56 Race & Class 51(3)
Not surprisingly, the impact of these two successive polemical administrations on public opinion was significant. After Fujimori and Toledo, the appeal of ethno-populism waned considerably. In fact, one could argue that the ideologically fraught presidencies directly contributed to the re-election of Alan García, the once disgraced Peruvian president who billed himself during the campaign as the reformed elder statesman. Despite the rise of pro-indigenous leaders to the presidency in various Latin American countries in recent years, Peruvian voters chose García over the indigenous leader Ollanta Humala, the chosen favourite of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Many viewed the defeat of Humala as a snub to Chavez’s otherwise hold over the region and a resounding assertion of Peruvian sovereignty. During the election, García strategically cast Humala as one of Chavez’s henchmen and a threat to Peruvian security and geopolitical legitimacy. Upon being voted into office, García remarked, Peruvians ‘had defeated the efforts by Chavez to integrate the country into his militaristic and backwards expansion project he intends to impose over South America. Today, we said no.’29
Still, the choice of García was, in many ways, surprising. Whereas other parts of Latin America, namely Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, have witnessed a wave of Left-leaning pro-indigenous activism with its attendant critique of neoliberalism, Peruvians chose to distinguish themselves by holding fast to free market ideology. While Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela argue that the free market perpetuates racial and class inequalities, in Peru, politicians like Fujimori and Toledo have argued the opposite. For them, the market was the means to overcome hierarchies of race and class. Both individuals personified the promise of an unregulated market accessible to all, regardless of cultural identity. This potential, however, was never realised. Indeed, faith in freemarket dynamics has not only failed to ease racial tension but has actually intensified the economic crisis. To be fair, since early 2009, Peru’s export industry – and García’s approval rating – has improved. But instability is everywhere. Recent economic growth was fuelled by high prices for the country’s exports and a corresponding rise in domestic demand yet the current global crisis threatens to undermine any economic recovery based largely on foreign investment. More problematic, such market fragility also threatens to expose the inextricable link of free-market economics to social inequality. Many Peruvians continue to complain that seven years of economic expansion have yet to trickle down to the poor and that the cultural divide between the small ruling minority of Europeanising elites and the Andean majority is larger still.
Unlike Bolivia and Ecuador, a unified indigenous movement in response to these concerns has not yet been achieved in Peru. Some scholars point to the decimation of indigenous groups by the Shining Path in the 1980s, others highlight the geographical isolation of the indigenous Andes from the coastal centre of state power, and still others claim that the concept of an urban Indian, a critical aspect of theorising indigenismo in Bolivia and Ecuador, is lacking in Peru.30 Recent developments, however, suggest that the tide may be turning. On 7 April