The First Steps of Ollanta Humala

Ollanta Humala, the new president of Peru, called attention to the constitution during his swearing in ceremony as he promised to honor the principles of the 1979 constitution and not the current one enacted and approved by popular referendum in 1993.

Humala has long considered the 1993 constitution illegitimate given the fact that it was drafted and approved during the presidency of Alberto Fujimori. In 1992, Fujimori staged a coup d’état by dissolving Congress as a result of a legislative paralysis. The coup was widely protested by the Organization of Americans States (OAS) and the international community.  In 1995, democracy was restored in Peru with the election of Fujimori to a second term.  

Humala has repeatedly stated his preference for the 1979 constitution. The constitution of 1993 expanded the powers of the president to dissolve congress and to declare states of exception, and places promotion of military personnel in the hands of the president without requiring congressional ratification. At the social level, the constitution withdraws the role of the state to free elementary education and also placed barriers to trade unions.

Despite the fact that the 1993 constitution provides too much power to the president and less checks and balances, no president elected after Fujimori (e.g. Alejandro Toledo and Alan Garcia) has changed this constitution. Toledo, in fact, removed Fujimori’s signature without removing any of its provisions

The constitution of 1979 is not necessarily much better. It gave more executive power than previous constitutions by allowing presidents to make laws by decree when the legislature is in recess. That constitution, like the 1993 version was also enacted during an authoritarian government that in 1975 pledged a return to democracy after a seven year rule by General Juan Velasco Alvarado, a reformist military man inspired by Latin American populism and the socialist ideas of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

 It is widely believed that both constitutions in granting excessive executive power, weakened political parties in Peru.

Yet, Humala’s symbolic rejection of the 1993 constitution raised some eyebrows in Peru and abroad. Nowadays, constitutional reform is viewed with suspicion as it has come to be used as a process to undermine democracy in favor of one man rule.   As in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, there is concern that constitutional reforms may give absolute powers to the president and that radical social reforms might be included in it.

Humala’s Cabinet

On the other hand, Humala surprised everyone by appointing a cabinet aimed at providing continuity with past polices of economic growth; sending a positive message to the business community. The names given as cabinet members have been welcomed in institutions such as the Private business association (CONFIEP) and the association of exporters (ADEX). Leaders in these institutions welcomed the possibility of allowing for the continuation of current macro-economic polices which in the past year has seen economic growth of 5%.

Humala recognizes the benefits of economic growth and of the free trade agreement with the U.S as he told the Washington Post in an interview during his visit to the United States. Like Lula da Silva, the former president of Brazil, he also feels that economic growth has brought “not so much poverty but inequality”. So Humala, in his own words, intends to “ensure economic growth with inclusion”.

Uncertainty Remains

Of course, Humala’s cabinet appointments and his words promising continuity and expansion of social benefits calms the business community in Peru and foreign investors and provides relief to those who were afraid of a revolution like the ones that have taken place in Venezuela and Bolivia.

Yet, Humala’s foreign policy remains to be seen. Peru does not represent the same power in the international arena that Brazil does. Brazil showed pragmatism domestically but in foreign affairs it has aimed at diminishing the power of the U.S in the region and world affairs. Brazil strengthened economic and technological relations with China and economic and political relations with Iran. Peru is smaller than Brazil but it has almost 30 million inhabitants, three times more than it had in 1960.

Every country needs to be cultivated and every country counts. In the past, State Department analysts downplayed these types of international actions by countries like Brazil. They have celebrated their economic growth thinking that it would bring about friendlier relations. So, once economic progress is achieved, these analysts believe that the international approach of these countries will move them closer to the U.S. Even though there is some logic to this type of thinking, what is not being taken into account is that economic empowerment might also bring about arrogance and a sense that this is “our time” and they no longer need or wish to be aligned with the United States. 




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