BOGOTA — For the last few weeks, Peru's Ollanta Humala has been hop-scotching the hemisphere making good on campaign promises to have a cordial relationship with any neighbor — regardless of ideology.
The tour has taken Humala, who was sworn in Thursday as Peru's president, from the capitalist bastions of Washington and Chile, to the socialist stalwarts of Venezuela and Cuba. Now, he will have to straddle the divides in his own country as he pledges to protect Peru's free-market economy while rolling out ambitious social programs.
So far, Humala — a former army officer with a center-left agenda — has disarmed his critics.
His decision to keep Julio Velarde as the president of the Central Bank and name Luís Miguel Castillo — a respected technocrat and the former second-in-command at the Ministry of Finance — to the top economy job, won applause from the private sector.
“He has surprised us, not only with his statements — that point to sound economic policies — but by naming people to his economic cabinet that are believers in the free market,” said César Peñaranda, the director of the Institute for Economy and Business Development.
But there will certainly be fights ahead, as Humala has vowed to raise the minimum wage, expand the country’s pension program and raise taxes on one of the nation’s primary economic engines: mining.
During the contentious campaign, Humala’s opponents demonized many of his proposals, accusing him of being willing to hock the nation’s wealth to emulate Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s social programs.
But any fears that Humala might move the country sharply left should be assuaged by his actions since he won the June 5 election, said Erasto Almeida, an analyst with the New York-based Eurasia Group.
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