Spartacist Canada No. 170
Peruvian Elections and the Shadow of Fujimori
Reformist Left Backs Bourgeois Populist Humala
The following article was first published in Workers Vanguard No. 984 (5 August), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
The second round of Peru’s presidential elections on June 5 produced a narrow victory for the bourgeois populist Ollanta Hu-mala, a former military officer during the darkest days of the country’s internal war in the 1980s and early ’90s. Humala, who was backed by Peru’s trade unions and reformist left groups, defeated Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori. During his decade in power (1990 to 2000), Fujimori unleashed brutal terror against workers, peasants and the poor, using the excuse of the peasant-based insurgency of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). Nearly 70,000 people were killed in this bloody conflict. At the same time, Fujimori’s economic “shock therapy” sharply increased poverty among the rural and urban masses. Later sentenced to 25 years in jail on murder, kidnapping and corruption charges, the ex-president was regularly visited by his daughter at his exclusive prison in Lima during the election campaign.
In the years since the fall of Fujimori, Peru has seen an economic boom under presidents Alejandro Toledo and Alan García. Mineral exports—including copper, zinc, gold and silver—have surged, while the country has signed free-trade deals with the U.S., the European Union and China. Tall buildings and fancy restaurants, hotels and shopping centers have proliferated in Lima. But there has been little or no progress at all for the majority of Peruvians, who live in the shantytowns of the capital or in the country’s rural areas. As of 2009, 62 percent of the population was still trying to survive on less than $3 a day.
The backdrop to Humala’s election was an explosion of protest among the rural poor. Spain’s El País (7 June) newspaper reported that there are “more than 230 active or latent social conflicts” in Peru, notably protests by indigenous communities against land seizures. In 2009, a clash between police and the indigenous peoples inhabiting the northern Amazonian province of Bagua left 33 dead, 23 of them cops, and hundreds injured. This followed months of protests against government decrees opening the area to imperialist investment, which the García regime was forced to withdraw. This June, clashes between indigenous Aymara people and police over concessions to the Canadian mining company Bear Creek left at least six people dead and 30 wounded in the southern region of Puno, near the Bolivian border. The government was again forced to back down, canceling Bear Creek’s mining license.
Humala received his strongest vote in the largely indigenous rural areas, while Keiko Fujimori got a majority of the vote in Lima and other coastal cities. In the first round, where Humala won 32 percent and Fujimori 24 percent, the main candidates of the ruling establishment were all eliminated, including an ex-president, a former cabinet minister and Lima’s former mayor. The candidate of the ruling APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance) quit early in the campaign, and APRA itself won only four of the 130 seats in the Congress.
The votes for Humala and Fujimori were not so much for them as against their counterpart. Many of those who voted for Humala in the second round did so to prevent the comeback of “fujimorismo.” Among the bourgeois forces who backed him were ex-president Toledo and the acclaimed right-wing writer (and former presidential candidate) Mario Vargas Llosa, who proclaimed that Humala would “defend democracy in Peru” and prevent “the ridicule of a new dictatorship” (EFE, 19 May). Meanwhile, many who voted for Keiko Fujimori did so based on persistent imputations that Humala was a radical leftist or even a communist, and to more or less maintain the status quo.
Some commentators noted that Humala probably won the election because Keiko Fujimori made more mistakes. She went from defending her father’s government as “the best Peru has had in its history” to apologizing for his crimes. Among the crimes that received widespread attention were those perpetrated by the nefarious Colina Group, an army death squad linked to the highest levels of the regime. It was responsible for atrocities like the 1991 Barrios Altos massacre, in which 15 people accused of being supporters of Sendero Luminoso were killed in downtown Lima, and the 1992 La Cantuta massacre, in which nine students and a university professor were kidnapped and killed. Also in 1992, the Colina Group assassinated union leader Pedro Huilca, secretary general of the General Central of Peruvian Workers (CGTP), and then framed up members of Sendero Luminoso for the killing.
Another issue received widespread attention during the campaign: the forcible sterilization of more than 300,000 women as part of a government campaign from 1993 to 1999. This followed an International Monetary Fund “recommendation” to control population growth. The Fujimori government implemented several sterilization plans, being particularly aggressive in indigenous rural areas. Several documents have surfaced showing that the authorities established minimum numbers of sterilizations per week. Over 25,000 men, again mainly indigenous, were also sterilized. Many women have come forward to denounce these barbaric acts, which had serious effects not only physically (they suffer from severe and constant pain and can no longer work their land) but also psychologically; many ended up being abandoned by their husbands.
