Dexter Boniface

Posts Tagged ‘Humala’

Bolivarian Populism and Democratic Governance: A Poor Record

In Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela on June 21, 2011 at 8:13 am

The recent election of Ollanta Humala as President of Peru has once again raised the spectre of Hugo Chavez’s brand of Bolivarian Populism spreading to yet another South American country. Similarly, the recent release of a secret diplomatic cable outlining a pact between Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and Chavez has rekindled fears that Venezuela continues to exert powerful influence in Central America. Critics of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez frequently claim that his brand of left-wing populism is incompatible with democracy. In this blogpost, I examine some preliminary evidence in support of this claim.

Source: Arnulfo Franco / AP

The Bolivarian Blueprint

I use the term “Bolivarian Populism” to denote a particular process of political change exemplified by Venezuela under President Hugo Chavez and imitated to different degrees by other left-leaning Latin American presidents, especially Evo Morales (Bolivia) and Rafael Correa (Ecuador) as well as Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua) and Manuel Zelaya (Honduras). This process of political change typically begins, first, with the election of a political outsider who rails against the traditional political party establishment. Once elected into power, the president next calls for the creation of a constituent assembly to re-write the country’s constitution, a process inevitably marked by substantial partisan conflict (particularly between the president and the legislative and judicial branches of government), increased social polarization, and often a serious breakdown in the rule of law. The new constitutions, approved in more or less democratic plebiscites (or, in Nicaragua’s case, modified by dubious procedures), typically enhance the executive’s power by reducing checks and balances and abolishing presidential term limits. Once the new constitution is in place, finally, the president holds new elections to refresh their mandate. This pattern is particularly evident in Venezuela under Chavez (elected 1998, new constitution 1999, new mandates 2000, 2006 and possibly 2012), Bolivia under Morales (elected 2005, constituent assembly 2006-2007, new constitution and mandate 2009, and possible future mandate in 2014) and Ecuador under Correa (elected 2006, constituent assembly 2007, new constitution 2008, new mandate in 2009 and possibly 2013).

The Decline of Freedom

Chavez and other followers of “Bolivarian Populism” frequently claim that radical changes in political structure are required to make their countries more democratic. Yet recent data from Freedom House (an NGO specializing in measuring freedom around the world) suggests that the results of such changes are typically just the opposite. As the chart below indicates, aggregate measures of political rights and civil liberties have dropped (in some cases precipitously) during the tenure of all five of the leaders most closely associated with Bolivarian Populism. Although the Freedom House data is not a perfect measure of democracy (it is, more precisely, a measure of freedom), the gradual decline in political and civil rights in these countries is unambiguous. The decline has arguably been most striking in Venezuela, a case that has been extensively documented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Source: author's computations based on Freedom House data published in 2011.

The Rise of Corruption 

In addition to championing democracy, the Bolivarian Populists often rail against the endemic corruption of their societies and advocate radical political changes as a key part of the solution. Yet recent evidence from Transparency International (an NGO specializing in measuring perceptions of corruption around the world) suggests that the results of such efforts have been disappointing. In the most recent 2010 survey, for example, Venezuela was found to be the most corrupt country in all of Latin America, followed by Paraguay, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia. The results, as Andres Oppenheimer has argued, are not all that surprising. Indeed, as Transparency International’s Alejandro Salas has noted, “In countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, government leaders have shattered the system of checks and balances. And when there are no watchdogs, you tend to have more arbitrary allocations of funds, and fewer transparent bids for government contracts” (quoted by Oppenheimer).


Although the evidence I have presented here is far from definitive, and the standards by which we should measure the success or failure of the “Bolivarian Revolution” are hotly disputed (a more complete analysis would need, minimally, to include a wide variety of socioeconomic data), recent data support the claim that Chavez’s style of Bolivarian Populism has consistently undermined democratic governance in Latin America.


Polarization in Peru: The 2011 Presidential Elections

In Elections, Human Rights, Peru on May 29, 2011 at 5:02 pm

When Peruvians return to the polls on Sunday, June 5, they will confront a stark choice as to who should be their next president. The presidential run-off election pits the left-leaning nationalist and former military officer Ollanta Humala against the right-wing populist Keiko Fujimori (daughter of jailed former president Alberto Fujimori) in what Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa called, “a choice between AIDS and terminal cancer.”

Both candidates are indeed controversial. On the one hand, in his 2006 bid for the president, Ollanta Humala embraced Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and continues to advocate a Chavez-style constitutional overhaul, media controls, and the redistribution of mineral wealth in Peru. Furthermore, Ollanta has been accused of serious human rights crimes, including murder, sedition and torture; his younger brother, Antauro, was sentenced to jail for leading a violent revolt against the government in 2005.  On the other hand, Keiko Fujimori draws a large base of her support from the followers of her father and former dictator Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) who is currently serving a 25-year sentence for various abuses of power including ordering assassinations and kidnappings. Keiko maintains that her father is innocent of such charges. A few years ago, she pledged to pardon her father if she was elected (more recently she has backed away from this pledge, just as Humala has tried to distance himself from the more extreme views of his family members).

