Peru Prepares for Presidential Run-Off

Peru votes for a president Sunday. Will Peruvians join many of their Latin American neighbors in electing a far-left leader? Juan Forero of The New York Times and Lynn Neary discuss the prospects.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

Coming up the AIDS virus, 25 years later. But first, voters in Peru will choose a new president tomorrow. Former Peruvian President Alan Garcia is in a run-off against the far left newcomer, Ollanta Humala.

Sunday's election will determine where Peru stands on Latin America's increasingly left-leaning political spectrum. Juan Ferero is the New York Times correspondent in Peru, and he joins us now from Lima. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. JUAN FERERO (New York Times): Thank you.

NEARY: Juan, Alan Garcia is considered a moderate leftist, but he served one term as president in the '80's there were food shortages, severe inflation in Peru, and yet he's the front-runner now. How do you explain that?

Mr. FERERO: He's the front-runner because he came back in 2001 after several years in exile. And he gave it another shot. He was able to convince people that he had changed, and now he's had another five years to work on that them, and he's basically been able to get a majority of Peruvians to believe that he's a changed man and that he's a statesman with experience who may be able to guide this country to prosperity.

NEARY: Humala has an endorsement from Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Does that give him much traction among Peruvians?

Mr. FERERO: Well, you would've expected, because Chavez has a lot of influence in Latin America. But it has gone the other way. Polls have shown that Peruvians did not like the intermission by Mr. Chavez, and just a few days ago the Humala campaign asked Hugo Chavez to stay out of what was happening here in Peru.

NEARY: Whoever wins this election, what will they face in taking over the government of Peru? What will they inherit from outgoing President Alejandro Toledo?

Mr. FERERO: Well, they inherit a country that economically is very stable. But there's an undercurrent of discontent in Peru. People are unhappy about the lack of prosperity, basically. They feel that though Peru did well economically, the wealth just didn't trickle down.

NEARY: And Juan, how important would you say this election is to the rest of Latin America?

Mr. FERERO: The election is important for the rest of Latin America, because if Mr. Humala wins, he would join an alliance with Evo Morales of Bolivia, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba. That's what's expected. And if Alan Garcia wins, it will just be a case where people around Latin America will be very interested to see which Alan Garcia emerges, the one from the '80s or a new reformed Alan Garcia?

NEARY: How important is this election to the United States?

Mr. FERERO: This election is important. Peru's a big country. The United States, though, I think must be quite confused about this. They're not going to want Ollanta Humala to win, and Alan Garcia was no friend to the United States back in the 1980s. But I think like a lot of Peruvians, they'll probably feel that they want the lesser of two evils, and that would Alan Garcia.

NEARY: Okay, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. FERERO: Thank you.

NEARY: Juan Ferero is the Andean bureau chief for the New York Times speaking with us from Lima.

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