Peruvian President Ollanta Humala during a Dakar Rally ceremony.
Meet the president of Peru. His brother’s in prison, his dad thinks he’s a traitor, and almost everyone says his wife calls the shots. But he might still have a chance to turn the country around.
Long associated with a bizarre, virulently nationalist ideology that favors the supremacy of “copper-skinned” Peruvians, Isaac had already become deeply disillusioned with his son’s presidency. He and other family members, including older brother Ulises and sister Ima Sumac, feel betrayed by Humala’s failure to follow through on his commitment to sweeping change. Although Humala’s family had posed a problem for his political ambitions for some time — in 2006, his mother, Elena, called for shooting a few gays as a way to keep the rest closeted — the relationship has become notably adversarial in the past several months.
Although doubtlessly an uncomfortable distraction for the president, there is no sign that the other Humalas have influenced his decision-making. On the other hand, the sway of Nadine Heredia, the first lady, has no rival.
Not only does the president’s wife and closest confidante tend to outperform her husband in the polls, but there is speculation that she might be contemplating a run for the presidency herself, despite some inconvenient laws preventing it. Her clout was evident when, during a recent press briefing, she asked in a fit of pique, “Where is my minister?” The education minister at her side quickly responded, “I’m here, Señora, here.” The public musings over who actually calls the shots — Ulises openly calls his sister-in-law the actual president — represents yet another public relations headache for the administration.
Humala’s family members aren’t the only ones disappointed in him. The task of governing is turning out to be more difficult than the president may have expected. Things aren’t necessarily going poorly, but Peruvians are continually pressing for improvements.Peru’s economic performance this decade has been impressive. Not only has the economy been booming — it grew nearly 7 percentin 2011 — but there has been an appreciable reduction in poverty and inequality. Nevertheless, Peruvians remain unusually tough on their political leaders: Polls consistently reveal among thehighest levels of distrust toward politicians in the region. And the deep social schisms reflected in geographic and ethnic differences that have long bedeviled Peru persist. Further complicating the situation is the state’s limited efficacy and the virtual absence of real political parties, in contrast with personality-basedcliques centered on aspiring caudillos. Moreover, Peru overtook Colombia last year as the world’s largest producer of cocaine, and public concerns about crime and corruption remain high. In June, a reported 245 riots and protests took place in the country, most related to mining or oil and natural gas projects — an increase of 31 since Humala took office.
Humala came into office promising not only to keep Peru’s robust growth on track, but to resolve the country’s deep-seated problems and quell broad discontent. He pledged to take advantage of the country’s vast mineral wealth — an expected $50 billion in new mining projects over five years — to accelerate the redistribution of resources and more effectively meet the needs of the poorest Peruvians. He is seeking to avoid the fate of his predecessors — Alejandro Toledo and Alan García — who both left the presidency with rock-bottom approval levels and administrations widely deemed to be missed opportunities.