June 4, 2006

Peru’s Garcia gets chance to atone for past sins

By Robin Emmott

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Peru's Alan Garcia, once reviled for
creating an economic disaster during his 1985-1990 presidency,
won a chance for atonement when he was elected on Sunday on
promises to reduce poverty and improve already record economic

A lawyer and persuasive orator from one of Latin America's
oldest political parties, Garcia returns to office two decades
after his first term sparked hyperinflation and food shortages.
Yet he won mainly because voters feared his more radical rival
Ollanta Humala.

"I'm not the lesser of two evils. I'm the vote that
counts," Garcia, of the center-left social-democrat APRA party,
said before he voted on Sunday. He was responding to voters who
said they could not stomach a victory for ex-army commander

Garcia's supporters argue the former leader has learned
from the mistakes of his 1985-1990 government and has shown
great tenacity in coming back from nine years in self-imposed
exile and a narrow loss in the 2001 presidential election.

Underscoring Garcia's transformation, he recently
befriended a disabled man he rudely kicked out of his way at a
rally two years ago, a turnaround not lost on voters bruised by
Garcia's first term.

"We now face the prospect of kissing the feet of the man
who kicked us down," said Mario Ghibellini, a columnist for El
Comercio newspaper's current affairs magazine Somos.

Married to Pilar Nores, the daughter of a wealthy Argentine
businessman, Garcia won over voters too young to remember his
first government.

"I don't believe in giving up," said Garcia, 57, sporting
sideburns decidedly grayer than those of the 35-year-old
elected in 1985 and dubbed Peru's John F. Kennedy.

Garcia's resurgence is astonishing for a man whose first
term was marked by a refusal to pay foreign debt and rising
attacks by Shining Path Maoist rebels. But it is not due just
to his salsa and reggaeton dancing at his rallies.

Garcia promises generous loans to poor farmers and higher
taxes on miners. Yet his economic policy looks conservative
alongside that of Humala, who promises to put Peru's economy in
state hands to benefit the half of Peruvians who are poor.


Vocal support for Humala from Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez, a self-proclaimed socialist revolutionary, has allowed
Garcia to portray himself as a moderate defending Peru from
meddling. Chavez has heckled him as a "thief."

"Every time Chavez speaks ... it helps our campaign," said
Garcia's chief economic aide, Enrique Cornejo.

Bolivia's surprise energy nationalization on May 1 worries
many Peruvian businessmen who say Peru, which is enjoying an
unprecedented run of economic growth since 2002, needs foreign
investment and cannot afford to mirror such policies.

Peru's economy is set to notch a fifth straight year of
growth, an unprecedented feat in the country's boom-and-bust
history. But many Peruvians are sick of the pro-business
policies that have failed to trickle down to areas where
peasant farmers live in impoverished hamlets unchanged for

Garcia had eggs hurled at him on the campaign and some
Peruvians say his proposals to force telephone companies to cut
their rates, reduce gasoline prices and grant generous loans to
farmers show he is still the same populist who was one of Latin
America's most flamboyant leaders in the late 1980s.

"He's not a good man who cares about the poor, he's a snake
charmer and we're fools to believe anything he says," said
Marisa Huamani, a maid whose family was left destitute by
Garcia's first government and who said she would spoil her
voting card on Sunday.