By Carlos Monge*
The surprising emergence of the Frente Amplio (FA), a coalition of political parties, social organizations and independent activists, in Peru’s recent presidential and congressional elections signals the first significant support for the Peruvian Left since the collapse of the Izquierda Unida in the 1980s. The Left was not able to present its own alternatives in the ‘90s, the early 2000s, and again in 2011. In October 2015 barely 13 percent of Peruvians knew about FA’s internal election to select presidential candidates. Veronika Mendoza had the support of only 1 percent of intending voters, and over 60 percent of Peruvians did not even know who she was. Nevertheless, FA ended up receiving 18.74 percent of the vote in the first electoral round, coming in third and only a couple of points behind Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK), who secured 21.05 percent and ended up defeating the Fuerza Popular’s candidate, Keiko Fujimori, to become President for the 2016-2021 period.
FA’s “post-extractivist” program has been key. Breaking away from the nationalist redistributive programs of leftists in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, and Argentina, FA espouses economic diversification and tax reform rather than more mineral or hydrocarbon exports to sustain economic growth and public incomes. FA also emphasizes the need to protect the environment and renewable natural resources for future generations and to recognize indigenous rights to territories, autonomy, direct political representation and effective consultations.
- These are not only electoral campaign ideas. Indeed, FA local activists and national leaders have maintained staunch opposition to emblematic mining projects such as the Conga project in the northern Cajamarca region and the Tía María project in southern Arequipa. In the same way, FA is denouncing that the new government is trying to lower air quality environmental standards to ease foreign investments in mineral smelters and has harshly criticized the new Minister of Production for abandoning the National Plan for Productive Diversification launched by the outgoing Ollanta Humala administration.
- Frente Amplio is grounded in social movements that have long confronted extractivist projects. Veronika Mendoza left President Humala’s Nationalist Party in 2012 in a dispute over his repressive response to socio-environmental protests around mining projects in the highlands of her native Cusco. Tierra y Libertad, FA’s largest party, has its roots in the Cajamarca rondas campesinas resistance against the Conga project. Another factor is that the end of the commodities “super cycle” has moved extractive rents off center stage. Even in Venezuela the official discourse is now moving in the direction of economic diversification.
Frente Amplio is not alone in Latin America in attempting to build a post–extractivist platform, but it seems to be the region’s most successful. Similar policies were at the heart of the presidential campaign of Alberto Acosta and a coalition of social and indigenous organizations in Ecuador. And in El Salvador, the Farabundo Martí government is also keeping extractivist temptations at bay. But Acosta did not manage to get significant support or to build a stable political alternative, and El Salvador is not a major commodity exporter. The importance of the FA experience is that it happens in a significant mineral and gas producer, that it has had immediate electoral success, and that it can become a permanent political player in Peruvian democracy. FA and PPK will probably agree on issues such as the fight against corruption, crime, and violence against women, but they will certainly disagree over macroeconomic and sector policies, such as taxes. Also, FA has denounced PPK for his call to lower air pollution standards and for his authorization to large fishing factories to operate up to 5 km off the coast, leaving very little for artisanal, small scale, internal market-oriented fishing activities. Where this ends up is anybody’s guess, but this is certainly a process worth keeping an eye on.
August 29, 2016
*Carlos Monge is Latin America regional director at the Natural Resource Governance Institute in Lima.