Lima, Cusco, and the Peruvian Election

My research trip began with a bit of confusion.  While I planned to spend three weeks in Lima before traveling to Cusco, upon arrival I discovered that the national archives remained closed for upkeep beyond their supposed reopening date.  In response, I booked a flight to Cusco and then spent the next couple days reading in the rare books collection at the Riva-Aguero institute.  Luckily, I have settled well into Cusco and am finding a great deal of documentation on caciques, indigenous tribute, and the colonial government during the final years of colonialism in Peru.  In addition, despite the inconvenience of switching venues, the change in plans allowed me to spend time in two politically and culturally significant cities in the weeks leading up to the June 5 election between leftist Ollanta Humalla and right-wing Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of dictator Alberto Fujimori.

In Lima, the general mood and a series of opinion polls indicated that Keiko would easily win the election.  In the face of seeming inevitability, student activists and other partisans ramped up their antifujimorista campaign, following the lead of Mario Vargas Llosa who proved surprisingly supportive of the Ollanta campaign and even rebuked his former friend and ally Hernando de Soto (the neoliberal economist who joined the Fujimori team).  Indeed, around universities and poor areas fujirata banners and Never Again graffiti were common.  Still the general sense remained that this was a valiant but ultimately futile struggle against the inevitable.  In Cusco, by contrast, everyone that I talked to without exception expected a Ollanta victory.  The only way Keiko could win, I was told, would be through massive fraud.  Indeed, the Keiko team seemed increasingly desperate; for example, they drove a pick-up around the central plaza handing out orange mugs, activity books, and even tupperware plastered with her face and slogans in an attempt to ply voters.  In the end, the mood in Cusco proved more prescient as Ollanta won the election.  Interestingly, Keiko carried Lima handily (she got 57%) along with a couple other northern coastal regions but was crushed in Cusco (Ollanta managed 77%) and lost almost every region.  What this means, as was constantly reiterated amongst the celebrating party faithful in Cusco, was that the Sierra now held the political power.  This is a significant reversal in a country where Lima is often seen to lead (and exploit) the rest of the country.  Now Cusco, which represents the left-wing of the ruling party, has a historic opportunity to completely reshape Peruvian politics.

Posted by David Klassen — PhD Candidate in History at NYU

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