Break With Bourgeois Populism!
Humala, whose Nationalist Party is essentially a personal vehicle, campaigned at the head of an alliance called Gana Perú (Peru Wins) that included reformist left groups like the Peruvian Communist Party (PCP) and the Socialist Party, among others. These reformists continued their perpetual policy of tying the working class to bourgeois forces; for example, they supported Alberto Fujimori for president in 1990 against Vargas Llosa. But this time they were an integral part of a victorious “left” slate, running their own candidates for Congress under the Gana Perú banner. For ostensible socialists to push a program of collaboration with bourgeois forces is always and everywhere a betrayal of the interests of the proletariat.
The labor bureaucracy—including in the CGTP, the Workers Unitary Central (CUT), SUTEP teachers union and other smaller unions—also actively supported Humala and some unions ran candidates on his slate. The Stalinist PCP and Maoist Patria Roja-Movimiento Nueva Izquierda (Red Fatherland-New Left Movement [PR-MNI]) are the driving force behind the major unions, although they are fairly weak parties. Last year the PR-MNI backed the victorious candidate for mayor of Lima, Susana Villarán of the bourgeois Fuerza Social (Social Strength) coalition. Buoyed by this success, the PR-MNI initially stood aloof from Humala’s alliance, only to end up in a full-throttle campaign for the new president.
Far from being some sort of radical, let alone a communist, Humala has bent over backward to show that he will be a “responsible” leader of capitalist Peru. In the 2006 elections, which he lost to García after leading in the first round, Humala campaigned as an ally of Venezuela’s bourgeois populist strongman Hugo Chávez. This provoked the ire of the Peruvian capitalists and their U.S. imperialist masters, who feared that he would move to nationalize sectors of the economy as Chávez has done in Venezuela, thereby reversing the wave of privatizations that began under Fujimori.
This time around, Humala made every effort to distance himself from Chávez, pledging not to undertake nationalizations and to maintain a “free-market economy,” albeit with “a better and more just distribution of resources.” He promoted the “Brazil model,” where a popular-front regime centered on the Workers Party (PT) has overseen capitalism for the past nine years. The PT sent Luis Favre (former pseudo-Trotskyist and brother of Jorge Altamira, leader of the Argentine Partido Obrero) to help Humala’s campaign. On the other side, Keiko Fujimori surrounded herself with her father’s circle and hired as a consultant Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City who was infamous for unleashing police terror in the ghettos and barrios.
After the vote, the losing camp speculated how they could have prevented Humala’s victory and the winners repeated incessantly that they “respect private investment and private property.” All agreed that it was necessary to “keep the markets calm” and “reconcile the Peruvian family.” Humala’s first foreign visit after his victory, before being sworn into office on July 28, was to Brazil. Meeting with PT president Dilma Rousseff, he saluted that country’s “successful model of growth.” (After nearly a decade of PT rule, Brazil remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, with an immense gap in living standards between the elite at the top and the worker and peasant masses.) He then went on to hold friendly meetings in Washington with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And now a conglomerate of U.S. and Peruvian capitalists has announced the largest mine investment in Peru’s history.
Among the tiny pseudo-Trotskyist organizations in Peru, the Nuevo PST (New Socialist Workers Party, followers of the late Argentine adventurer Nahuel Moreno) unashamedly supported Humala. In an online article, they called to “respect the hope that vast sectors of workers and the people have put in Ollanta Humala,” adding that “we are ready to join them in their experience of voting critically for him” (litci.org, 17 May). The Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria, supposedly a left split from Alan Woods’ International Marxist Tendency, advised Humala to “adopt a socialist program which will openly call to eliminate capitalist private property and replace the bourgeois state with a workers democracy” (militante.org, 9 June). While sometimes posturing in defense of Peru’s poor and indigenous masses, Humala is a bourgeois politician who will necessarily defend the brutal and exploitative profit system against any threat to capitalist rule.
Fujimori’s Bloody Legacy
During the rule of Alberto Fujimori, the International Communist League denounced the government’s bloody war against workers, peasants, the poor and leftist groups like the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) guerrillas. In April 1997, an army death squad staged a coldblooded mass execution of 14 MRTA members who had occupied the Japanese ambassador’s residence, where they had held various military butchers, high-ranking businessmen and government officials hostage in an attempt to win freedom for some 450 of their comrades in Fujimori’s prisons. The ICL organized protests internationally against this massacre, calling to “Free all victims of Fujimori’s terror!”
