June 2, 2006

Peru must keep up with its neighbors: Garcia

By Fiona Ortiz

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Peru should not let itself fall
behind its neighbors by adopting extremist ideologies, leading
presidential candidate Alan Garcia told more than 20,000
supporters at a rally closing his campaign before Sunday's

In a huge downtown square under Lima's imposing Palace of
Justice building, the former president paced a stage draped in
his party's red-and-white colors during a 75 minute improvised
speech Thursday night in which he said Peru must integrate with
the world.

"We can't lose ground to neighbors like Mexico and Chile,"
Garcia said. He pledged to extend water services to millions of
poor people and to cut the country's bloated state payroll.

Vendors roamed the huge crowd selling popcorn, peanuts and
Garcia scarves, key chains and bananas to supporters, who said
they do not trust Garcia's opponent: nationalist former
military commander and political newcomer Ollanta Humala.

The latest polls show Garcia taking 53 percent of the vote,
with 47 percent for Humala. Garcia has more support in Peru's
wealthier coastal areas, while Humala appeals to people in the
mountainous interior where there is a bigger indigenous
population and poor people have seen no benefit from
free-market economics that Humala pledges to reverse.

People in the crowd said they were alarmed by Humala's
association with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has been
working to extend his leftist influence throughout South
America, preaching an anti-American agenda.

"We don't want someone who's a slave to Chavez. We don't
want that for our country. I support Garcia now with all my
heart. I didn't want him before, but now we're fighting for our
country," said Lida Gallardo, a 63-year-old retired


"Chavez or Peru?" said radio advertisements inviting people
to Garcia's rally. Chavez has directly attacked Garcia, saying
oil-rich Venezuela will sever relations with Peru if Garcia

Many Peruvians saw that as meddling and Chavez' comments
helped Garcia rise in the polls. Garcia won fewer votes than
Humala in a first-round April vote with a large pool of
candidates, but he's pulled support from candidates who didn't
make it to the run-off race.

Garcia did not directly refer to Humala or Chavez in his
speech, but said "fury" was not the way to bring out change for
the poor.

He has painted himself as a moderate in comparison to
Humala's proposals to rewrite the constitution and to give the
state a bigger role in the economy.

Whether or not they liked Garcia's proposals, people at the
rally said they were hungry for stability and felt Garcia was
more likely to serve his five years and move on, allowing a
democratic transition.

"Garcia may have had a bad government but he handed over
power after his term ended. We can't lose democracy," said
Mario Sandoval, 32, a car mechanic.

Garcia has made a stunning political comeback since his
1985-90 government left the country in economic ruin and he
went into exile in the 1990s while he was investigated on
corruption charges.

Garcia promised to make Peru prosperous and leap over its
wealthy southern neighbor, Chile, which is considered one of
the most stable countries in the region.

He said Peru had richer mineral deposits, more fishery
potential, and more agricultural land than Chile, yet Chile
exports more copper, more fish and more fruit and wine.

"My commitment is clear. We will be the leading country,
the most important country on the Pacific side of South
America," he said.