The Peruvian Paradox 

Considering Peru’s recent economic success and relative political stability, the country’s sudden political polarization is something of a paradox. How do we explain the collapse of the moderate political center in Peru? At least three explanations merit consideration. First, in what former U.S. ambassador Dennis Jett describes as “Peru’s political suicide“, the centrist vote was split between three relatively strong candidates in the first round of voting, including economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, former President Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) and former Lima Mayor Luis Castaneda. Although they collectively captured 44 percent of the vote, they trailed Humala (31%) and Fujimori (23%) individually. Still, this explanation cannot account for the widespread appeal of Humala and Fujimori who garnered more than half of the first round vote. A second explanation, in turn, suggests that the benefits of Peru’s economic success have not been widely shared, causing the poor and disenfranchised to vote for more extreme options. A defeated Alejandro Toledo remarked, for instance, that voters, “expressed their rage … at having economic growth without the distribution of the benefits of that growth” (he made the same point five years ago). A third explanation suggests that it is the weakness of the Peruvian political system more generally that is to blame. For example, the collapse of Peru’s traditional political parties has enabled political outsiders such as Humala to gain increasing political clout. Similarly the failure of the political center to unite behind a single candidate suggests that politics in Peru continues to be personality-driven, with ex-presidents and their kin exerting a notable influence.

Peru 2011-2016: What Kind of Presidency?

Although both candidates have increasingly campaigned toward the center, many remain worried that Peru could be headed toward a more authoritarian and populist future, be it left-wing and nationalist (Humala) or right-wing and security-oriented (Fujimori).

Humala, for his part, has tried to distance himself from his previous association with Hugo Chavez and instead pointed to the Brazilian experience which, he noted, “has combined economic growth with social inclusion.” At the level of foreign policy, Humala has also expressed his desire to strengthen relations with the United States rather than the Venezuelan-led regional bloc ALBA (Alternativa Bolivariana para las Américas). Still, because of his past associations with Chavez and his status as an inexperienced political outsider, an Humala presidency would likely encounter stiff resistance from the business community, the news media and the traditional political establishment in Peru.

Keiko, for her part, has made fighting crime one of her key electoral pledges. T0 underscore the tough approach she would take on criminals (“mano dura”), she hired former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as a campaign consultant and had him join her on the campaign trail. If elected Keiko would enter office with at least some political experience (she was elected to Congress in 2006) yet would have trouble overcoming the shadow of her father.

Pre-election polls suggested that the two candidates were in a virtual tie.

Postscript: Victory for Humala

According to official returns, Humala won the election with 51.5% of the vote. Why did he win and what are the implications of his victory for the future of Peru? According to available data, Humala won with strong support from southern and eastern Peru, especially the rural interior — areas that have not benefited from Peru’s economic boom as much as the country’s urban coast. (He was also the preferred candidate among men and those over forty). Humala also succeeded in convincing many voters in the political center, including former presidential candidate Alejandro Toledo, that he would (broadly speaking) maintain free market policies and respect the democratic rules of the game.

Although the Peruvian stock market initially sank over fears that Humala’s victory could lead to radical changes in the country, seasoned observers are predicting that Humala will follow a more moderate and pragmatic course of action. Michael Shifter, for one, notes that Humala’s narrow victory represents “a mandate for moderate change” and “better distribution of the fruits of development,” but not a Venezuelan-style makeover. In a similar vein, Andres Oppenheimer, argues that Humala faces a number of constraints, especially an opposition-controlled Congress, that make radical changes unlikely–at least in the near term. Still others, such as the Christian Science Monitor’s Sara Miller Llana, see Humala’s victory as signaling the demise of the hard-core left in Latin America and its replacement with a new consensus model favoring growth with equity.

My take: I agree that there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic that President Humala will eschew the failed policies of the hard-core left in Latin America. As I noted in an interview with Florida’s El Sentinel, Humala (and Peru) has little to gain from a strong alliance with Venezuela President Hugo Chavez–and much to lose.

Latin America’s Elections in 2011: Political Outsiders versus Former First Ladies

In Argentina, Elections, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Peru on April 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm

There are many important elections in 2011 as Haitians (March 20),  Peruvians (April 10; June 5), Guatemalans (September 11; November 6), Argentines (October 23), and Nicaraguans (November 6) head to the polls to pick new presidents.

The Haitian and Peruvian elections shared a common feature: in both, the first round eliminated the presumed front-runner(s) and the second round pitted political outsiders (singer Michel Martelly and x-lieutenant colonel Ollanta Humala) against former first ladies (Mirlande Manigat and Keiko Fujimori). In both cases, the political outsiders carried the day. Guatemala’s election in September likewise featured an x-military honcho, General Otto Perez Molina, though (recently divorced) former first lady, Sandra Torres was deemed ineligible to run. In Argentina, another former first lady, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner easily claimed victory.

Haiti. The Haitian election has been decided: singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly won the controversial presidential runoff election in a landslide, earning 68 percent of the vote.

Peru. The winner of Peru’s divisive presidential runoff is Ollanta Humala. (For a deeper analysis, see my blogpost: “Polarization in Peru: The 2011 Presidential Elections“).