While criticizing the MRTA’s guerrillaist strategy as incapable of eliminating capitalist exploitation and oppression, we saluted the valor of its militants, who had won broad sympathy among the Peruvian workers and peasants. We contrasted the MRTA to Sendero Luminoso, whose activities generally merited nothing but revulsion. Despite the leftist rhetoric it espoused, Sendero was known for its pathological violence, from publicly executing prostitutes to murdering political opponents, including MRTA supporters and union organizers. As we wrote: “This repulsive group appears to have parallels with Pol Pot’s genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia with its primitivist, anti-urban ideology, cult of personality, and gangster operations” (“Peru: For Workers Revolution to Smash Fujimori Dictatorship!” WV No. 659, 10 January 1997).
As for the remnants of Sendero today, the wing around jailed leader Abimael Guzmán calls for “national reconciliation.” Guzman’s lawyers formed a party, the Movimiento por Amnistía y Derechos Fundamentales (Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights), with the idea of participating in the elections. In the end, a couple of their supporters ran on the Justice, Technology and Ecology Party list. Sendero’s other, still clandestine, wing was blamed by the authorities for the killing of five soldiers during an ambush of a military patrol that was headed to supervise the elections in the Apurímac and Ene Rivers Valley area of southeastern Peru. This is a historic Sendero base that has continued to see periodic rebel activity.
For Socialist Revolution
Throughout the Americas!
To the class-collaborationist perspective of the Peruvian left, we Trotskyists counterpose the fight for proletarian revolution as the only road to liberate the masses. While the reformists give a left cover to Latin American bourgeois populism, we seek the independent mobilization of the working class against all wings of the capitalists in the fight for a workers and peasants government. The most left-talking of these populists, Chávez in Venezuela, has used the country’s oil profits to implement some modest social reforms as well as some land distribution and minimal nationalization of industry. But while we defend such nationalizations against imperialist attack, these are not socialist measures; rather, they are part of a program to tie the working masses to the domestic bourgeois rulers.
Peru today presents an extreme example of combined and uneven development. Vast shantytowns abut the colonial-style mansions of the venal bourgeoisie; the rich, beholden to their U.S. imperialist masters, live in luxury while millions of rural indigenous poor struggle merely to survive. As elsewhere in the semicolonial world, the national bourgeoisie’s weakness and dependence on imperialism make it utterly incapable of achieving the tasks of the classic bourgeois revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, which laid the basis for economic modernization and the creation of industrial societies.
The sole force that can show a way forward is the working class, with its tremendous potential social power, particularly in the rapidly growing (and hugely profitable) mining and natural gas industries. The proletariat must champion the cause of all the victims of Peruvian capitalism, from the indigenous masses to the urban poor and women, whose deep oppression is reinforced by the hold of the Catholic church. Smashing the chains of imperialist oppression requires the forging of a Leninist-Trotskyist party dedicated to the overthrow of capitalist rule and the establishment of a workers state. Such a revolution must have the perspective of spreading elsewhere in Latin America—notably to the industrial powerhouse of Brazil—and, crucially, to the advanced capitalist countries of North America.
The ICL is fighting to build an international revolutionary workers party—a reforged Fourth International—that can link the struggles of the workers of the semicolonies to those in the imperialist centers. In Latin America, such a party will be built in opposition not only to the flagrantly pro-imperialist “neoliberal” right wing but also to bourgeois nationalists and reformist politicians of all stripes. The task of tearing Latin America out of backwardness and subjugation to imperialism falls to the proletariat. As the Peruvian Trotskyists of the Grupo Obrero Marxista (Marxist Workers Group) wrote in 1946:
“Our revolution, simultaneously democratic and socialist, cannot develop and triumph within the narrow framework of the national state. It cannot triumph unless imperialism is crushed. It cannot triumph without the assistance of revolutionary victories in other Latin-American countries…. We call upon the Peruvian proletariat to fight for its historic objectives, for world communism, in the confidence that ‘the masses of the backward countries, led by the conscious proletariat of the advanced countries, will achieve communism without having to pass through the different stages of capitalist development’ (Supplementary Theses on the Colonial and National Question, adopted by the Second World Congress of the CI [Communist International]).”
—“Manifesto of Peruvian Trotskyists,” Fourth International (March 1947)