Peruvian Election a Further Threat to US Interests

By Howard Williams | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

( - Peruvians go the polls Sunday with "anti-globalization" candidate Ollanta Humala the clear front-runner, adding to western fears of a growing South American wave of anti-Americanism.

Humala -- a former army commander now under investigation for alleged human rights abuses and the son of a former Communist Party organizer -- has been the front-runner throughout the political campaign.

All of the latest opinion polls indicate that Humala will fall short of the majority of votes (50 percent plus one vote) necessary to avoid a run-off next month against his closest challenger in the first round.

Lourdes Flores, a conservative who hopes to become the country's first female president, and former president Alan Garcia, who is still remembered for his corrupt regime the last time he was in power, are Humala's top rivals.

Flores appears to be a narrow favorite to win a run-off spot with the polls suggesting that should she come in second on Sunday, she will defeat Humala in the run-off. The polls suggest Garcia would lose in a run-off.

Throughout the campaign, Humala has lambasted the "multinationals" and "globalization," using both words as euphemisms for the United States.

He has promised to "renegotiate" royalty and taxation agreements with foreign countries operating in Peru, following the controversial lead by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose "renegotiation" of foreign companies' oil rights in his country has led to massive cutbacks in foreign-owned operations and oil production in that country.

Again echoing the experience of Chavez, who was temporarily overthrown in a coup three years ago this month, Humala has raised serious doubts about whether he would accept a loss at the ballot box.

In an interview with the Argentina daily newspaper Pagina 12, he was asked how a Flores government would fare. He replied: "The same as has happened with other Latin American presidents that were overthrown by the people ... I think it would be very difficult for Lourdes Flores to complete one year in government."

His political rivals immediately accused Humala of planning for a possible coup, but he insisted he would provide a "democratic opposition." Humala led a failed military uprising in October 2000.

Much of Humala's support comes from the country's poor and he has been playing to their hopes of a better future and their fears that too much of the country's economy is controlled by foreigners. Similar sentiments were sounded in neighboring Bolivia and Venezuela.

Humala has blamed the "multinationals" for allegedly stealing the country's natural resources and fueling inflation and poverty. If elected, Humala is expected to follow the lead of new Bolivian President Evo Morales by making an early official visit to Cuba to embrace Fidel Castro.

What is not certain, however, is how Humala would deal with neighboring Chile, which bucked the regional trend this year by electing a conservative free market government.

Like Bolivia, Peru has border disputes with Chile and Humala is known for making anti-Chilean remarks, although he claims not to be anti-Chilean.

Many international observers have expressed concern about Humala's potential behavior, whether or not he wins the presidency. Even if he does win, the polls suggest Humala would still lack control over the unicameral legislative assembly. This has prompted fears that he would try to emulate disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori by unilaterally changing the constitution.

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