For a democratic future for Peru

Alejandro Toledo, opposition candidate in the presidential elections in Peru, talks of his country’s fight for true democracy

Socialist Affairs, Issue 1 / Volume 49, 2000

Peru is going through one of the deepest crises in its history. There is a political crisis arising from a constitutional crisis, a social crisis arising from the lack of economic answers to questions posed by the new Peru and an economic crisis which touches the dignity of those who are without work.

These crises are made worse by an authoritarian government which builds a political monopoly and controls all the institutions of the state. It is a new form of dictatorship for the new millennium which has the appearance of democracy but which at heart is profoundly dictatorial. It is a style of government which takes over institutions for its own ends, with no counterbalance, where institutions such as the judiciary do not operate independently.

When the government controls the executive power, the legislative power, the judicial power, the Constitutional Tribunal, the media and the armed forces, that is a dictatorship.

Fujimori’s dictatorship installed a sort of Nazi Gestapo within the intelligence service which acted to blackmail, threaten and defame anyone who disagreed with the government.

In the past decade, especially, the political parties were unable to take the pulse of Peruvian society. They cut themselves off. The massive migration from the countryside to the cities in the 50s, 60s and 70s was the cause of a profound social and political change which the political parties neither understood nor assimilated.

When Alberto Fujimori came in 1990 the institutions of the state were in a fragile condition and he took advantage of them.

But today, especially in the provinces, Peruvians have lost the fear they once had of Fujimori and his intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos and have taken to the streets, the squares and the parks to challenge him. Now they say I am the leader of democracy in Peru but I am no more than the instrument of many women and men who in the 9 April elections said, ‘ That’s enough!’.

Those who saw the Peruvians as passive and submissive to Montesinos and the senior officers of the armed forces got it wrong. And that gives us pause for thought. I believe that just as big advances are being made in this savagely competitive, globalised world, changes are taking place in communications, cybernetics, biological engineering and the media and that political philosophy needs to undergo certain re-engineering. We cannot be caught on the wrong frequency.

The question is not that political parties have to give way to the new paradigms of a globalised world. We must not lose the essence of someone who believes in what he knows. Yet at the same time we cannot just pigeonhole people as of the left, or of the right, or of the centre, christian democrats, social democrats, socialists or by any other label. We must gradually redefine these clichéd titles. Political science has to adjust to change, not by saying yes to the capitalist changes which open the gates to consumerism, but by taking the pulse of a society which is changing.

The present crisis gives us an opportunity and a challenge. We have to reconstruct the institutions of democracy and run the economy in a disciplined way. We need well-ordered government and monetary polices which will bring about sustained economic growth and an increase in employment and at the same time making the ensuing benefits give a human face to politics and economics. The economy must serve people and not people the economy, improving living standards, particularly those of the poorest.

Countries are no longer rich or successful or viable because of the natural resources they contain. Look at Iraq or Kuwait or Venezuela. We ourselves have a great deal of gold and copper. But countries will be competitive and competitive with a human face if they and their leaders have the courage to invest aggressively in the profitable business of knowledge, putting money into the minds of our people through nutrition, health and education, particularly for the poorest.

That is the most profitable investment. We have to take an undernourished two-year old from the department of Puno in the South or Cajamarca in the North where early malnutrition is worst, feed him or her and provide 20 years of education. What you have in your head cannot be nationalised or privatised and you can take it round the world with you, not like a gold mine which cannot be moved.

My own contribution is to be a rebel with a cause, to have broken the paradigm of fear and to have confronted a sinister state apparatus. I have played a part in the fight for democracy and freedom. Our work has combined with mobilisations in the interior of the country and international work that has had a big impact. I myself have developed a special chemistry with people and I have been impressed by the warmth shown to me.

I do not know whether I will become president, but one thing I do know, I will never flinch in my total commitment to freedom and democracy. I will certainly be a candidate for the presidency. I would prefer to be a candidate of national unity because the task we face is very great and we need the efforts of all the political parties and particularly of civil society. If God and those people who have generously gone into the streets in protest against Fujimori support me I will be president and I will act according to my philosophy of giving importance to the individual.

During this year’s elections it was clear there existed a sophisticated infrastructure to twist popular will by means of fraud. We were last on the list on the ballot papers and in 14 departments of the country the ballot papers had been cut and our symbol did not appear. In others they were waxed so no one could register his preference. Some voters were given the equivalent of 10 US dollars to cast a ballot that had already been marked. They manipulated the electoral commission’s computers affecting not just the voting for president but also for congress. Despite all that, we won the elections with 48.5 per cent but they cooked the figures and robbed us of our victory.

We will demand that this machinery of fraud be abolished under international supervision, the media freed up and voting carried out to international standards.

From such an election a new president will emerge who will have legitimacy in the eyes of Peruvians and foreigners. That will encourage investment, which in its turn will encourage production. The production will create jobs and jobs will create consumption and demand.

We have advanced towards democracy but we have not finished yet. The Yugoslavs have gone farther than us. President Slobodan Milosevic was among those who sent congratulations to Fujimori on the supposed result of the elections. But dictatorships such as he and ours where corruption is hidden do not last. As we watch their process and they watch ours, I realise that the force of love for freedom and democracy vanquish in the end.

As far as the Organisation of American States (OAS) is concerned it serves as a useful forum for negotiation but I am not putting my eggs in one basket. That would be naïve. It is after all an inefficient bureaucracy. Meanwhile I am continuing my work in Latin America and Europe.

I must say that the role played by the European Union has been unequivocal. Governments and individuals have come out to defend democracy and I would like to single out Premier António Guterres of Portugal and Javier Solana of Spain.

I would like the Europeans to play a much more active role in seeking solutions to Peru’s problems at the conference table of the OAS. They could also play an important part as supervisors and observers in the new elections.



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