June 5, 2006

Garcia beats nationalist in Peru runoff

By Robin Emmott

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Former President Alan Garcia beat a
fiery ex-army nationalist in Peru's runoff election on Sunday,
staging a political comeback after his 1980s government ended
in economic ruin, rebel violence and accusations of rights

The result is a blow for Venezuela's President Hugh Chavez,
who sparked a diplomatic spat with Peru after trying to take
advantage of a populist anti-U.S. tide in Latin America by
supporting Ollanta Humala, a former army commander.

With 77 percent of the ballots counted, Garcia, who
portrays himself as a left-of-center democrat, won about 55
percent of the vote and Humala, who spooked many middle-class
Peruvians with calls for a revolution against the rich, had
some 45 percent of votes.

Humala conceded defeat but vowed to battle for his
nationalist revolution to help half the Peruvians who are poor.

A jubilant Garcia waved a white handkerchief -- a
traditional victory symbol of his APRA party -- as thousands of
supporters gathered outside his campaign headquarters in Lima
and fireworks filled the sky.

"Today, Peru has sent a message of national sovereignty and
has defeated efforts by Hugo Chavez to incorporate us in the
expansion strategy of his military and backward-looking model,
which he's tried to implant in Latin America," Garcia said.

Many Peruvians apparently voted for Garcia -- dubbed "Latin
America's Kennedy" when he was first elected to the presidency
at the age of 35 -- seeing him as the lesser of two evils and
less hostile to business.

"It's a sad day. Neither of them is a good candidate," said
45-year-old psychologist Ida Blanc after she cast her vote for
Garcia in an upper middle-class neighborhood of Lima.

Rival voters threw water and rubbish at each other in the
southern Andean city of Arequipa in a sign of the political
polarization of Peru, one of Latin America's poorest countries.


Garcia says he has learned from his mistakes and will
better manage Peru's economy after five years of unprecedented
growth. But Peruvians who were left destitute by his first term
are still very suspicious of the 57-year-old lawyer.

"Peru is being tremendously generous to Garcia, something
that he doesn't really deserve ... But this is not a blank
check, he has to work hard, to do something better this time,"
said Augusto Alvarez, analyst and editor of daily Peru.21.

Garcia still preaches state regulation and his victory
would be another sign of a backlash against free-market reforms
in Latin America, which have done little to improve the living
conditions of millions of voters.

Humala, who has charged that the election could be tainted
by fraud, declared "everything must be transparent" after he
voted with his wife in Surco, a middle-class district of Lima.

Humala's plans to put the $75 billion economy in state
hands seem too risky to many people who have lived through 30
years of turbulent governments ranging from military
dictatorships to President Alberto Fujimori's corrupt populist
government from 1990 to 2000.

Humala's campaign has also been hurt by the vocal support
he has received from Chavez, who is generally unpopular in
Peru, a country that has good relations with the United States
and has a significant migrant population there.

(Additional reporting by Isabel Ordonez and Teresa