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Peru's Interim President Key to Smooth Transition - 2001-07-27


In Peru, last minute preparations are underway for the inauguration on Saturday of Alejandro Toledo as president. Mr. Toledo inherits a country burdened by debt and troubled by scandals left over from the government of former President Alberto Fujimori. But he also benefits from the work of the interim government that has held power for the past eight months. The man largely responsible for this smooth transition is an academic who has long fought for human rights and democratic institutions.

As the hour of change approaches, many Peruvians are expressing gratitude and respect for the man who has held the office of the presidency for the past eight difficult months: Valentin Paniagua Corazao.

Political analysts say this quiet intellectual has done much to assure a smooth, peaceful transition of power. Such a process might not have been possible following the turbulence of last year's tainted election, the revelations of corruption in the Fujimori government, and the subsequent resignation of Mr. Fujimori, sent by fax from his self-imposed exile in Japan.

President-Elect Toledo stresses President Paniagua has done a great service to his nation. He says the Paniagua government has given Peru enormous credibility and that he has profound admiration for Mr. Paniagua. Still, Mr. Toledo says, in spite of the interim government's best efforts, the economic and social problems left by Mr. Fujimori represent a great challenge for him and his new government.

In an effort to ease the transfer of power, the Paniagua government presented a report of its activities to the national congress on Thursday. This was the first time in Peruvian history that an outgoing government had done this. At the same time, members of Mr. Toledo's newly named cabinet began meetings with the current cabinet members of the interim government.

Mr. Paniagua has expressed a desire to return to his academic pursuits, but he maintains an enormous influence on the political life of the country. For him, his fellow citizens need to set aside differences to build a solid democratic tradition based on law and respect for differences of opinion. He says that if the people of Peru do not learn to tolerate different ideas and the diversity of culture in the country, there can never exist democratic political parties. He says the country must develop a civic dialogue in which all people can participate for the good of the nation.

Valentin Paniagua was born in the highland city of Cusco in 1936 and was involved in the human rights cause when he was only 23 years old. He has served in the national Congress and as a minister in past governments, but sees himself first and foremost as a professor of law. He assumed the position as interim president last November after being selected by the Congress during the crisis following the departure of Mr. Fujimori and the resignation of Vice President Francisco Tudela.

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