By Sheena Rossiter
The neck-and-neck race leading up to the June 5th election to succeed President Alan Garcia pits the former army officer Ollanta Humala against congresswoman Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori.
Or, as the Peruvian Nobel Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa puts it, a choice "between terminal cancer and AIDS."
Why so morbid? To start, Keiko Fujimori's political pedigree isn't exactly pristine.
Her father -- who appointed her first lady of Peru in 1994, after he separated from her mother -- now calls Diroes Prison home. He's serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses committed during his decade-long presidency, which ended in 2000. Some commentators worry that Keiko Fujimori is stained by her father's legacy and may be unduly influenced by his circle of friends.
"The Fujimorato party structure still remains intact," the Peruvian writer Feliciano Padilla wrote on his blog, Pescador de Luceros, noting that Keiko Fujimori is surrounded by several of her father's old political hands.
Enough of these examples confirm that Keiko is just another piece of this political machinery that seeks to take back power with the end objective of reviving a corrupt, genocidal and dictatorial government.
Padilla also worries that the elder Fujimori might exert a more literal influence on his daughter's presidency -- given a story in La Republica newspaper that Fujimori has set up a campaign office beside her father's jail.
"It seems strange to no one that Alberto Fujimori is directing Keiko's election campaign," Padilla wrote.
Novelist Jorge Eduardo Benavides, who runs the blog En la Enstanteria de la Izquierda, agreed that "voting for Keiko Fujimori is like giving a letter of legitimacy to a government that is not only corrupt, but will likely be a continuation of Fujimori in control."
He continued: "We cannot forget that Keiko Fujimori was first lady for the government and was an active partner in this, besides being the main advocate for the idea of granting forgiveness to Alberto Fujimori."
If Keiko's campaign carries baggage, it's nothing compared with some of the accusations dogging her opponent.
In 2006, Humala was accused of committing human-rights abuses while he was an army officer during Peru's war against the Shining Path insurgency. (He has denied wrongdoing, and a judicial investigation into the matter was inconclusive.) He also led a brief military uprising against Alberto Fujimori in 2000.
His critics won't let him forget the past. As the Peruvian commentator Jamie Bayly put it, in a column in Peru 21:
Between a thug, a murderer, and a coup leader, and the daughter of a dictator who has asked for her father's crimes to be forgiven, I choose to vote for the daughter of the dictator who has entered politics to clear her last name … She never tortured or killed anyone, unlike her opponent, Ollanta Humala, whose hands are stained with blood and one day will pay justice (when he stops bribing witnesses) for the crimes he committed"
Humala's more recent history also hits a nerve with some Peruvians, especially in the business community. He has toyed with amending the constitution, and has advocated some controversial economic ideas, such as raising fees on gas and mining companies to pay for social spending, increasing the state's role in the economy and renegotiating Peru's free-trade agreement with the U.S.
He also has ties with some notorious Latin American lefties: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales.
"The economic model to which Ollanta Humala is committed has brought economic destruction to Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. And his political model implies a systematic attack on democratic institutions," said Roger Noriega, a policy analyst and former U.S. assistant secretary of state, in a speech in Miami that received significant attention in the Latin American press. He went on:
Only one candidate in this contest is trying to hide his dangerous past and his true ideas. Only one candidate has attempted violent rebellions against democracy. Only one candidate owes his political career to the caudillo, Hugo Chavez. Only one candidate will be accountable to a foreign power and a failed ideology."
Where Humala wins points is among the poor. Despite Peru's economic success in recent years -- it was one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America last year -- an estimated third of Peruvians still live in poverty. As Humala said during a debate on May 29, "We have had growth, but it hasn't reached all."
If Humala wins, wrote Hernan Vasquez Cabrera, the director of the Peru Family Harmony Movement:
The right will lose all its privileges and they will have to share their profits with the poor of Peru, because Humala's campaign is focused on creating a better distribution of wealth. That means those who will benefit most are the poor, who will have access to health care, education, food and many more necessities.
Humala has modified his once-fiery anti-capitalist message, trading in the red shirts he wore in his 2006 presidential campaign for more traditional attire and suggesting that he now sees Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil's former president, as a political role model more than he does Chavez.
So as the election nears, what has Vargas chosen -- cancer or AIDS?
During a panel discussion in Buenos Aires recently, Vargas said he'll be pulling for Humala.
"Without joy," he said, "and with a lot of fear."
(Sheena Rossiter is a contributor to the World View blog. The opinions expressed are her own.)
To contact the author of this blog post: Sheena Rossiter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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