Sunday, April 10, 2011

Presidential elections in Peru, the ‘Dry’ Law and Sir Paul in Lima

You can’t imagine the tension we’ve all lived in Peru during the last two months or so. No, not because Sir Paul is coming to Lima! It was palpable – even the taxi drivers would try and draw you out on which candidate you’d vote for. I say ‘lived’, using the past tense. That’s a lie. Right now, today (and probably for a few more days to come) we are in the process of living it.

Today, 10/04/2011, is Election Day. The doctor had drawn the short straw to be stand-by as ‘miembro de la mesa de votación’ = member of the voting table, in other words the guys who sit there behind the urn and make sure you do all the stuff you need to do in order to leave a valid vote, but he could 'escape'. Here it’s more than just ticking off your name on a list. Here, one of the most distrustful countries I’ve ever lived in (and I’ve come to believe with a certain justification) you have to leave your fingerprint behind, for example. That’s to stop people from coming back and voting twice. Well, I don’t know all the ins and outs of Peruvian elections because I’m not allowed to vote yet. I have my ‘residency’ but that doesn’t entitle me. One day should I go for the Peruvian nationality (as long as can keep my British one), I’ll put in my two ha’pennies' worth as well. I wish I could do so now.

Alan García, outgoing President of Perú
Peru doesn’t really vote for political concepts. There aren’t any. Short-term ‘parties’ are set up as they are needed. To create a proper party in Peru is very difficult and needs time and effort. Nobody every shows up, or at least not when they ought to, and they easily switch from one to the next. There is one party, APRA = Alianza Popular Revlucionaria Americana (American Revolutionary Popular Alliance). According to Wikipedia: “It is the oldest surviving political party in Peru and one of the best established. APRA is as much a social phenomenon as a political movement, with a membership whose loyalty to the party has been unwavering for several generations.” Even this is no longer true. They are divided, there is a lot of infighting, and they are at the tail-end of politics in this election. Probably all due to Allan García, the outgoing president who has been rather ‘naughty’ the way he circumnavigated and undermined the institutions and the law, often giving free hand to multinational money to exploit to their hearts’ content, unaccountable to anyone so as not to frighten big money away.

The Peruvians aren’t dumb, they see these things. It’s just that the State has not been interested in the rural areas, keeping the people without running water, without infrastructure, without asphalted roads, for example, to take their produce to market easily. One of the reasons why drug-growing is so much easier. If you grow tomatoes, let’s say, you may see them rot because there is no easy way to get them to market.

Ok, so far the ‘lecture’. I won’t bore you to death with Peruvian politics. But I have to explain that, for all those reasons and more, the Peruvian electorate (and it’s a mandated vote, if you don’t vote, you get fined) votes for personalities, old allegiances, empty promises – probably almost the same as everywhere else, come to think of it.

The 'Dry Law'
They have a law here that doesn't allow alcohol to be sold 48 hours before the election and on election day. So Barbara who came to lunch on Thursday with her handsome husband, Bernd, brought a case of Peruvian 'Pilsen' to make sure I didn't run out of the precious amber liquid in the run-up to the election. Exceedingly thoughtful, don't you agree?

We have to date five candidates with their ‘parties’ or alliances backing them. All five run very, very – uncomfortably – close.

The candidates

  1. Ollanta Humala, according to the surveys in the lead, is the candidate most urban Peruvians fear the most. Ex-military, he’s running for the second time and rumours fly has it that his money – at least the first time around – came from Hugo Chavez. He is supposed to be backed by the extreme left, and is supposed to have strong ties to Cuba. Since this time he’s been blowing not quite as hot as five years ago, people feel that the leopard may have changed his spots.
  2. Pablo Pedro Kuczynski (PPK), over 70, economist and twice minister in two governments, offers a (hopefully) humane conservativism. He was born in Peru but is of ‘gringo’ origins and the other candidates won’t let the electorate forget it, talking about ‘the American’. He did have various top positions in the States at one point and acquired American nationality. Big crime here. His father was a doctor and his mother a school-teacher. They came to Peru to help the poorest of the poor, each of them in their speciality. The young Peruvians seem to like him.
  3. Keiko (Fujimori) is daughter of the ex-president who is in prison for crimes against humanity (he did some state terrorism) and I’m not sure whether he was also condemned for shipping millions to his own accounts. What he did do (apart from two coups d'etats) was give the poor a sack of rice or two and/or a computer to buy their loyalty instead of creating jobs or making small enterprises and loans an easy option so that these people could begin to pull themselves out of their poverty. But the father’s gifts now grow votes for Keiko who says that 'yes, well, mistakes have been made in the past'.
  4. Alejandro Toledo was president of Peru from 2001 to 2006 and wants to repeat. He proudly calls himself ‘El Cholo’, a term which refers to his Indian ancestry, normally only used as a racist term. Alejandro Toledo in the mind of many Peruvians represents the native Peruvian but with a Ph.D. Although his lifestyle as president was frowned upon, they just may give him another chance.
Just in from Yahoo News:
Humala wins Peru first round vote, Fujimori second: exit polls
Left-wing nationalist Ollanta Humala won the first round of Peru's presidential election on Sunday and rightist lawmaker Keiko Fujimori had a slim hold on second place, three exit polls showed on Sunday after voting ended.

