Geraldo Caso/AFP/Getty Images
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala gestures next to First Lady Nadine Heredia during celebrations for the 191st independence anniversary in Lima on July 28.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala gestures next to First Lady Nadine Heredia during celebrations for the 191st independence anniversary in Lima on July 28. Geraldo Caso/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Shifter is president of the Inter-American Dialogue.
Roger Clinton and Billy Carter have nothing on Antauro Humala, the imprisoned brother of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who marked his first year in office on July 28. Currently serving a 19-year prison sentence for instigating a failed military rebellion in a remote Andean town in 2005, Antauro has, according to reports, smoked marijuana, received unauthorized female visitors, used a cell phone, and left the facility a dozen times.
Such misbehavior prompted a series of prison transfers, ultimately landing him in a high-security naval penitentiary where Antauro joined four other notorious detainees: Abimael Guzmán, arrested in 1992 as leader of the ruthless Maoist Shining Path insurgency; Vladimiro Montesinos, Peru's disgraced spy chief during the 1990s; Victor Polay, former leader of another insurgent group, the MRTA; and "Artemio," another Shining Path leader captured just months ago.
The move to the latest prison has soured relations between the novice president and the rest of the Humala clan. Their extremely vocal father, Isaac, a lawyer who gave his children the complete works of Marx and Engels to read, has joined the fray, asserting that the relocation was personally authorized by Humala and involved a group of hooded men who physically abused the president's brother. He even vowed to file a complaint against his son with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States.
Long associated with a bizarre, virulently nationalist ideology that favors the supremacy of "copper-skinned" Peruvians, Isaac had already become deeply disillusioned with his son's presidency. He and other family members, including older brother Ulises and sister Ima Sumac, feel betrayed by Humala's failure to follow through on his commitment to sweeping change. Although Humala's family had posed a problem for his political ambitions for some time — in 2006, his mother, Elena, called for shooting a few gays as a way to keep the rest closeted — the relationship has become notably adversarial in the past several months.
Although doubtlessly an uncomfortable distraction for the president, there is no sign that the other Humalas have influenced his decision-making. On the other hand, the sway of Nadine Heredia, the first lady, has no rival.
Not only does the president's wife and closest confidante tend to outperform her husband in the polls, but there is speculation that she might be contemplating a run for the presidency herself, despite some inconvenient laws preventing it. Her clout was evident when, during a recent press briefing, she asked in a fit of pique, "Where is my minister?" The education minister at her side quickly responded, "I'm here, Señora, here." The public musings over who actually calls the shots — Ulises openly calls his sister-in-law the actual president — represents yet another public relations headache for the administration.
Humala's family members aren't the only ones disappointed in him. The task of governing is turning out to be more difficult than the president may have expected. Things aren't necessarily going poorly, but Peruvians are continually pressing for improvements. Peru's economic performance this decade has been impressive. Not only has the economy been booming — it grew nearly 7 percent in 2011 — but there has been an appreciable reduction in poverty and inequality. Nevertheless, Peruvians remain unusually tough on their political leaders: Polls consistently reveal among the highest levels of distrust toward politicians in the region. And the deep social schisms reflected in geographic and ethnic differences that have long bedeviled Peru persist. Further complicating the situation is the state's limited efficacy and the virtual absence of real political parties, in contrast with personality-based cliques centered on aspiring caudillos. Moreover, Peru overtook Colombia last year as the world's largest producer of cocaine, and public concerns about crime and corruption remain high. In June, a reported 245 riots and protests took place in the country, most related to mining or oil and natural gas projects — an increase of 31 since Humala took office.
Humala came into office promising not only to keep Peru's robust growth on track, but to resolve the country's deep-seated problems and quell broad discontent. He pledged to take advantage of the country's vast mineral wealth — an expected $50 billion in new mining projects over five years — to accelerate the redistribution of resources and more effectively meet the needs of the poorest Peruvians. He is seeking to avoid the fate of his predecessors — Alejandro Toledo and Alan García — who both left the presidency with rock-bottom approval levels and administrations widely deemed to be missed opportunities.
Humala initially tried to fashion a government of the left, though one more moderate than revolutionary. It is no accident that during his 2010 presidential campaign, he hired political advisors who worked with the Workers' Party of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. As South America's star performer, Lula had demonstrated that it was possible for a man of the left adored by the poor — whose lot improved markedly during his two terms — to preside over a buoyant economy and a vibrant, democratic society.
Yet Humala was an improbable purveyor of the fashionable lulista, social democratic formula for good governance that has also seen success in Chile and Uruguay. As an army lieutenant engaged in fighting Peru's internal war against the Shining Path in the early 1990s, Humala was credibly accused of committing human rights violations. Before their falling out, he and Antauro led an unsuccessful revolt in 2000 against the government of Alberto Fujimori, who is now serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights violations. In 2005, while based in South Korea, Humala initially supported (though later criticized) the uprising for which Antauro is now serving his sentence.
In 2006, having retired from the military and created the Peruvian Nationalist Party, he made his political debut as the consummate outsider and came remarkably close to winning the presidency. In that contest against García, he aligned himself with Venezuelan populist Hugo Chávez — another leftist military veteran and onetime coup plotter — and pledged a thoroughgoing reordering of Peruvian society. Fearing such a radical option, Peruvians opted for García. Following his narrow defeat, Humala quickly set his sights on the next presidential contest.
A win in 2011, he became convinced, required a move to the center. At first, to secure the left's support, he promised a "great transformation" (though more moderate than his 2006 platform) and then, in a runoff vote against Keiko Fujimori (the former president's daughter), shifted again to a more centrist "road map" stance in an appeal to more conservative voters. The blessing of establishment figures like Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa and former President Toledo gave Humala the political cover he needed to secure victory.
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