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Humala's Conversion

Jaime Daremblum

Last week, former army officer Ollanta Humala was inaugurated as president of Peru, and he vowed to maintain the successful economic policies adopted by his predecessor, Alan García. The significance of that vow should not be understated.

Until recently, Humala was known as a radical populist eager to copy the Venezuelan model. He launched a failed coup in 2000, and Hugo Chávez openly supported him in the 2006 Peruvian presidential race, thereby dooming his candidacy. In 2011, however, Humala won election by moving away from Chávez and citing former Brazilian president Lula da Silva as his inspiration. He then appointed a centrist economic team and announced that Julio Velarde will remain Peru’s central bank governor. As Reuters correspondent Terry Wade reported from Lima, “the cabinet Humala has assembled, by nearly every measure, is more conservative than the one Lula put together when he took office in Brazil in 2003.”

Unfortunately for the Peruvian leader, he is already dealing with a family-related scandal, and his approval rating has plunged. In early July, Humala’s brother traveled to Russia and met with officials from Gazprom, the state-owned energy giant. Moscow says that Alexis Humala was visiting as a “special representative” of the new Peruvian government. President Humala insists he did not have prior knowledge of the trip, and he has suspended his brother from their political party. But the scandal has seriously damaged Humala’s popularity, which means that he is beginning his presidency with much less public support than originally expected. But this doesn’t change the fact thatto borrow from a Miami Herald editorialHumala has “made an unconditional commitment to protect the reforms that produced South America’s fastest-growing economy over the past five years.“ 

When the likes of Ollanta Humala reject the Venezuelan way, it becomes clear that Chávez is losing the ideological war in Latin America. Indeed, as the New York Times noted back in April, Humala’s political transformation “points to the eclipse of Venezuela by Brazil.” Across the region, leftist presidents have tried to duplicate the success of Lula, a onetime Marxist labor activist who combined a pragmatic focus on economic stability and a firm commitment to democracy with an aggressive expansion of anti-poverty programs. As the Economist points out, Lula’s model “is now the fashionable formula in the region.” In other words, “the tide of Latin American history has turned against Mr. Chávez.”

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