Hugo Chavez will have to regroup: his candidate for President of Peru has apparently lost. But his candidate's loss in this election does not preclude that candidate from winning in the next election, as the victor does not inspire confidence for Peru's economy.
Former President Alan Garcia defeated an ex-army nationalist in Peru's runoff election on Sunday, a stunning comeback for a politician whose first term ended in economic ruin and rebel violence.
Garcia's victory was a blow to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who had endorsed his rival Ollanta Humala, a political upstart deemed dangerous to democracy by many Peruvians.
Part of Garcia's strategy was to campaign against Chavez:
Garcia, 57, adroitly turned the race into a referendum on the Chavez factor, depicting Humala as an aspiring despot who would fall into lockstep with the Venezuelan's populist economics and Cuba-friendly anti-Americanism.
He labeled Chavez, who is rolling in petrodollars from record-high oil prices, as "a midget dictator with a big wallet." Chavez in turn called Garcia "a genuine thief, a demagogue, a liar."
While a positive result in many ways -- it is always good news when a dictator is disappointed -- Garcia does not encourage optimism for Peru's economic future:
Garcia knew that the raging inflation, widespread corruption and rebel violence that marked his first term would give many Peruvians pause. But he said he was determined not to repeat his mistakes.
"I want our party this time to demonstrate to the Peruvian people, who have called it to the highest responsibilities, that it will not convert the state into booty," he said in his speech Sunday night at the headquarters of his Aprista party.
Tens of thousands of party members landed state jobs while Garcia was president. He left office in disgrace in 1990 and two years later fled into exile after his successor Alberto Fujimori shut down Congress and tried to arrest him. He returned to Peru in early 2001 after the Supreme Court ruled that the statute of limitations on corruption charges against him had expired.
It is the Garcia's prior administration that gives pause. Economic chaos accompanied by political corruption is fertile ground for a far Left demagogue. In fact, it appears that in Latin America such conditions are a precursor to left-wing dictatorship.
As I suggested here, Chavez's advantage is that he never need face his populace. A setback that might drive another politician from office is to a tyrant merely an opportunity to regroup. Peru has been denied him, but Bolivia is quickly becoming his satellite. This election has not cured the world of Chavez.