Ex-Leader's Showing In Peru Vote Signals New Life for the Left
Fresh From Exile, Garcia Wins Runoff Slot
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
LIMA, Peru, April 9 -- When Alan Garcia was president in the late 1980s,
guerrilla bombs exploded regularly in Lima and prices inflated by the hour.
foreign debt payments and turned Peru into an economic pariah. The husky young leftist also liked to take dignitaries on jaunts to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu --
never mind that his helicopter scattered fragments of ancient stone each time he touched down.
So when results from the first round of presidential elections started
coming in Sunday night, TV announcers and pundits were white-faced. None
of them had shed a
tear when, during then-President Alberto Fujimori's crackdown on opponents in 1992, army tanks rolled up to Garcia's house, prompting his flight into political exile.
But this afternoon, with almost three-quarters of the votes counted in the election to replace Fujimori, Garcia had once again emerged as a major political force in
Alejandro Toledo, 55, who rose out of poverty to lead the movement against
Fujimori last year, won a smaller than expected 36 percent of the vote,
well short of the
50 percent plus one vote he needed to avoid a runoff in May. And in second place was a smiling Garcia, who engineered a comeback only nine weeks after returning
from exile in Colombia. From single-digit support just two months ago, Garcia captured more than 26 percent of the vote, gaining him the runoff slot that many in
Lima's business establishment had hoped would go to a right-leaning lawyer, Lourdes Flores. She received 24 percent of the votes counted so far.
The results marked a political resurrection of Garcia and Peru's once-dead
left wing that has many here asking what happened. Part of the answer could
be found at
Garcia's colorful, well-staged rallies in the weeks before the vote where young faces peppered the crowd.
"Garcia has mobilized young voters," said Jorge Bruce, a Lima-based
sociologist, "because many of them simply don't remember the disaster that
was his first
But Garcia's comeback also represents Peru's response to the now annihilated
legacy of Fujimori, who seized any opportunity during his 10 years in power
his presidency as success measured against Garcia's failures: Garcia was impotent against two powerful guerrilla movements, but the Peruvian samurai slayed them
both. Garcia sent inflation flying, but Fujimori grounded it. Drug trafficking flourished during Garcia's days, but Fujimori shot drug traffickers out of the sky. Garcia
was corrupt, Fujimori was not.
As information surfaces about the massive corruption and lies of the
Fujimori era -- including falsified growth figures during the "economic
miracle" brought about by
Fujimori's embrace of free market reforms -- many Peruvians today see Garcia in a new light. Not only has corruption during the Fujimori era rivaled that of Garcia's
time, but many here are seriously questioning the economic model that Fujimori imported.
Garcia, 51, became the youngest president in Peru's history in 1985.
In this year's campaign, he has been quick to express regret for what he
calls his "past errors"
and insists he has moderated his politics. But he remains a left-leaning politician with a distrust of the free market. He said in a news conference Friday that if elected,
he would cap foreign debt payments next year at $1.7 billion -- $400 million less than Peru owes. He also said he hopes to make the state a major player in the
national economy again.
"We have to start talking about humane globalization," Garcia said.
"The state cannot just abandon people, and that's what we've seen happen
This approach has tapped into the undercurrent of discontent with the
free market sweeping Latin America. It has also sparked fears among foreign
Lima's powerful business elite.
"The closer the race between Toledo and Garcia, the better the chance
of capital flight," said Michael Henry, Andean analyst in the New York
office of ABN
AMRO investment bank.
Garcia was aided by the fact that his party, the American Popular Revolutionary
Alliance, has a 70-year-old political structure extending to the most remote
towns and Andean villages. But he has also been helped by his opponents. Toledo, for instance, ran a lackluster campaign, long on big promises of fast economic
growth, but short on details.
Additionally, Toledo, who earned a doctorate in education for economic
development at Stanford University, has been reluctant to debate Garcia.
Garcia is a
powerful orator, exuding self-confidence. Toledo, who is striving to be the first elected Amerindian to rule modern Peru, has employed the trappings of the Inca
empire to woo voters, but he is not the showman Garcia is.
During a rally in Lima last Thursday, for instance, fireworks went off
as Garcia stood atop a float and rode to a massive stage draped in the
red and white bunting of
the Peruvian flag. He worked the crowd of more than 5,000 people, lifting his hands to encourage cheers.
Many political analysts here still insist Garcia cannot win in May,
saying Peruvians are willing to forgive only so much. But to some, that
sounds more like wishful
"Nobody thought Alan would run this close a race. He is breaking every
roof we set for him," said Manuel Torrado Bermjo, executive director of
Internacional, a Lima-based polling firm. "I think we all have to face facts and just say it. It is possible that Alan Garcia will win in the second round."