Op-Ed by Eleanor Griffis≈
Last night, three journalists were having a high time mocking the enthusiasm of Peru’s First Lady, Nadine Heredia, when she stood last week next to the President and other Peruvian officials at the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange.
They thought she was too enthusiastic, her smile too broad, that the only one who really had the right to be grinning should be Finance Minister Luis Miguel Castilla.
It’s true that these three men —Augusto Alvarez Rodrich, Correo editor Pedro Tenorio, and Fernando Rospigliosi— tend to mock everyone, but it’s so often just downright pettiness.
They’re not the first, or the only ones. Even former President Alan Garcia likes to jab at Nadine once in a while.
It’s quite commonplace to bash her now, just as it has been to bash Lima mayor Susana Villaran or former President Toledo’s wife, Eliane Karp.
Urban planner and commentator Augusto Ortiz de Zevallos calls it bullying but nobody else has come out to label it.
Susana has been bashed because she is a socialist and she is honest, a real bummer for the corruption networks that have operated the city transport and market systems for decades.
In the case of Eliane, it’s her French accent and her general disdain of Limeños, and her defense (admittedly bitter and often angry) of the people of “deepest Peru.”
In Nadine’s case, I can only think it is sour grapes.
I like her.
Her smile is genuine, her make-up and hair are natural, she is petite and naturally slim, she doesn’t have an inch of extra fat anywhere, she can walk six blocks of poorly asphalted streets in seven-inch heels without a wince, her jewelry and clothes are always in the less-is-more category, and she looks just as great in a pair of jeans as she does in a silk suit or cocktail dress. On top of all that, she is clear-headed, has a sharp mind, studied communications and sociology at the Universidad de Lima, and has a doctorate in political science from the University of Paris-Sorbonne. And she is the mother of three young children. Talk about having it all.
In fact, she is very typical of many Peruvian women who are dynamic and proud wives and mothers, and who are also surgeons, dentists, chemists, biologists, engineers, military officers and businesswomen. They see no problem with baking like their grandmothers did and also being a first class career woman.
Of course, part of Nadine’s problem is that everyone fell in love with her —even the opposition, let alone the Gana Peru party members, were enthusiastically suggesting she could be the next President only weeks after Ollanta Humala was sworn in. We had never had a First Lady quite like her before: young, savvy but not cynical, and she has the common touch in an Andean village just as easily as she hobnobs with the Hillary Clintons, Mick Jaggers and UN chiefs of this world.
She appeared to be the best thing since the Peruvian version of sliced bread.
And that has rattled a few cages. Alan Garcia and Keiko Fujimori for starters. Although Nadine has said she is not running for President in 2016*, they cannot even really afford to have her around as competition for 2021. So out come the daggers and the guns, and the mockery.
Nadine is undoubtedly one tough cookie, co-founding the political party that led her husband to become President, and being his closest advisor in most things —during the presidential campaign and during his first year as President, as he met the world’s leaders— she was right next to him, advising, reminding, filling in the details. She is said to sit in on cabinet meetings, she has been accused of sometimes laying down the law in Executive decisions, choosing cabinet ministers.
And the President doesn’t seem to have a problem with that, which is very unusual in Peruvian politics. In fact, he openly admires his wife.
This is a President and First Lady who obviously have a good thing going in their marriage. They are friends, companions, there is no competition, they share ideas and looks with each other, and those are things that cannot be faked. They are a team.
What a contrast to the man-and-wife relationships in the Government Palace over the past 20-plus years.
Young Alan Garcia during his first administration in the late 1980s was notorious for his infidelity, and it was common knowledge —or so “they” said— that his Argentine-born wife, Pilar Nores, had tried to leave the country on at least two occasions but was cajoled and entreated by party leaders to get off the plane and remain for the good of the nation. By the time his second administration rolled around in 2006, Pilar had been reunited with him but only made an occasional appearance when required. Garcia’s final stroke came when at a palace press conference, with Pilar standing nobly but unsmiling at his side, he announced that he had a 20-month old son out of wedlock, his sixth child, and that he had “the satisfaction of having the understanding and moral support of my wife, that proves to me and proves to the whole country her dignity, her condition of mother and condition of lady.”
President Alberto Fujimori and his wife Susana Higuchi were new to politics and to power in 1990, at least beyond the field of academia. After a year in the presidency and unable to stop the corrupt shenanigans by her in-laws through a charity they had set up, Susana went to the press to claim that clothing donated in Japan for poor Peruvians was being sorted and sold for personal profit by the Fujimoris. And for that, she paid dearly — Susana was locked into the palace, then she was locked out (she came back to the palace after an official tea to find the doors were locked against her), and later she was allegedly tortured in the intelligence quarters with electric shocks to her head.
President Toledo would never send his wife off to be brain-washed, but his roving eye is notorious and just before he was elected to the presidency he was widely reported to have gone AWOL, on a bender of booze and women that didn’t do much to the start of his administration and must have surely humiliated his wife, left to invent reasons for his disappearance to the swarms of salivating press. Also, unlike Garcia, who was only 20 months late to confess, one of the deepest nails in Toledo’s public trust rating was his refusal for a long time to recognize he had a teenage daughter born out of wedlock.
Ever since the quiet intellectual team of President Fernando Belaunde and his wife Violeta Correa left the administration in 1985, Ollanta and Nadine Humala are the closest thing to normal —or maybe the closest thing to ideal would be more accurate— that we’ve had in the government for over 25 years.
In a country in desperate need of mentors and good examples, why are women’s and family organizations, and even the Church, not using Nadine Heredia and the husband and wife team of Ollanta and Nadine as examples of what is possible?
We ought to be celebrating, not bashing.
*By law, the wife or relatives of an incumbent cannot run for president in the immediate following term, but Nadine’s critics have said she would have the law repealed.