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Peru’s Garcia fights for run-off spot

April 7, 2006

By Robin Emmott

TRUJILLO, Peru (Reuters) – With his name painted on almost
every wall and his photo staring down from almost every
billboard, former President Alan Garcia is hard to miss in
northern Peru, a heartland of voter support that is happy to
overlook the chaos of his 1985-1990 government.

Such unconditional backing could give the charismatic
leftist Garcia of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance
party, or APRA, just enough impetus to take second in Sunday’s
presidential vote and squeak into a May run-off, worrying
investors.

Third in polls during most of the campaign, Garcia is now
statistically tied for second place with pro-business candidate
Lourdes Flores, the market favorite, according to the latest
Apoyo poll.

“We want to win the election, we want a revolution to take
us into the future and to generate jobs,” Garcia told 20,000
ecstatic supporters in the country’s third-largest city,
Trujillo.

“Only the APRA will save Peru,” he added as fireworks
filled the sky.

Simultaneously campaigning in Trujillo, Flores, who is
strongest in the capital, Lima, had a rally of 200 people.

A run-off between Garcia and nationalist front-runner
Ollanta Humala, a former army commander, would be the
worst-case scenario for businesses and foreign investors.

Both leftists promise to renegotiate contracts with Peru’s
Argentine-led Camisea gas project, levy a windfall tax on
miners and scrap a free-trade deal with the United States,
arguing it is the only way to help the half of Peruvians who
live in poverty and lack safe drinking water and medical care.

It is also a scenario that once looked unlikely. With
Peruvian media proclaiming that his campaign had stalled,
Garcia, 56, barely figured in the presidential race just a few
weeks ago.

‘HE CARES ABOUT THE POOR’

But the former president, who has held rallies in 11 cities
in the final week of campaigning, is popular with voters under
30 who are too young to remember the hyperinflation and
economic collapse of his presidency. Also during his first
term, more than 200 inmates were killed in a 1986 prison
massacre and Shining Path rebels were at their bloodiest.

“Alan wants to support the young, in sports, with credit
for entrepreneurs, he wants an eight-hour work day, he really
cares about the poor,” said Jorge Placencia, 26, a student.

Garcia can also count on the impressive get-out-the-vote
power of his disciplined APRA party, one of Latin America’s
oldest. While Humala’s nationalist movement was formed before
the April election, the APRA has been around for 75 years.

To the outsider, it can be baffling that Garcia remains
popular among Peruvians who saw their livelihoods ruined during
his government.

But Garcia says his virtue is that he never gives up.
“You’ve got to persist, to insist in this life,” said Garcia,
who narrowly lost to outgoing President Alejandro Toledo in
2001.

Flores is keen to remind Peruvians of Garcia’s failings.

“He says he wants to defend the poor, but he has
demonstrated he doesn’t do that. He actually made people poorer
as president,” Flores told Reuters in her campaign car.

This time around Garcia emphasizes fiscal and economic
prudence but still presses a message that he would redistribute
wealth away from Peru’s tiny elite, just the kind of thing
unemployed carpenter Jesus Alvarez wants to hear.

“Alan’s older now, he’s learned from his mistakes and we’ve
got to give him another chance,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Lima)


Source: reuters



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