- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

LIMA, Peru — Once seemingly unstoppable in his quest for Peru’s presidency, retired army officer Ollanta Humala has seen his star plummet over human rights charges and dissatisfaction with his leftist politics.

Now the man who had appeared poised to join Latin America’s club of leftist leaders is stumping for a list of unpopular candidates ahead of Nov. 19 municipal and regional elections, and struggling to save his political future.

His appeal in Lima’s slums is still evident. People chanted “Ollanta, Ollanta” from markets and doorways of shacks as Mr. Humala’s green SUV led two dozen vehicles carrying candidates and supporters from one impoverished Lima district to another.

But there were also jeers, as one truck in Mr. Humala’s caravan ran out of gas. Another, carrying a brass band, screeched to a lopsided halt as a rear wheel broke off the axle.

“Ollanta, get out of here. Go home,” one woman shouted from a storefront. Another responded to his salute with an energetic thumbs down.

Mr. Humala’s popularity has plunged over accusations that he ordered the torture and killing of jungle residents during Peru’s offensive against Maoist Shining Path guerrillas.

Polls show that Mr. Humala’s disapproval ratings are as high as 70 percent, largely because of the human rights charges. His mayoral candidate in Lima has about 2 percent support. His other municipal and regional candidates are projected to win in only three of Peru’s 24 states.

Even in the neglected and impoverished southern and central highlands, where Mr. Humala’s support was strongest, some independent front-runners have rejected his overtures to join forces.

It’s a steep decline from the April 9 elections, when Mr. Humala’s nationalist coalition won 45 seats in the 120-member congress, becoming the largest bloc. About half have since defected over complaints he has shifted too far to the left.

Mr. Humala, an unabashed admirer of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, acknowledges his troubles even as he refuses to give up his aspirations, leading the ragtag march through impoverished shantytowns under a banner reading “Ollanta for President 2011.”

“I have no illusions. I have to build the party,” Mr. Humala said. “There is a lot of time before 2011 and a lot of things can happen.”

Mr. Humala, 44, had been on the brink of joining the ranks of populist leaders like Mr. Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales, winning first-round presidential elections in April with pledges to radically redistribute wealth.

But Alan Garcia handily defeated Mr. Humala in the June runoff, adroitly painting him as a pawn in Mr. Chavez’s quest to expand Venezuela’s influence over the region. Many Peruvians were offended by Mr. Chavez’s open endorsement of Mr. Humala.

In Ecuador, leftist economist Rafael Correa boasted about his ties with Mr. Chavez, only to lose the first round of presidential elections Sunday to banana tycoon Alvaro Noboa.

“There is a continental and regional strategy to stigmatize Hugo Chavez as if he were a bad person, which he isn’t,” Mr. Humala said. “He is a Venezuelan patriot who is developing a revolutionary project in his country.”


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