Things have not gone well for Ollanta Humala, founder of the
Nationalist Party of Peru (PNP), since his loss in a
presidential run-off with Alan Garcia in June.
Humala, 44, received nearly 48% of the votes, and his party,
together with coalition partner Union for Peru (UPP), won the
largest bloc, 45 seats, in the 120-member unicameral Congress.
A newcomer to politics with a fiery left-wing nationalistic
message, Humala looked positioned to lead the opposition to
Garcia’s five-year mandate, which got underway on
His populist posturing made him a hero among
Peru’s poor, especially his campaigning against
foreign ownership of Peruvian assets. "We are not going to put
national assets in foreign hands," he told Emerging Markets in
an interview in April, days before his first-round election
victory. "When a country privatizes an asset, it should allow
for the participation of local companies, and this has not been
the case in Peru."
But bizarrely, his status as opposition leader began to
diminish almost as soon as the polls closed. The UPP rejected
his election-night call for a broad coalition of civil society
organizations and small, left-wing parties to challenge Garcia.
Just a few days after the vote and even before their official
inauguration, Carlos Torres, one of Humala’s two
vice-presidential candidates, and several other lawmakers
bolted from the party, protesting against what they called
Humala’s lurch to the left.
Humala did not help himself by remaining elusive and travelling
abroad, first to Bolivia and then to Cuba, where he underwent
surgery to remove his gall bladder. The mainstream press, which
openly opposed his candidacy, has not helped his cause, running
only negative coverage when they run anything at all.
He also faces a legal battle stemming from his days as a major
in the Peruvian Army. During the campaign he was accused of
murdering two people and of disappearances when he ran an
anti-subversive squadron battling the Shining Path. He does not
deny fighting, but adamantly insists that he did nothing
illegal. Formal charges were filed against him for murder and
attempted murder in mid-August. The upcoming trial will once
more open debate on human rights crimes committed during the
war against subversion in the 1980s and most of the 1990s.
Meanwhile, President Garcia’s newly inaugurated
government is pursuing a number of strategies for the
highlands, historically Peru’s poorest region,
where Humala enjoyed most of his support. He has made major
inroads into Humala’s southern bastion, aware that
candidates of his APRA party do not need to win in November,
but do need to make a solid showing.
In the poor department of Puno, where Humala won with almost
70%, prospective voters in the November race may still
sympathize with Humala, but they are beginning to wonder where
he is and what he is doing.
"We’re not hearing anything about Humala or the
PNP these days. It’s like he has disappeared,"
says father of eight, 38-year-old Esteban Constanci. "I hope
that what he said in the election wasn’t only to
get our votes."