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Peru's Toledo Faces Challenges


The government of Peru's president-elect, Alejandro Toledo, has left the fanfare of the past weekend's inauguration behind and is into its first week of work. After the turmoil of last year, Peru's 25 million people are looking for a period of both political and economic stability. But, President Toledo may have little time to spare in meeting this challenge.

During his campaign and in his inaugural address last Saturday, Alejandro Toledo made clear his prime objective was to attack the problem of poverty in Peru.

President Toledo says he is fully committed to dedicating every minute of his life and his government to a full-scale war on poverty.

But the weapons on hand for this attack are limited and the problem is huge. The government's own statistics show that 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 4.5 million people live in extreme poverty. One out of every four Peruvian children under the age of five is chronically malnourished.

To make matters worse, Peru's economy is in recession and the government is burdened by commitments to international lenders.

The political scene is fairly calm for the moment, but the turmoil of last year has not been fully left behind. From his self-imposed exile in Japan, former President Alberto Fujimori snipes at the new government from his web site - energizing his supporters back here in Peru.

From his office, with a balcony overlooking Lima's main plaza, Caretas Magazine Publisher Enrique Zileri surveys the difficulties ahead for President Toledo and his team. "This is a government that is going to have big problems, in the beginning," he says. "It has been promising a lot. All candidates in the last elections promised a lot. Now is the time to get into the bullring and the bull comes out and let us see how you handle the situation."

Mr. Zileri says part of the problem is there was an eight-month gap between the time when President Alberto Fujimori left Peru, under a cloud of corruption charges, and the start of the Toledo Administration. He says the interim government's success has set the public's expectations for President Toledo even higher. "He is going to have a very short honeymoon because part of his honeymoon has been eaten up by the transition government," says Mr. Zileri, " the government that took power when Fujimori left, or fled, and this transitional government, miraculously, handled the situation beautifully and it comes out in glory."

Mr. Zileri says that, to some extent, President Toledo will now be judged in comparison to the interim government that preceded him, rather than to the discredited Fujimori government.

Mr. Fujimori is now viewed as a villain by many Peruvians, but Mr. Zileri notes that not all of his ten years in office was marked by corruption and failure. He says Mr. Fujimori's main achievement was defeating the vicious insurgent group known as the Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path. This Maoist group recruited thousands of poor Indian peasants during the 1970's and 1980's and was responsible for bombings in Lima, as well as murders throughout the countryside. Now that both the Fujimori government and the Peruvian military have been tainted by scandal, there is fear that radical elements could see an opportunity to rise again. Enrique Zileri says the breeding ground for such insurgency is found in the poverty and desperation prevalent in Peru's rural areas. "The elements for a new Shining Path have not disappeared in this country," he says. "You have a tremendous amount of unemployment. The social ingredients for an insurgency are still here. This is the thing we have to fight, the basis of the whole possibility of violence. The basis for these things are social and economic and the drug-running and so forth. The best way to deal with them, in the long run, is through democratic solutions."

Mr. Zileri says the Fujimori government succeeded in defeating insurgent groups militarily, but it became autocratic and corrupt over time. He says President Toledo must attack poverty and injustice, but that is not all. He says the president must make clear that there is no alternative to the peaceful, democratic process in Peru and that no attempts to undermine it will be tolerated.

Photos by Greg Flakus