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Peru's president has choice: reform or revolt

By Michael L. Smith

The Globe and Mail, July 26, 1985

It was a bizarre sight for Latin America: about 30 military officers, stars and bars glistening on their shoulders, signing Happy Birthday to a civilian politician who had been preaching revolution.

The man in civvies was Alan Garcia, 36, leader of the left-centre American Popular Alliance. He was not yet able to claim the title of president-elect, but the get-acquainted gathering with Peru's top brass illustrated how convincing Mr. Garcia's sweeping victory in mid-April elections was despite Peru's cumbersome electoral process.

The official confirmation of Mr. Garcia's triumph came as an anti-climax weeks after the ballots were cast and after the birthday party. The APRA candidate's 3.5 million votes were more than all the other eight presidential candidates combined.

The Marxist mayor of Lima, Alfonso Barrantes, of the United Left coalition, won 1.6 million votes (21.3 per cent). The Conservative Democratic Convergence coalition's Luis Bedoya received 774,000 votes (10.2 per cent), while the party of the outgoing president Fernando Belaunde Terry, Popular Action, was unable to pull in half a million votes for its candidate, Javier Alva Orlandini.

However Peruvian law was amended by Popular Action last year to make it difficult to win the presidential race in the first round of elections. Mr. Garcia's 45.7 per cent was insufficient to pass the 50 percent plus one vote requirement because spoiled and blank votes were included in the calculations. If the old rules had been applied, he would have had 53 per cent, sufficient to avoid a runoff.

The second round was to have taken place in mid-June, but Mr. Barrantes withdrew, to "remove the political and legal insecurity" of the transition period. Sources said the decision reflected the Marxist left's recognition that there was nothing to be gained by protracting the election process, especially since it would pit the country's two main leftist leaders against each other.

Although conservative politicians argued that Mr. Barrantes' withdrawal was unacceptable and it was still constitutionally obligatory to hold a runoff, the National Election Board ruled that Mr. Barrantes' resignation was legitimate and declared Mr. Garcia president-election. He will be sworn in on July 28.

Should he muff his opportunity to introduce changes for a more just society, the country will risk a strong challenge from Maoist guerrilla groups, which have been engaged in urban and rural terrorism for five years.

(Peru widened its military-run emergency zone this week after police reported uncovering rebel plans to cut off all ground links to Lima during Sunday's inauguration, Reuters reported.

(An Interior Ministry decree said the armed forces would assume control of Yauli province, 100 kilometers from Lima, the 27th of Peru's 170 provinces to come under the emergency.

(The emergency allows the Government to ban public meetings and permits security forces to raid homes and arrest suspects without warrants. The measure, first imposed in four Andean provinces, has been widened gradually to include more than 10 per cent of Peru's 19-million people.

(Yesterday, a car bomb exploded outside the Interior Ministry destroying or damaging 11 other cars parked nearby, a police commander said. No one was reported hurt.)

The main guerrilla group is Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). A second group, the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (named after a leader of an Indian rebellion against the Spanish), has sprung up more recently.

Although the armed forces have been relatively successful in controlling guerrilla activity in the central sierra region of Ayacucho, Shining Path has been able to deploy some of its units at other jungle and sierra regions.

The guerrillas have lost much of their momentum since they caught the Belaunde administration and its police forces ill-prepared for subversive attacks in 1981 and 1982. But the blood letting has been costly. More than 6,000 people have died in four years.

Mr. Garcia has emphasized that the guerrillas will be defeated only when the peasants' living conditions improve, and he plans to take personal command of this broader counter-insurgency effort, party officials say.

But with the presidency firmly under his arm and a comfortable congressional majority behind him, Mr. Garcia has a challenging future before him. Peru is $1.85 billion behind in servicing its $13.7 billion foreign debt. Peru has had no agreement with the International Monetary Fund over the past two years and commercial bankers have all but thrown in the towel. The debt crisis, government mismanagement and natural disasters have combined to cut Peru's per capita gross domestic product to 1962 levels.

Mr. Garcia said earlier this week that the level of Peru's foreign debt repayments will depend on economic growth but that it would take at least two years to reactivate the economy.

He told a news conference that he did not rule out that Peru might make some payments on the foreign debt during the next 24 months.

But he said Peru is in the middle of a crisis and lacks the resources to service its debt, even thought it has the will to repay it.

"We affirm to the banks and governments our willingness to pay. Out desire is to do it while reactivating our economy... We also want to demonstrate we will pay more in proportion to the economic growth rate,"Mr. Garcia said.