Peru's Political and Institutional Agenda: A Conversation with the Speaker of Congress
By Tim Heine
February 21, 2013
In a testament to the Peru’s economic boom, a recent report
from the Getúlio Vargas Foundation and Munich University ranked the country the
best in the region for business climate. Yet despite its economic success, Peru
faces many challenges common throughout Latin America: dependence on commodity
exports, social imbalances, poor education system, distrust in institutions, and
a lack of indigenous political representation.
At a roundtable discussion held at the Inter-American
Dialogue on February 21, Victor Isla Rojas, president of the Peruvian congress,
and Cynthia McClintock, professor of political science at George Washington
University, addressed these challenges.
“We live in a country of total distrust; to restore it is
our country’s biggest challenge,” said Isla Rojas when diagnosing the most
pressing issue in Peruvian democracy. McClintock posited that Peru, the
youngest Latin American democracy, scores lowest in the region for citizen
approval of institutions like Congress and the Supreme Court. This deep-rooted
resentment of the political establishment, says Isla Rojas, has been generated
by a track record of politicians that “don’t deliver.” As such, “cheap talk”
must be abolished to rebuild trust in institutions. The panelists both praised President
Ollanta Humala, whose election was initially regarded with suspicion in 2011. Many
feared anti-business policies could dry out foreign investment and hamper the
country’s growth prospects McClintock asserted that the president’s
recent reforms to implement social programs and a minimum salary were steps in
the right direction, and Isla Rojas stated the president “does what needs to be
done” regarding social inclusion.
A pressing challenge is to translate economic growth into
social progress. As Isla Rojas depicted the situation in his country, “We
received record sums in foreign direct investment but local communities still
suffer.” In order to pay a “historic debt” to the marginalized countryside,
infrastructure and state presence must become policy priorities. A lack of
these basic necessities has given rise to drug trafficking, fueled remnants of the
Shining Path insurgency, and increased everyday crime.
Reconciling sustained growth with environmental concerns and
indigenous traditions of land use is another priority, according to the
panelists. Isla Rojas argued that the implementation of the “prior consultation”
law – which stipulates that companies must consult with indigenous communities
before beginning extractive projects – reflects the lessons learned from the “Baguazo”,
a violent clash of indigenous protesters and state forces that caused more than
50 fatalities in 2009. However, it remains to be seen whether the new law will
be a panacea that can reconcile extractive industries with the goals and
desires of local communities.
On the international agenda, Isla highlighted the importance
of continuing Peru’s integration into the global economy. In order to achieve
this goal, he emphasized the Pacific Alliance – a commitment to common
political ideals and the reduction economic barriers between Chile, Colombia,
Peru and Mexico – that would create a market of more than 200 million consumers.
He also highlighted “Becas 18,” a
scholarship intended to educate a new generation of “global citizens” by
funding study abroad programs.