Election Update

Trip Start Jan 15, 2006
Trip End Sep 05, 2006

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Flag of Peru  ,
Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I have just read an update on the Peruvian election. Evidently, Alan Garcia, (the moderate leftist who had a disastrous presidency in the late 1980's) has pulled ahead of Ollanta Humala (the far left populist.) Voters seem to prefer the incompetent over the nut. I think this is good news.

Ollanta's (both candidates are usually referred to by their given names) popularity decline has been fuelled by his close association with Hugo Chavez and his gang. Chavez seems to have an opinion on pretty much every subject and expresses these frequently and openly. (It is hard for me to be critical of this behavior without appearing somewhat hypocritical, but I recognize that I do not have a future in diplomacy.) This is starting to backfire on Chavez as he tries to enlarge his anti-US bloc.

Chavez has been sharply critical of Peru and Colombia for signing free trade agreements with the US. He has created his own 'People's Free Trade' bloc of Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba. I guess Peruvian businesses will miss out on selling their products to all those high-spending Cuban consumers.

According to the NY Times, Chavez's pronouncements are also affecting the Nicaraugan and Mexican elections, where populist candidates are losing steam. (Each Sunday, Chavez does a 2+ hour unscripted, televised monologue. This is a man who enjoys hearing his own voice.) His popularity is also falling in Brazil, where his meddling in Bolivia to nationalize natural gas reserves will likely raise prices for their customers, Brazilian consumers.

One issue that Peru desperately needs to confront is corruption. We traveled for weeks in Chile, Argentina and Brazil and only met one corrupt cop, and he seemed very much like a rogue exception. In Peru, we have been pulled over three times (including twice in 15 minutes) for 'violations' and been assessed 'fines'. As with everything else in South America, these are quite negotiable. We even convinced the third cop to do away with the fine, but he still expected a smaller 'donation' to help pay for gas for his cop car. The country has been able to spend a fair amount of money to buy all the cops recent model SUVs, so the government must have some money for law enforcement. The problem seems to be a lack of will. Of course, it doesn't help that even senior officials seem to be on the take. As you may recall, Fujimori resigned in a corruption scandal.

We have spent the past several days driving the northern coast of Peru, which is quite devoid of tourists. The landscape is as dry as a bone, but the air contains a light mist which keeps us pleasantly cool. (It has now been 6 weeks since we last put the top up.) Trujillo is a midsized city with a couple of nice hotels, a charming central square, some nearby pre-Inka ruins (the Inkas were much better architects) and a beautiful nearby beach town that reminded us of Santa Cruz (Ca). We also visited the sleepy resort town of Mancora, just south of Ecuador, where I celebrated my birthday. (Time marches on even when you are on vacation.) Next stop will be Ecuador where we drop the jeep off for shipping to Panama.
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