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With new president, Peru heads back to democracy



Published: Thu, June 7, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



With the election of Alejandro Toledo, Peruvians now have a leader who champions democracy and human rights. After the abuses of the Fujimori regime, Peru can look forward to a stabilizing economy -- Toledo is himself a Stanford-educated economist -- and a government ready to address seriously the problems of one of South America's most troubled nations.

The first freely elected president of indigenous descent, Toledo beat a former president, Alex Garcia, with 52 percent of the vote.

It was a real rags-to-riches story for Toledo a one-time shoeshine boy who rose from poverty to become a World Bank economist.

Sighs of relief: Garcia, who held office from 1985-90, had left Peru in economic ruin after he refused to fully pay Peru's foreign debt and tried to nationalize Peru's banks. On the news of Toledo's victory, international financiers could breathe a sigh of relief that Peru could return to credit worthiness.

A year ago, as Alberto Fujimori and his secret police henchmen and armed security forces intimidated voters and members of opposition parties, we wondered whether it would be possible for fair elections to be held.

Toledo pulled out of the race, knowing that the outcome was pre-ordained, and Fujimori had Peru's constitution changed to permit his running for a third term. But after a scandal involving the secret intelligence force whose leader had strong ties to Fujimori, the president was forced to call for new elections which ultimately paved the way for Toledo's victory.

Indigenous poverty: Toledo's job will not be easy. Not only must he contend with a volatile economy, but those still supportive of Fujimori may resist Toledo's call for unity. Further, the majority of Peru's Indian population -- more than 13 million -- lives in poverty and expects much from the first leader who shares their heritage.

Garcia has been the candidate most favored by the aristocratic population which traces its lineage to the Spanish conquistadors. Toledo is expected to give Garcia a post in his government as a way of gaining the support of Garcia's party which holds 28 seats in Peru's congress.

Fujimori, it is alleged, maintained control over the congress with bribes and threats. Toledo must fashion a unity government by moral suasion not coercion if he is to remain in power.




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