, there have also been corruption scandals involving high level public officers and García’s party members, lack of accountability and impunity in corruption cases, and an increase of social protest, police repression, and criminalization of social protest.  Despite the “successful” image, 2010 regional elections and 2011 national elections showed a concerning discomfort and a lack of capacity of policy makers and economic elites to understand this nuisance. 

On  June 5th, a new Peruvian  president will be elected in a runoff between Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, the former president who fled the country in 2000, and who was extradited, judged and sentenced for human rights violations in 2009.  Keiko Fujimori was her father’s first lady, after her mother, Susana Higushi denounced Alberto Fujimori for kidnapping and torturing her in the presidential house.

It cannot be denied that the two candidates, for different reasons, might raise concerns.  However, the results of the April elections could have been an opportunity for Peruvians to discuss why society allows, accepts and promotes high levels of inequality.  It could have been a time for Peruvians to discuss the unwillingness of the wealthiest sectors of the population to give up privileges, to allow the development of the whole country, and to discuss which structural changes they would be ready to support in order to prevent authoritarian regimes.   

Unfortunately the debate has not been carried in that direction. The runoff campaign has been characterized by attacks and a campaign to raise fears about a possible return of the corruption and human rights violations, or hyperinflation and the disastrous consequences on the market and the economy.  There has been a lack of space to debate the current development model, and this is not an accident.  The “market” had already voted, and welcomed the raise of Keiko Fujimoro in the polls.

It is also time for “Western” donors and multilateral agencies to reflect on what kind of development and democracy they support and why. It is an opportunity to reassess how poverty and development are being measured. Unfortunately Peru is not an exception; it shows again that Western countries use different parameters to label countries, and that these changing parameters are used to build a shared international image of a country, echoed in the media, in spite of the actual situation in these countries. 

As citizens we must be aware of this, and be more skeptical when we read the news about Western leaders accepting gifts and maintaining business relations with authoritarian leaders. The French Prime Minister Francois Fillon borrowed Mubarak’s private plane during his holiday in Egypt as late as the end of 2010. 

We need to be more aware and provide more attention to statements as the one given some weeks ago by the former president of Spain, José Maria Aznar, who recognized that the so called “Western” countries have a policy of accepting the “extravagancies” of some leaders –including human rights violations- when these help “Western” interests.

Although we can’t yet predict with certainty who will be the winner of the runoff, it is clear that the thirty percent of the population from the poorest areas of the country that reiterated their support to Ollanta Humala, are asking for a change. They are not in majority, but if Peru is really a democracy, their voices must be heard.