LIMA – Just six months into his presidency, Peru’s Ollanta Humala has already taken a sledgehammer to his political orchestra, replacing the conductor – Prime Minister Salomón Lerner – along with about half the would-be musicians. The question now is what kind of tune the recently-elected president plans to play in the coming months and years.
In mid-December, Humala designated Óscar Valdés, his former army instructor, as prime minister following Lerner’s resignation. Valdés, a businessman and retired military official, had previously served as interior minister. For some analysts, the move was evidence Humala – himself a former army officer – is shifting right and “militarizing” his government.
Indeed, the tendency contrasts sharply with the center-left platform on which the president built his electoral campaign.
The new prime minister quickly made a point of saying the government’s ‘road map’ will remain the same. It’s evident, however, that Valdés brings a new tone to the position. He has already, for example, given the other ministers careful orders about how and when to speak to the press. Valdés may be officially retired from the army, but he exudes a military style that some in Peru – where the armed forces are forever keen to recover a greater political role – find troubling.
The only person who really benefits from the situation, according to Henry Pease-García, a political science professor at Peru’s Universidad Catolica, is Humala himself. By replacing so many of his ministers with undersecretaries, the president has consolidated power. Professor Pease-García says most government cabinet members are centrist technocrats, more business mangers than ideologues. That means that from here on out, “politics will the domain of the president,” Prime Minster Valdés has said
Humala’s cabinet shake-up came just days after he declared a 60-day state of emergency to clamp down on anti-mining protests in the Cajamarca region of northern Peru. He is by no means the first Peruvian president to turn to the “Socratic Guardians of the Republic,” as Humala recently called the army, to impose unpopular investment projects. In this case, the hotly debated project is a $4.8-billion gold and copper mine being planned by Newmont Mining, a U.S. firm based in Denver, Colorado.
Losing friends in congress
According to Cynthia Sanborn, a researcher at the Universidad del Pacífico, Humala risks alienating his natural allies on the left, and may soon find himself with few friends in Congress. Without support there, he will have serious trouble pushing through his so-called “gran transformación” (great transformation) scheme, a series of social programs Humala promised as a way to combat extreme poverty and reduce the country’s notoriously wide income gap.
Humala’s recent moves have earned applause from business circles. And they may help him woo a bit of support from the conservative opposition. But they put him squarely at odds with ex-President Alejandro Toledo’s centrist Perú Posible party, which lost all of its representation in the government cabinet of ministers.
With gold, copper and silver prices expected to remain high this year, the Humala administration will no doubt continue throwing its lot in with major mining interests. If the Valdés-controlled cabinet doesn’t push for a combination of public policies to benefit the poor, the coming year will set the stage for yet another Peruvian presidency focused more on economic growth than on reducing the country's gaping economic inequality. And if this administration can’t change course in that respect, there’s even less chance its eventual replacement will do so.
Humala has already demonstrated that he’s no Hugo Chávez, as we feared he might be. But he’s also shown that he’s no Lula da Silva, which was the great promise.
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Photo - Presidencia Perú