Peru Election Won't End Chavez's Influence

The Associated Press
Monday, June 5, 2006; 11:15 PM

LIMA, Peru -- President-elect Alan Garcia says Peru's voters sent a clear message to Hugo Chavez: Stay out.

But with the Venezuelan president's ally Ollanta Humala controlling the largest faction in Peru's Congress, Chavez's confrontational, leftist brand of politics may be here to stay.

A majority of Peru's voters effectively anointed a regional rival to Chavez by returning Garcia, 57, to the presidency he left in disgrace 16 years ago. Garcia drove home that point in his victory speech when he denounced the growing influence of oil-rich Venezuela in Latin America.

"Our homeland's independent destiny was at stake here, threatened by total domination and imperialism," Garcia told supporters Sunday night. "Imperialism does not come only from great powers but also from nearby domination, by those who seek to subordinate and steer us because they have wealth."

A moderate leftist, Garcia held an insurmountable lead of 53.2 percent against 46.8 percent for Humala with 92.5 percent of the vote counted, the national electoral authority said Monday.

The country's financial markets rallied, with the stock market's broad general index gaining 2.82 percent and shares of mining company stocks up even more.

"Garcia's victory eliminates a key link in the Andean chain that Hugo Chavez is forging," political analyst Mirko Lauer said.

Many Peruvians saw Humala, who once led a military uprising as an army lieutenant colonel, as unpredictable and dangerous to democracy. They were apparently wary of electing another ally of Chavez, who already has extended his influence to Bolivia, where the Aymara Indian Evo Morales was elected president in December.

Humala opposes U.S.-backed eradication of coca leaf, the raw material for Peru's thriving cocaine industry, saying no other crop would bring a decent income to the impoverished farmers who grow it.

He also is against a U.S.-Peruvian free trade pact, and has pledged to increase taxes on foreign mining enterprises, including a huge gold mine owned by American capital. During the closing days of the campaign he accused Garcia of being a pawn of American imperialism.

Like Bolivia's Morales, Humala had pledged to punish a political class widely perceived as corrupt and redistribute wealth to his country's poor Indian and mestizo majority.

But halting a Chavez-fueled domino effect _ the political mobilization of Latin America's downtrodden _ may be easier said than done.

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