- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 3, 2006

Lourdes Flores Nano was the best chance for long-term prosperity and the end of poverty in Peru. Her loss in the first round of the presidential election to Alan Garcia and Lt. Col. Ollanta Humala transformed the race into a deplorable contest between a proven failure and a potential catastrophe. Only when the alternative is the ultra-nationalist Col. Humala could the prospect of a Garcia presidency in Peru be looked on as welcome news in Washington.

Mr. Garcia recorded a dismal tenure during his previous presidential term, but Col. Humala promises to do worse, aligning Peru politically and ideologically with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia. Col. Humala would move quickly to consolidate his power and, like Mr. Morales, nationalize industry and legalize coca production. With the populist rhetoric of class conflict, Col. Humala has promised an end to poverty with policies, including scrapping the free trade agreement with the United States, that will lead Peru down the unsustainable path recently tread by Mr. Morales.

As Mr. Chavez tries to wield the regional influence he has established through his oil-money largess, it’s a small relief to see candidates stump successfully on an anti-Chavez message. The dividends of this strategy are undeniable in Mexico, where the more centrist Felipe Calderon has overtaken left-wing populist and former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the polls, in no small part due to a more aggressive — and personal — campaign that inextricably binds Mr. Lopez Obrador up with Mr. Chavez. In Peru, also, Mr. Garcia is successfully capitalizing on the widespread distaste for Mr. Chavez’s meddling in the election, drawing voters away from his opponent, whom he has dubbed a “puppet” of the Venezuelan president, and even turning some attention away from his own failures.

Mr. Chavez has managed to interject his presence into the election with scathing critiques of both Mr. Garcia and current President Alejandro Toledo. While expressing his desire for a Humala victory, Mr. Chavez has referred to the current president as Washington’s pawn and to Mr. Garcia as “an irresponsible demagogue and thief.” The presidential hopeful has shot back with his own criticisms of Mr. Chavez’s brand of authoritarianism and emphasized his opponent’s would-be subservience to the dictator. Citing interference with the electoral process, Mr. Toledo withdrew the Peruvian ambassador from Caracas at the end of April.

During his five-year tenure, which ended in 1990, Mr. Garcia crippled the Peruvian economy with a series of disastrous policies, including a scheme to nationalize the country’s banks. When Mr. Garcia left office, inflation had reached more than 7,000 percent. Mr. Garcia was also unable to control the intense left-wing guerrilla violence, which had a calamitous effect on the country. Rehashing his wrong-headed approach would bring repeat disaster to an economy that was one of the strongest in South America in the 1990s and experienced a 6 percent growth in gross domestic product last year.

It now seems clear that Mr. Garcia will win the runoff election today: an APOYO poll on May 26 shows Mr. Garcia with a solid lead over Col. Humala. For the past month, Mr. Garcia has maintained a 10-point advantage in the polls, but undecided voters could make the final vote much closer. Outside of the capital, Lima, the race is far more competitive, but only an overwhelming turnout among Humala supporters would be enough to bring to power the former soldier who once led an unsuccessful coup.

Should Mr. Garcia become president, his record suggests a harsh reverse of fortunes for the growing economy, but Washington should not overlook the upside of the Peruvian voters’ rejection of Venezuela’s populist-cum-authoritarian model.

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