Brothers intent on taking control of Peru

Houston Chronicle -- 1 June 2003

by Lucien Chauvin Houston Chronicle Foreign Service

LIMA, Peru -- President Alejandro Toledo's decision to put the country under a state of emergency last week has made at least one man happy -- Antauro Humala.

A former major in Peru's army, Humala is building a left-wing party intent on taking power in this country of 26 million, either by ballots in the 2006 presidential election or by what he calls "unconventional" means before then. Either way, he said, "our goal is to run the country."

Political analysts are monitoring the Humala party. While they remain unsure whether its populist, anti-globalization message resonates with city dwellers, they suspect that its rhetoric is falling on sympathetic ears in the country's impoverished rural areas. Nearly 50 percent of Peruvians live below the national poverty line, the World Bank says.

While President Toledo was declaring the 30-day state of emergency in Lima last week to put down a strike by teachers, farmers and others, Humala was 525 miles to the south in the city of Puno. There, he was inaugurating a new battalion of "reservists," as the young recruits of the Peruvian Nationalist Movement are known.

The "reservists," mainly former soldiers in their 20s, accompanied about 2,000 university students in Puno when they clashed with government troops Thursday. The violence left one protester dead and more than 60 people injured.

"Toledo's government has reached its end," says Humala. "He may remain in power, but he is totally discredited. This is obvious in the polls, which give him almost no support, while the striking unions have near total support."

A poll released by the Apoyo firm seemed to echo Humala's assertions. It suggested that Toledo's popularity now stands at just 15 percent, mainly because of his efforts to clamp down on government spending. On the other hand, 71 percent of the same sample supports the strikers.

The walkout is led by more than 280,000 unionized teachers seeking pay raises. Farmers demanding new subsidies and import quotas to protect their crops joined the strike. Soon, people were blocking highways across the country, paralyzing commerce. Faced with an estimated loss of $100 million a day. Toledo declared the emergency to give troops authority to clear the roads and arrest the strikers. He also curtailed certain civil liberties like the right to assemble.

The leftist political movement founded by Antauro Humala and his brother, Lt. Col. Ollanta Humala, traces its beginnings to a failed coup attempt against former President Alberto Fujimori in October 2000.

Loyalist troops put down the revolt and jailed the brothers. But two weeks later, Fujimori, whose free-market policies had roiled the country, fled to Japan in the face of a corruption scandal and resigned. The brothers were pardoned. Ollanta Humala was allowed to re-enter the army, and Antauro Humala left the service.

Since then, the brothers' party has recruited hundreds of young men and women to form 15-member cells of "reservists," which the organization says promote its message.

The party calls for the nationalization of all industry -- or "Peruvianization" in Humala lingo. It also demands the legalization of coca crops, the raw ingredient for making cocaine, and the death penalty for corruption. A strong anti-American current is evident in denunciations of Washington's push for a global economy and of the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Antauro Humala says the party will also curtail foreign influences. "As a nation, we simply work for foreigners," he said. "Foreign companies extract our minerals, our fish, our wood. They own our industries, our airports, our roads. We are left with nothing except miserable wages."

He added, "In a country like Peru, the state has to be like a father, taking control and ensuring that needs are satisfied."

Veteran political analysts have been following the party's development but are unsure of its strength and depth of support. While Antauro Humala puts membership at more than 60,000 people, independent analysts suspect the actual number is far lower.

But some observers believe that the party's anti-globalization message may be catching on in the country's farming areas.

"There is a large social sector in Peru that does not feel represented by the country's politicians," said Raul Gonzalez, a sociologist who has studied political trends here for two decades. "This group, mainly in rural areas, may sense a kind of representation by the Humala movement."

While Antauro Humala runs the party's day-to-day activities, many of its supporters look to his brother as their real leader. The movement's biweekly newspaper, which prints 100,000 copies, bears the colonel's name, and party members like Cesar Pickman speak about him with saintlike devotion.

"Ollanta is returning dignity to Peru," said Pickman, a 24-year-old former sailor who joined up last January.

But Toledo has posted Ollanta Humala far away from home, at the Peruvian Embassy in Paris, and the army has prohibited him from speaking to the public and press.

As a result, his history from coup leader to his posting in Paris is part of the mystique surrounding the movement.

Ecuador's election last November of President Lucio Gutierrez, who directed a coup in 2000, and the apparent success of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, himself a former coup leader, have encouraged the Humala movement, political observers say.

"The Humalas follow in the line of Chavez and Gutierrez," said Boris Romero, editor of Sintesis, a financial daily. "They have a left-wing nationalistic message that could work. Ollanta is certainly someone to watch in the 2006 elections."

Antauro Humala insists that everything he does is meant to advance his brother's cause.

"Ollanta is like a sharp stone in a tight shoe," Antauro Humala said. "He was reinstated into the army and sent to France out of necessity, to avoid competition."

He added: "Ollanta is the word. I am only the preacher."