All candidates have promised if not to pacify ’foreign investors’ at least not to frighten them into leaving, with some promising the sky to the poor - promises they won’t be able to keep in the long run. So here we are. Today is the day. And I’m not sure when we’ll know how the electorate voted, but your papers will carry the news also as soon as it's known. Let’s just hope it all passes without election fraud – it wouldn’t be the first time.

There will be a second round, a play-off between the two winners of today's elections. The biggest fun is still to come.

Even the shamans got involved with rituals around the election posters - see pic on the left.

With Sir Paul (McCartney - if anyone wondered) coming to Lima soon, all will be well anyway. He announced his coming in a kind of Spanish. Ouch...! The most expensive VIP tickets sell in the region of 1,200 US Dollars and apparently more than half have already been sold. Talking about the hungry...

And talking about a country of profound distrust: when you come to visit and go shopping in the big department stores, don’t be offended when they want to see your receipt at the exit and snoop through your bag to make sure you haven’t ‘disappeared’ anything.

I finished my second novel, THE TELLING, and the publishers have accepted it happily. It’ll come out either end 2011 or first month 2012 – exactly one year after the first one. My collection of poetry, TANGENTS, is about to be published, if not in April, then definitely before June. I’ll let you know.

The Japanese earthquake affected us little in the end, even though it affected the whole world tremendously in real terms. Even though they said we’d have tsunamis, it wasn’t much, but the Peruvians didn’t take any chances and made sure as best they could that people were protected. The wave that hit the north of Peru, in the region of Tumbes, was about one meter and a half (enough to cause grief for those who live near the water’s edge) and here in Lima we had a slight increase of about 25 cm. They had been worried about a tsunami especially in the port of Callao. Understandably.

I haven’t been up to much recently, so have ‘nothing to declare’. Have been writing, photographing, drawing... I’ll be in Madrid, London and Düsseldorf between 23 April and 23 June. So I’ll be more or less incommunicado, even though I’ll hit Internet Cafés on a regular basis. Can’t wait to see my children and my granddaughters.

Oh, I nearly forgot. Promised to include regularly Peruvian recipes, didn’t I? Ok, here is a good one, easy to make, great to eat:

Warm Chicken Ceviche


• ½ chicken or 2 chicken breasts, cut into pieces

• Oil

• Salt

• Pepper

• Cumin

• 1 table spoon of mashed garlic

• 2 table spoons of fresh yellow ají (paste or puree). If you can’t find ají you can use other hot spices, especially chillies will do

• Juice of about 2 limes or one lemon

• 1 onion cut into very thin slices (type julienne)

• A handful of finely chopped fresh coriander


Heat oil with salt, pepper, cumin, garlic, and the fresh yellow ají or chilli paste. Add the raw chicken pieces. After the chicken has browned a little, add ¼ cup water and let the mixture cook. When the chicken is tender add the onion, lime juice and chopped coriander (unless you hate coriander, of course). Cook a few minutes more until the onions are tender. Remove from heat and serve.

Serve with boiled potatoes and white rice. 3-4 servings.

This time it pleases me immensely to be able to leave you with some of the best lawyer jokes I’ve come across recently:

Q. Why won't sharks attack lawyers?
A. Professional courtesy.

Q. Why is going to a meeting of the Bar Association like going into a bait shop?
A. Because of the abundance of suckers, leeches, maggots and night crawlers.

Q. What's the definition of mixed emotions?
A. Watching your attorney drive over a cliff in your new car.

Q. Have you heard about the lawyers’ word processor?
A. No matter what font you select, everything comes out in fine print.

Q. What do you call a smiling, sober, courteous person at a bar association convention?
A. The caterer.

Q. How can you tell a lawyer is lying?
A. Other lawyers look interested.

Q. What's the difference between a bankrupt attorney and a pigeon?
A. The pigeon can still make a deposit on a Mercedes.

Q. What's the difference between a lawyer and a terrorist?
A. You can negotiate with a terrorist.

Q. What do honest lawyers and UFOs have in common?
A. You always hear about them, but you never see them.

Q. What's the difference between a lawyer and a vulture?
A. Lawyers accumulate frequent flyer points.

Summer has gone. It's autumn now, and with autumn has come the Lima 'marinade', a permanent mist that settles over the water. That's why I include some of my more spectacular skies for this season (during the first days after the Japan earthquake).

Until July or so ... when I'm back and it's my winter.