"I've always wanted to go to Peru!" is what I usually get in response when I tell someone I'm half Peruvian, followed by "Have you been to Machu Picchu?". The answer is, no I haven't, and perhaps you don't want to start planning your trip there just yet...
Last Wednesday, February 13th, the U.S. Embassy in Peru issued an emergency message to its citizens, with the following warning:
The Embassy has received information that members of a criminal organization may be planning to kidnap U.S. citizen tourists in the Cusco and Machu Picchu area.
Peru - a place with nearly half the amount of police reported kidnappings/100,000 population when compared to Scotland¹ - or better said, it's officials, are outraged with such an accusation. As I'll explain in today's blog, if there's one thing you can't accuse Peruvians of, it's political apathy.
An official of the U.S. allegedly confirmed that the information was cleaned from intercepted communications within the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorist organisation. With tens of thousands of Americans visiting Machu Picchu each year, the threat, if real, could affect a lot of people.
Luis Florez, mayor of the city of Cuzco has crossly spoken out, calling for the U.S. Ambassador to retract the statement on the grounds that "tourism is an incredibly sensitive topic" and that the warning will severely damage a large portion of the economy's income.
The President of Peru, Ollanta Humala, also hit back passionately, asserting that the Embassy's claims are "without merit". It is this fiesty fellow who will be the starting point for a brief run-through of Peru's scandalous and juicy political history.
¹According to the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control's report titled International Statistics on Crime and Justice, page 47
The struggle for power
Ollanta Moisés Humala Tasso is currently serving as the 50th President of Peru. And by golly did he fight to get there. In contrast to the quiet upbringings of the UK's political figures in Eaton College, Ollanta served in the Peruvian Army and even led an unsuccessful military revolt in 2000, against the then-President Alberto Fujimori Fujimori (yes, his surname is repeated)!
Although finally elected in 2011, Ollanta first ran for presidency in 2006 - even competing against his brother Ulises - but lost out to Alan Garcia. In the UK and perhaps other countries, coming from a 'good' (or at least normal) family is surely a major factor in becoming a political candidate. The current case in Peru, however, defies belief:
The Fujimori brand
The first round of the general election yeilded no candidates with over half the votes and so for round two, Ollanta squared up against Keiko Fujimori. Sound familiar? Kieko Fujimori is the daughter of former-president Alberto Fujimori. Perhaps having your dad as president is a favourable aspect in the U.S., but for Keiko I believe it was a little bit more complicated.
Let me sum up Alberto Fujimori's time as President as concisely as possible. His neoliberal policies (termed Fujishock) restored the macroeconomic instability that had gripped Peru previously - impressing the IMF so much that he won loans from them that further flattened the hyperinflation. However one problem nagging at him was that he had difficulty combatting the threat of the guerilla group Sendero Luminoso. In his eyes, Congress was obstructive and slow, meaning he could not get approval for taking action againt the Sendero Luminoso (who were regularly massacreing Peruvian politicians and peasants alike).
Hence, Alberto mobilised the mililtary to stage a presidential coup - effectively shutting down Congress and suspending the constitution - which was initially met with approval by the general public. However, his office eventually moved to an authoritarian regime with a lot of broad military power, where people accused would stand trial infront of their very accusers. Understandably, this soured international relations and few countries wanted to be associated with a Peru under "dictatorship" (despite him being re-elected several times). In his defence, he was credited with ending the 15-year reign of terror of the Sendero Luminoso by catching their leader.
In 2000, things came to an end for Alberto in his third term when a corruption scandal broke the headlines. The Chief of Police, Vladimir Montesinos, was caught on video bribing a political opponent to defect to the Fujimori party, and so Alberto fled to Japan. He was eventually arrested in 2005 in Chile and in 2007 finally extradited to Peru to face trial. He is now serving 25 years in prison for human rights abuses and abuses of power, and needless to say, is banned from politics. Charges included ordering a death squad to carry out massacres of 25 people, and the forced sterilisations of over 300,000 indigenous women from 1996 to 2000, as part of a population control program. I was in Peru listening to the radio when all the charges were read out - it took the speaker about 2 hours to finish!
For many people, the question in the 2011 election was: would either of the two, Ollanta or Keiko, use their power to release their relatives from jail?
In the end, Peru voted for Ollanta Humala, perhaps fearing Keiko would follow literally in the footsteps of her father. When the results were published, the Lima Stock Exchange experienced it's biggest drop in history. All in all, compared to the explosive 90s-2010s, the political scene of Peru seems rather tranquil, plus Ollanta hasn't freed his brother from prison (yet!).
I'll be amazed if anyone gets to the end of this blog post, but if you did, then congratulations! I hope you found it mildly interesting and that there's more to talk about Peru than just Machu Picchu :)
- REVIEW: Predatory Thinking by Dave Trott