With just 10 months to go until he steps down as Peru's president, Alejandro Toledo is hobbling to the finish line with the lowest approval rating of any Latin American leader. But he has also earned kudos for his country's sustained growth in the past 15 months, and he believes he has left an unprecedented legacy of safeguarding social and ethnic inclusion in Peru's traditionally stratified society.
In an interview Friday with Washington Post editors and columnists, Toledo acknowledged that his lofty campaign promises in 2000 to tackle poverty never materialized into tangible benefits for the 54 percent of Peruvians who still live on less than $2 a day.
"You cannot redistribute what you don't have. We deliberately designed some specific social programs, but did not design the economy to have a trickle-down effect," said Toledo, a former World Bank official. "We have planted a seed and I have paid a high political price. But Peru has been inserted into the international democratic community."
During the past five years, Toledo's tenure was marred by blunders of firing and hiring. His approval rating plummeted to a low of 6 percent. But Toledo said Peru expects to top 5 percent growth next year, and that its exports have doubled to $16 billion. He is constitutionally barred from seeking reelection.
Toledo emphasized Peru's improved record on human rights after a decade of autocratic rule by his predecessor, Alberto Fujimori. He said much more was being spent on education and the salaries of teachers were being doubled.
As the first Peruvian of Indian ancestry to run the country, Toledo began his presidency with a festive inauguration in an Incan fortress, at which he wore traditional highland dress and clutched a golden battle-axe adorned with an ear of corn, a pre-Colombian symbol of power.
In the interview, he spoke passionately of having empowered impoverished indigenous communities by setting up funds and cultural institutes.
"We have sought to institutionalize social inclusion and root it," he said. "I did not just want to be another president passing through."
Palestinian Heads to Morocco
Hassan Abdel Rahman is leaving Washington after 23 years as head of the Palestine Information Office to become the Palestinian Authority's representative in Rabat, Morocco. After serving in the Palestine Liberation Organization office at the United Nations for eight years, he came to Washington in 1982 and later became the Palestinian Authority's senior representative here.
During the turbulent years of Arab-Israeli history, Abdel Rahman said in a recent interview, he oversaw a shift from total lack of recognition to gradual acceptance of Palestinian rights.
"We have come a long way from total negation to full acceptance of Palestinian people and their right to a state," he said, mentioning the expulsion of the late leader Yasser Arafat and his fighters from Lebanon in 1983 and the historic handshake between Arafat and former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn 10 years later.
Abdel Rahman said he was looking forward to his new posting because of Morocco's role in Middle East peacemaking and because King Mohammed VI heads the Jerusalem Committee in the Islamic Organization Conference.
Asked to comment on the destruction of synagogues and greenhouses left in Gaza after the recent pullout of Israeli settlers, he said: "It is very regrettable but symptomatic of the chaos that engulfed Gaza in the last five years. What we inherited cannot be remedied overnight."
Abdel Rahman said the Israelis "destroyed everything" when they pulled out but left the synagogues, knowing the Palestinian Authority could not protect them.
"This does not make it acceptable. We should, and I do, respect all houses of worship," he said. "It was also stupid to destroy and loot greenhouses, but look at this in the context of past years."
Sri Lankan to Vie for Top U.N. Spot
Times have changed since Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene came to the White House in the 1980s, bringing a baby elephant as a gift to President Ronald Reagan. Now Sri Lanka is getting ready for the world stage in different ways. Jayantha Dhanapala, Colombo's former envoy to Washington and an expert on nonproliferation, is vying for the job of U.N. secretary general after Kofi Annan steps down at the end of next year.
Dhanapala is a senior adviser to the current Sri Lankan president and coordinator of the peace process with the Tamil Tiger insurgents. He was in Washington and in New York last week to confer with former colleagues including Annan, who handpicked him to reestablish the Department of Disarmament in 1998 and serve as U.N. undersecretary general until 2003.
In an interview, Dhanapala said it was Asia's turn to assume the top leadership of the United Nations, a post no Asian had held since the 1960s.