Event Summary: Peru After the Elections

24 June 2011

On Wednesday 22 June, the Peru Support Group, CAFOD and Christian Aid hosted a panel discussion in the UK parliament to analyse the implications of Peru’s recent presidential election results. Below is a summary of the main points made by the speakers:

Paulo Drinot (Senior Lecturer – Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London) gave an overview of Peru’s recent political history and a summary of the main issues in the run-up to this year’s elections.

The distribution of votes in both rounds highlighted the deep divisions in Peruvian society between the coastal region, where the economic growth of recent years has been largely concentrated, and the country’s poorer interior. In the first round Alejandro Toledo, Luis Castañeda Lossio and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski ran lacklustre campaigns on the misguided belief that the country’s recent economic success would automatically mean the population would vote for a ‘continuity candidate’. This provided the more populist candidates on the left and right (Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori, respectively) with the opportunity to overtake them.

In the second round it seemed initially that Keiko would win comfortably, but Humala played a clever game by bringing in players from Toledo’s previous administration and moving to the centre. He also benefited from civil society’s concerns over another Fujimori government and from endorsement by renowned author Mario Vargas Llosa. The second round became highly polarised and centred on the country’s economic model. There was little discussion of policy and much mud slinging, especially in the national press. Of particular concern was the racist terminology in which criticism of Humala was often framed on social media sites.

The new administration faces a number of serious challenges but also has the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the country’s political development. There are tensions within the Humala camp, particularly between those who have supported him since 2006 and those who have joined more recently, which may serve to undermine attempts to introduce reforms.

Fiona Clouder (South America Head – Foreign and Commonwealth Office) focused on UK policy towards Peru and discussed the country’s potential over the coming years. While believing that “Peru could be a real success story” she acknowledged that the country suffered from high levels of social conflict and a lack of popular confidence in the political system.

While it is too soon to tell what the implications of Humala’s victory will be for Anglo-Peruvian relations, the fact that he shifted to the centre during his campaign means he does not have a mandate for revolutionary change. He will therefore have to respect existing free trade agreements, for example. To govern effectively he will need to work hard to build and maintain consensus.

Policy Priorities for the UK in Peru

  • Prosperity: The UK is the second largest investor in Peru and hopes to double its exports to Peru over the next four years.
  • Security: Peru is the biggest exporter of cocaine. How can the UK help Peru build an effective counter-narcotics programme?
  • Human Rights: Focus on promoting the rights of Indigenous Peoples and victims of the internal armed conflict (1980-2000) as well as promoting Corporate Social Responsibility.

The FCO hopes to continue to see a business-friendly Peru which retains strong links with the UK. The likely direction of the new government will not become clear until the new heads of key government ministries are announced. Humala has pledged to raise the minimum wage, improve social policies, and introduce a windfall tax on mining companies, but it may be that those who voted for him have unrealistic expectations of what he can achieve.

Álvaro García (Campaigner for Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela – Amnesty International) discussed the salient human rights issues in Peru, namely: widespread discrimination, the lack of protection for Indigenous Peoples and women, and the use of force by the military against protestors. He stated that the incumbent government had failed to implement effective human rights laws and said it was concerning that there was no mention of a human rights agenda by any of the presidential candidates.

During the presidential campaign Amnesty sent an open letter to all the candidates asking them to commit to the protection of human rights. As yet, none of them have officially replied (although Humala made mention of his human rights commitments in a response to an Amnesty post on Facebook). Amnesty’s concerns prior to and following the election remain largely the same:

  • A possible humanitarian pardon for Alberto Fujimori; the implications of this under international humanitarian law still need to be discussed.
  • The need for a ley de consulta (consultation law) to legislate Peru’s obligations under International Labour Organisation Convention 169 (which sets out the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples).
  • The need for a full investigation into the deaths of 33 people during protests in Bagua in 2009.
  • The continuing problem of the criminalisation of social protest in the country.
  • The faltering progress on the implementation of the recommendations of the Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Emma Reynolds MP (Shadow Foreign Office Minister, Labour Party) welcomed the UK government’s new focus on Latin America - as outlined in William Hague’s Canning House speech in 2010 - and said she will seek to ensure that the region remains high on their agenda. She noted Peru has enjoyed macroeconomic success in recent years but that deep divisions persist within society.

A new government could have implications for the role played by Peru in the wider region. Humala has talked of suspending Peruvian participation in the Pacific Accord, a commercial zone comprising Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru. If Humala wanted to upgrade Peru to full membership of MERCOSUR (it is currently only an observer) he would need to renegotiate all of Peru’s free trade agreements.

There was a significant difference between the campaigns run by Humala in 2006 and 2011. As such questions remain over who he really is and what his beliefs are. Though he has made many promises, will they all be deliverable, given that he doesn’t have great strength in Congress? It is likely to prove easier for him to implement some of his pledges, for example an expansion of JUNTOS, Peru’s conditional cash transfer programme, than to fulfil others (for example, granting communities the power of veto over extractive projects). To meet the high expectations put on him by his supporters Humala will need to quickly make a real impact.

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  • PSG Aims

    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

  • Historical Overview

    Over the past century Peru has suffered a series of autocratic governments and a civil war in which nearly 70,000 people died. Many of the country's ongoing political and social problems are a legacy of its somewhat turbulent past. 

  • Human Rights

    Human rights violations were widespread during the twenty years after the initiation of armed conflict in 1980. Efforts to convict perpetrators since the war's end have made only limited progress. Today, concerns remain over the treatment of those engaged in social protest, particularly against strategically important investment projects.

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