New Peruvian president-elect keeping Washington at arm’s length
By Frank Bajak
June 6, 2006
LIMA, Peru - President-elect Alan Garcia on Tuesday stressed his support for free markets and said he will vigorously court foreign investment for Peru, but he said he plans to renegotiate a trade accord with the United States signed by the outgoing government.
He also extended an olive branch to his opponent in Sunday’s runoff election, Ollanta Humala. He called the upstart former military officer a de facto opposition leader and praised him for championing the rural poor, who have long been neglected by Peru’s political class.
Garcia, whose 1985-90 socialist presidency ended in economic ruin and with Peru beset by a growing Shining Path insurgency, said he would encourage the early dissolution of Congress if it proved unresponsive to the people’s will. He takes office July 28.
He was asked during a 90-minute news conference whether he got U.S. help against Humala, who was strongly supported by Venezuela’s anti-U.S. president, Hugo Chavez.
“I am sure that if I would have received the support of the U.S. Embassy, I would have lost the elections,” Garcia said with a big smile. “Mr. Humala lost the election, among other things, due to the support he received from Mr. Chavez.”
The 57-year-old politician adroitly turned the Venezuelan leader’s vigorous endorsement of Humala to his advantage, and went on to win the runoff 53 percent to 47 percent.
Garcia also reminded reporters he angered the United States and international lenders by unilaterally limiting Peru’s debt payments during his first presidency. And he criticized Washington for the 1989 invasion of Panama and its help for rebels fighting Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.
Garcia said he would insist on revising - line by line - the free-trade agreement that Peru’s outgoing government of President Alejandro Toledo signed with the United States in April. The pact hasn’t been ratified by the legislature of either nation.
The agreement “is just a first draft, which can be improved and broadened if this government decides to approve it,” Garcia said. “We will not approve anything in a rush.”
He suggested one change he might seek would be to add language to discourage Peru’s importing of subsidized U.S. crops. The less subsidized a crop, the higher the quota that could be imported from the United States, he said.
“I think that’s a subject that can be dealt with in an amendment,” Garcia said.
He said he is keen to negotiate a free-trade agreement with Brazil, with which Peru is building a cross-continent highway to boost commerce, and he also wants to build a “megaport” for handling Pacific trade.
His biggest immediate challenge, however, is appeasing the masses of discontented Peruvians who helped Humala lead the voting in 15 of the country’s 24 states. Quechua-speaking Indians and mixed-ace mestizos have lived for centuries in extreme poverty, neglected by the power elite in coastal Lima.
Garcia promised that his presidency will follow the politics of inclusion rather than confrontation, saying Latin America’s political elites need to work harder for all the people - a theme that echoed Humala’s campaign.
It is part of what Garcia calls his “act of contrition,” of learning from his disastrous first term. He said during the campaign that he would cut the president’s salary and encourage Congress to do the same.
Among projects and investment for Peru’s poorest regions, Garcia promised to extend the delivery of potable water and health care and provide better housing.
“We are the party of the people.” he said. “We believe that democracy should begin with the poorest.”