A change of air, new perspectives

By Eleanor Griffis
Peruvian Times Publisher——–

Susana Villaran will be sworn in as the new mayor of Lima on January 1, on the promises of transparency and inclusion.  The thunder of her win was stolen by the drawn-out counting of observed votes, but in the end the exit polls prevailed.   As she offered in her slogan, hope did indeed conquer fear, but only just.  She won by a hair’s breadth, not the wider margin she held in late September, when the polls showed up to a 10 point lead over her closest contender, Lourdes Flores. 

It was a dirty campaign, with enough lies, slander and manipulation to have demolished any lesser candidate.  And the flack is going to continue.   Newspaper headlines continue decrying the socialist members of her team, and the Apra’s newly appointed presidential candidate, Mercedes Araoz, this week mocked Villaran’s “pompous” maternal surname and upper class schooling in comparison to her own girl-next-door background.

It is a sickening reminder of the demolition tactics that were used against rivals throughout the 10-year Fujimori administration — not just during election seasons — and it is a taste of what is to come in the presidential campaigns. 

Flores also suffered her share of political manipulation, in the shape of illegal phone tapping that was then used unethically on TV.  No point in asking why the conversations were tapped –it seems to be a given among politicians and business leaders – but why the conversations were even released begs pages of speculation.

In the case of Villaran, however, not only bald-faced lies were used — the kind of well-timed accusations that people grasp as stone-carved truth — but a whole machinery was mounted to create fear if not outright panic.  Not only the usual tabloids but even El Comercio — used as scarecrows, in the words of psychologist Jorge Bruce — published op-eds against Villaran after the legal deadline was closed for political commentaries. President Garcia openly supported Flores, so did Cardinal Cipriani, and even former President Toledo, who was once described as a camelid from Harvard by Flores’ father; and economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynsky talked about panic in the international investment markets if Villaran won, although he had to waffle out of that one the following day when pressed for details.

Plus the manipulation —  municipal trucks caught on camera in the wee hours hooking up banners against Villaran onto the expressway bridges; a transport vehicle caught  with printed propaganda against Villaran before dawn on the actual day of the elections. The inordinate number of incorrectly reported voting table results and the snail’s pace of the re-count also led even circumspect analysts to wonder if someone, unsuccessfully, had tried to manipulate the results.

A lot has been in play in this election – not only Flores’ own political future (although her party won 16 districts), but also, for instance, Mayor Luis Castañeda’s presidential prospects next year if his city administration is audited too closely.  Tight-lipped during his entire administration of the city, Castañeda has refused to respond to project financing questions.

The overriding fear of Villaran’s opponents, however, is that if she is successful in these first few months, it could influence people’s choices towards a left-wing candidate in the presidential elections only five months from now.

Regional and municipal governments will be taking over more of the decisions and administration of education and other sectors, as the government continues to decentralize responsibilities.  And this brings the concern that the teacher’s union, Sutep, and the more radical socialists in Villaran’s group will impose their criteria.

In 20 years of free market economy, Lima and the country have boomed. The capital looks prosperous, local governments have money to spend, there’s an ATM machine wherever you need it, and absolutely everyone has a mobile phone. 

But Lima is also a city in which, according to a recent Ipsos Apoyo study, the difference between incomes of the richest and the poorest is 14 to 1 (in industrialized countries, the difference is 6 to 1), and the difference spent between top private schooling and the poorest private/state schools in shanty towns is 24 to 1.     Most probably, the ratio of public services and utilities available is similar.

To make the economic boom sustainable and its effects permanent, the city needs to be approached now from a different perspective, a fresh viewpoint, to raise the standards of the whole city.

Susana Villaran is first and foremost a democrat, and her career proves it.  She worked with Barrantes, Lima’s first socialist mayor, 1984-1987, who was an effective governor and many of his programs still exist today, including the Glass of Milk program.  Her team includes equally forward-looking  professionals, entrepreneurs, architects,  economists and urban planners, people with experience in governance and social projects, with postgraduate degrees from Georgetown, Wisconsin, Paris, Louvain, London, Barcelona, Madrid, Rotterdam,  people who have worked with the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, the UNDP, FAO, and who have held cabinet posts in the central government.  In fact, it’s a while since we’ve seen such a group in city hall.  

Villaran has offered complete transparency in municipal finances and projects, to hold open city council meetings, and to build coordination between all of the mayors of Metropolitan Lima.

Those points alone can bring major changes to the city, and raise an awareness of the advantages of accountability and the right to expect it.  We don’t seem to make much fuss that Francis Allison has been elected again to the district of Magdalena, after being detained last year at Miami airport for not declaring $30,000 of $50,000 in cash that he was carrying, following his links to the Business Track wire-tapping company; that the mayor of Chorrillos, Augusto Miyashiro, is re-elected for a third term with 68% of the vote even though he uses municipal funds for his campaigns, refuses to show development works plans to his constituents and only receives people in his office at 5 am; and that Mayor Castañeda, who had a propensity for secrecy and authoritarian decisions could, without any prior warning, fell 300 trees at 3 am (for the Metropolitana bus route) when neighbors would be too tired and cold to protest.

I would dare to say that a change of air will be a good thing.

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  1. I hope that Mrs. Villaran will be as transparent about municipal finances and projects that are in her agenda. It is ease to make promises but now is time to prove it. The elections are done, it is time to work.

  2. Thank you. An excellent discussion of the issues. We can only hope that any more dirty tricks will be quickly exposed.

  3. This is WAY too emotional for an editorial. Shamefully immature really. Fresh viewpoints? Your rumoring contaminates the future. This editorial serves no purpose but venting the anger in your head, and your paper is not the place for such expressions. Good bye peruvian times, happy to let your finer pointing go with the change of air.

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