Peru's President - Elect Heads to U.S

New York Times -- 23 June 2001

by Associated Press

Toledo's trip has been postponed due to the major eathquake in Perú.

LIMA, Peru - President-elect Alejandro Toledo heads Sunday to the United States, where he will promote Peru's rebounding democracy and seek emergency aid to tide over the financially troubled nation until a long-term recovery program can take root.

Toledo, Peru's first freely elected president of Indian descent, defeated former President Alan Garcia in a June 3 runoff election and will take office July 28.

``The purpose of the trip first of all is to tell the world that Peruvians have successfully taken back their democracy,'' said Toledo, who arrives in New York late Sunday for meetings with international investors and business leaders.

Toledo said he will meet with President Bush and members of Congress on Tuesday in Washington before heading to Europe for an eight-day tour.

The 55-year-old Stanford University-trained economist said he wants to assure investors and policy makers that political and legal stability has returned to Peru since the fall of ex-President Alberto Fujimori's autocratic regime in November.

As president-elect, Toledo has a mandate to restore faith in Peru's damaged democracy, stamp out rampant corruption and resuscitate the country's stalled $54 billion economy, which shrank for a fifth straight month in April.

His main objective for the U.S.-European trip is to draw $400 million in ``emergency'' aid to help jump-start Peru's stalled economy, said Fernando Villaran, a member of Toledo's economic team.

Villaran said the aid is needed to help fund a broad program of public works projects that would provide 400,000 short-term jobs in the first two years of Toledo's five-year term to stave off potential social unrest among Peru's poor majority.

Peru would pay $200 million into the program, he said.

``There are huge social expectations from the population generated around the presidential campaign and we must have the capacity to respond very quickly,'' Villaran said.

Toledo campaigned largely on a populist platform, pledging to create 2.5 million jobs, lower taxes and raise salaries for public workers. But Villaran said the effects of a long-term economic recovery plan won't be felt for several months.

About 54 percent of Peru's 26 million people live in poverty and only one every two in the labor force has steady work.

One issue that is sure to confront Toledo when he arrives in the United States is the ``terrorist collaboration'' conviction handed down Wednesday in a Peruvian court against New York native Lori Berenson, 31.

Supporters of the former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student hope that Toledo will grant her a pardon.

Berenson was convicted and sentenced to life in 1996 by a secret military court, but under pressure from Washington, the conviction was annulled last year, leading to her civilian retrial. Most Peruvians believe she is guilty.

Her parents, who have lobbied intensely for her freedom, have made powerful allies on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who serves the Berensons' district, has called the retrial ``a public circus.'' Maloney said she plans to circulate a letter among her colleagues urging them to pressure Toledo to free Berenson.

Toledo has avoided commenting on Berenson's case, but his spokesman said he expects the issue to come up during his U.S. tour.