Andres Oppenheimer

Peru deals new blow to Latin America’s left

Peru presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori waves to the press in Lima, Peru on Sunday. The right-leaning daughter of jailed former president Alberto Fujimori topped Peru's presidential election but with less than the 50 percent required for victory.
Peru presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori waves to the press in Lima, Peru on Sunday. The right-leaning daughter of jailed former president Alberto Fujimori topped Peru's presidential election but with less than the 50 percent required for victory. Bloomberg

Here’s what’s most remarkable about Peru’s April 10 first-round election, which will result in a June 5 runoff vote between Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski: Nearly 80 percent of the people voted against a Venezuelan-like leftist-populist model.

Evolution won, revolution lost. It was a very significant result, because it showed that Peru’s more than two decades of continued pro-investment economic policies are paying off.

Peru’s economy has grown steadily and poverty has gone down dramatically over the past two decades, most recently without the autocratic rule and political repression that we have seen in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and other leftist-populist countries.

Consider Peru’s statistics:

Since 1990, Peru’s economy has grown at a yearly average of 4.7 percent, mostly without the boom and bust cycles of its neighbors. This year, Peru is expected to grow by 3.7 percent, which will be one of Latin America’s best economic performances, according to International Monetary Fund projections.

Peru’s poverty rate, in turn, has declined from 60 percent of the population in the 1990s to 23 percent today. Despite population growth, the number of people living in poverty has declined from 3.4 million in 1994 to 1.1 million today, the World Bank says.

And Peru’s life expectancy rose from an average of 69 years in 1996 to 74 years today, the World Bank says.

Peruvian voters seemed to have taken notice that the country’s gradualist approach is working, even if not as rapidly as most would like.

Voters overwhelmingly picked two center-right politicians for the runoff vote. Fujimori, known by her first name Keiko, got 39 percent of the vote, while Kuczynski, better known as PPK, got 21 percent, and leftist populist Veronika Mendoza came in third with 19 percent of the vote.

Some polls taken before the first round said that PPK has a slightly better chance of winning the runoff vote, because he will benefit from a massive anti-Fujimori vote. Almost half of Peruvians tell pollsters they would never vote for Keiko because they see her as a political heir to her father, former authoritarian president Alberto Fujimori.

Mendoza, the leftist candidate who came in third, had made little secret of her ideological ties to Venezuela’s “Chavista” government. In a recent interview with Peru’s RBC TV, she referred to Venezuela’s imprisoned opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez and other oppositionists as “coup-plotters.”

PPK had told me in a pre-election interview that he supports Lopez and Venezuela’s opposition. When I asked PPK whether, if elected, he would request that the Organization of American States apply its Democratic Charter against Venezuela — a measure that would exert regional pressure on Venezuela’s government to respect democratic rules — PPK nodded and said, “It’s fundamental that there be a change in Venezuela.”

He added that Venezuela “is a country that because of its recent history, especially since 1999, has taken a path that is totally mistaken.”

The outcome of Peru’s first-round vote marks another blow to Latin America’s radical left, which in recent months suffered serious setbacks in various national and local elections in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Argentina.

Both PPK and Keiko say they would continue Peru’s pro-investment policies while spending more on social services. “We have been very good at saving, and we have grown quite well, but we have failed to invest what was needed in education and health,” PPK told me.

My opinion: Granted, Peru has several pending assignments. While it has grown and reduced poverty steadily, its income distribution has not improved over the years. The richest 20 percent of the population still account for 49 percent of the country’s income, the same as in 1994, according to World Bank figures.

Still, Peru has been much more successful in reducing poverty than Venezuela and other self-proclaimed socialist “revolutionary” countries. While Peruvians have cut poverty in half and it economy is among the best-performing in the region, Venezuela’s economy is projected to plummet by 8 percent this year — one of the world’s biggest economic debacles — and most of its supermarket shelves are empty.

No matter who wins in Peru’s second-round vote — but especially if the winner is PPK, who has better democratic and economic credentials — Peru is likely to continue growing and reducing poverty. Its gradual approach without curtailing democratic freedoms should be an inspiration for all countries in the region.

Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español. Follow Andres on Twitter: @oppenheimera

Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español

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