What Can Be Learned from the Humala Government?

By Rob Albro

President Humala inaugurating electric power in the rural district of Moro - Ancash Photo credit: Presidencia Perú / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

President Humala inaugurating electric power in the rural district of Moro – Ancash Photo credit: Presidencia Perú / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

As a candidate in Peru’s 2006 presidential election, one-time military coup plotter and current president Ollanta Humala presented himself as an anti-business socialist and nationalist happy to be a member of the “family” of left-leaning Latin American governments led by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez.  In his second successful bid for office in 2011, Humala sharply changed direction and embraced a combination of pro-business and anti-poverty measures reminiscent of Brazil’s center-left Lula.  Humala’s shifts are a sign of the times in the Andean region:  a non-ideological search for how best to build democracies and grow national economies, while effectively redistributing wealth.

Driven by its mining sector and a commodity export boom, Peru’s economy has tripled in size over the past decade and is currently one of the best performing in the world.  Foreign investment is flooding in, particularly to mining, hydrocarbons, and big infrastructure projects – and Humala is now considered an “investor darling.”  While backing off electoral promises to nationalize water, electricity, mining and other sectors, Humala has created a new Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion and increased the budget for social redistribution and welfare measures to Peru’s poorest by 50 percent.  So far Humala has channeled the budget surplus of Peru’s export boom, including successful negotiation of a $1.1 billion increase in mining royalties in 2011, toward reducing the nation’s poverty rate by 29 percent.  And yet, at present there are more than 250 ongoing social conflicts in Peru, and Humala’s government has been accused of failures of “consultation,” often by grassroots and indigenous protestors opposed to Peru’s mining policies.  In response Humala has reshuffled his cabinet multiple times.  Skeptics suggest that his approval rating – currently 60% – will last only as long as the boom enables his top-down social spending.

Humala’s presidency suggests the limits of viewing current regional leaders through a comparative Chávez-or-Lula lens.  Arguments over the best conditions for “foreign direct investment” in the region often miss the different conditions under which it occurs or purposes to which it might be put.  Humala’s pragmatism demonstrates how distinct parts of government need not reflect a single unifying ideological or normative idée fixe.  Liberal democratic institutions and market freedoms increasingly coexist alongside alternative policies of social redistribution as a part of democratic enfranchisement in the Andes.  When conflict has broken out, however, Humala’s government has been willing to forego consultation with local communities to insure the economic resources it needs to continue its redistributive policies.  The challenge for him to achieve the best balance between competing democratic priorities will continue.  Humala’s government is an opportunity to explore new democratic institutions in Latin America, as with a recent CLALS research project on participatory democracy

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  1. The key word is pragmatism,the sandinista(left) regime in NIcaragua has been able to govern in harmony with the private sector and is currently growing al about 3-4% pib. But even right wing gov’ts such as Chile’s, Guatemala,Panama have been pushed to adopt center/moderate positions with more egalitarian policies of econmic inclusion through municipal social “enterprisses” away from state clientelism and costly welfare utopianism.The problem with the left regimes elected trought democratic means are tending to pretuate themselves in power often times violating/changing their national constitutions!!,raiding key institutions for exmaple the judicial,legislative,executive branches in a centralize power grab!! there are abundant examples of inconstitutional reelections,dynastical tendencies(kirchner,Orteguismo,Humala,Chavismo)dnagerous trends that may result in seriuos instability,political conflict,open violence. for Latin America and for the USA!!For the right wing the challenge is to provide economic growth with social equity,away from unregulated neoliberalism(amiguismo)capitalism,and solidify the poltical/constitutional order.The Obama admisntration is a useful example of center/moderate presidency!!the role for civil movements??

    • Rob

       /  April 23, 2013

      Yes, I think part of what the post points to, and what we are seeing across the region, is a pragmatic spirit of experimentation less averse to mixing and matching aspects of what have often been perceived to be distinct (or even opposed) political and/or economic systems. While there is certainly an element of populism to the presidencies of many of the leaders engaged in this pragmatic turn, and while these administrations are not always primarily focused on or interested in establishing close working relationships with the US, we can nevertheless recognize the extent to which this pragmatic turn has significantly incorporated neoliberal and democratic features often together with social welfare state and nationalist goals. This combination mixes up the conventional terms we use to describe Latin American states, and poses new challenges for regional governments. It also poses challenges for US policy in the region, if not prepared to take account of this emerging political and economic landscape.


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