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Peru's New Team Ready to Wage War on Poverty - 2001-07-28

The government of Peru's President-elect Alejandro Toledo, which assumes power Saturday, will be managed in large part by two men whose international experience in business and finance could help the country's economy recover. The two top appointees are using military terms to describe their plan to reduce the crushing poverty in which half of the Peruvian population is trapped.

The prime minister and finance minister Mr. Toledo has chosen to lead his country to prosperity know what prosperity feels like. Each came from an upper middle class family, and each has worked in comfortable settings on the international business scene. Mr. Toledo says the two men have the expertise to bring in badly needed foreign investment and reactivate the Peruvian economy within the first 100 days of his government.

The president of the Council of Ministers, or prime minister, will be Roberto Danino, 50, a corporate consultant who has polished his executive skills on the international business stage. He says, his previous experience with the government of President Fernando Belaunde Terry two decades ago provides him with the background needed to work in the public sector.

Danino: "I have worked not only in the Peruvian government before, from 1980 to 1982, but I have worked for over four years with the Inter-American Development Bank and I have not dealt there with one government, I have dealt with 34 governments," he said. "So, I know very well what the limitations are but that is the way one needs to work when you are in the public sector and I am prepared to do that."

Flakus: "You have mentioned cutting the military budget. The military is seen by many in Peru as a power unto itself. Do you think you will have difficulty dealing with them?"

Danino: "I do not think so. I think the military [chiefs] realize that they need a new re-engineering of their activities and I think this is a propitious moment to really take this with a very creative approach, a constructive approach."

The man who, as finance minister, will lead the charge in what Mr. Toledo has called his all-out assault on poverty will be Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a one-time colleague of Mr. Danino in the Belaunde government. Mr. Kuczynski was minister of energy and mines at that time, but went on to serve as an executive with Japan's Toyota Corporation and a number of other international firms. For the past seven years he has been managing the $450 million Latin America Enterprise Fund in Miami.

Some critics have suggested he may be out of touch with Peru and the needs of the poor. But, in a VOA interview, Mr. Kuczynski says he was willing to leave behind his lucrative career in the private sector in order to help a homeland he never fully left behind. "I felt it was important to help my country, where I have always kept a home," he said. "I have always kept a footing here. I have been chairman of the Lima electric utility for several years and I have been in other activities here, on a number of boards and so on. I felt that, with this transition, it was important when Mr. Toledo invited me to help him out, at least in the initial stages of this government, to respond positively."

The 62-year-old finance expert had also wanted to hold the prime minister position awarded to his friend, Mr. Danino, so that he could more effectively shape the anti-poverty battle plan. But he says he is content with having the job most suited to his experience and expertise.

Kuczynski: "It seemed to me rational since it is 'the economy, stupid' being the number one subject that they [the two jobs] should be combined. President Toledo wants to keep them separate and have a prime minister who has no other portfolio and, given that, I thought it was better for me to stick to the finance area, which is really what I know best."

Flakus: "Do you think you will have an advantage, with your experience, in bringing more foreign investment back to the country?"

Kuczynski:"I hope so."

Flakus: "Do you have anything specifics along those lines?"

Kuczynski: "Well, we are talking to a lot of people. We are going to do a road show in September, once we have the measures under our belt and we are able to demonstrate that this market is reviving."

Mr. Kuczynski says Peru's economic problems are manageable and that, by implementing measures to be announced by Mr. Toledo in his inaugural address Saturday, the country should recover well. The new finance minister says he expects to restore the country's growth rate, which is now negative, within the first year of the new administration. He also wants to focus on raising the per capita income level, which is no higher today than it was in 1970.

Mr. Kuczynski will present his plan to a forum of international investors in Madrid in September. Spain has taken the lead in offering the incoming Toledo government assistance in reshaping the economy and meeting its goals of creating more jobs and a better life for the people of this South American nation.

Photos by VOA's Greg Flakus