April 29th 2006

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Taking stock of the wheat scandal

EDITORIAL: Watering Australia: a national priority

BORDER PROTECTION: Why Australia needs naval, air force bases in Torres Strait

NATIONAL SECURITY: Lives endangered by latest intelligence leaks

ENVIRONMENTALISM: How the Great Barrier Reef is mismanaged

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Labor misses the bus / All is vanity / Kosovo's mafia / When the bills come in / Open season on Christianity

REGIONAL ECONOMIC POLICY: The end of international economic cooperation? (Part 2)

PERU: Latest Latin American country to turn left

SCHOOLS: The choice so few parents can afford

MEDIA: ABC's Easter assault on Christianity

THE WEST AND ISLAM: No alternative but to defend our values

Social cost of unfettered capitalism (letter)

Robert Manne's media critique defended (letter)

Why have a Department of Foreign Affairs? (letter)

CINEMA: Caped crusader for the know-nothing left: V for Vendetta

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Latest Latin American country to turn left

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, April 29, 2006
The first round of Peru's current elections indicates that Peruvian voters are following Latin America's current leftward trend, writes Peter Westmore.

The first round of elections in Peru suggests that one of two popular nationalists, Ollanta Humala or Alan Garcia, will become the next President of Peru, marking a continuation of a swing to the left which has swept Latin America over recent years.

Peru is located on the Pacific Ocean in the north-west of Latin America, sandwiched between Ecuador and Colombia in the north, Brazil in the east, and Bolivia and Chile to the south.

At the time of writing, over 80 per cent of the vote in the first round had been counted. Ollanta Humala, a former army commander and admirer of Hugo Chavez, the left-wing President of Venezuela, secured 31 per cent of the vote. He advances to a second round next month or in June, since no candidate has won a majority.

Humala is the only candidate with a strong presence throughout the country - he secured the largest vote in 19 out of 25 regions.

Indian support

Like other recently-elected Latin American leaders, his support comes from Indians and Mestizos who comprise about 80 per cent of the population of nearly 30 million, but are largely excluded from the institutions of the economy and power, which are dominated by white descendants of the Spanish colonists, who comprise just three million people.

Alan Garcia, a former president and socialist whose 1985-1990 rule ended in hyperinflation and surging violence by Shining Path rebels, was second with 25 per cent, after overtaking Lourdes Flores, a pro-business lawyer whose support is concentrated in the cities.

While the vote was largely shaped by economic and racial factors, both Humala and Garcia are fiercely critical of the United States and what they term "neoliberalism", a term which describes both globalism and American economic dominance in Latin America.

The US is seen to be more concerned with destroying the coca crops in Peru and Colombia than in establishing viable farms for millions of impoverished peasants; and anti-American feeling has been increased by US officials' criticism of democratically-elected Latin American politicians.

For example, the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: "We've seen some populist leadership appealing to masses of people in those countries. And elections like Evo Morales in Bolivia take place that clearly are worrisome.

"I mean, we've got Chavez in Venezuela with a lot of oil money. He's a person who was elected legally - just as Adolf Hitler was elected legally - and then consolidated power and now is, of course, working closely with Fidel Castro and Mr Morales and others."

Such attacks are used, by left-wing politicians in South America, as proof of American bullying.

If Humala makes good on his promises to revise foreign investment contracts, to vote against the recent free-trade agreement with the United States and to nationalise natural resources, investment in Peru will decline, for which the US will be blamed.

If Garcia is elected, the danger is that Peru will descend into the same chaos that it experienced in the late 1980s, when he led the country.

The question needs to be asked: why has Peru followed a number of other Latin American countries in electing left-wing leaders?

This is a paradox, as millions of Latin Americans have fled the poverty of their own countries, to seek a new future as illegal immigrants in the United States.

This apparent contradiction can be explained by the fact that Latin Americans want a better future and paid employment which are readily available in the US, but which neither their own governments nor closer integration into the American economy, nor American companies are able to provide in Latin America.

Peru is well-endowed with natural resources. It has abundant mineral resources in the Andes mountain region, rich fishing grounds, and an emerging natural gas industry.

Its GDP per head of population is nearly $9,000, but most of its people live in poverty.

The broader question is why democratic governments which replaced authoritarian military regimes in the 1990s, and which favoured privatisation, deregulation, and the entry of foreign capital and corporations - in a word, globalism - have been swept aside in many Latin American countries in recent years.

Democratically-elected governments were turned out because so-called "free market" policies made the wealthy elites even richer, and permitted corruption to flourish while the majority remained desperately poor.

Another factor is that the left has, in part, moderated its anti-market rhetoric and policy.

What Peru and other Latin American countries need is a popular government which is not corrupt, is committed to raising the status of the majority through economic and social programs, and nurtures the establishment of indigenous businesses. What it may get is another populist leader, more concerned about power and class warfare.

  • Peter Westmore

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