Down and out?

17/09/2006 | Lucien Chauvin

The firebrand nationalist who almost clinched Peru’s presidency this summer should be shoring up his position as opposition leader. Instead, Ollanta Humala has all but disappeared

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 July 28.

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.

Accused
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.”

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