Puno’s regional president pushes referendums for more independence from Peru’s central government

Puno’s regional president appears poised for a new round of confrontation with Peru’s central government after his council passed legislation he hopes to use to hold referendums challenging Peru’s free trade agreement with the United States and questioning the Constitution.

“The population has the right to express itself on political issues and the economy, for example, issues like the Constitution, which the government never consulted the people about,” Hernán Fuentes was quoted saying Wednesday in daily Los Andes. “Are we stuck with this one, or do we want another constitution? The issue of the FTA? The same thing with the issue of autonomy and other vital topics.”

The Regional Council of Puno on Tuesday modified local legislation granting itself authority to put any topic related to regional affairs and development to a popular vote.

The move comes on the heels of a controversial referendum in the Santa Cruz region in neighboring Bolivia, which on Sunday resulted in an 86 percent vote in favor of political autonomy from the central government. Bolivian President Evo Morales deemed the referendum illegal, and accused the United States of fomenting the separatist movement to destabilize his leftist administration.

In Peru, Fuentes’ call for political autonomy from Lima amounts to an ideological mirror image of Santa Cruz, with President Garcia’s pro-market administration depicting him as a pawn of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — Morales’ closest ally in the region.

The new regulation, approved by a majority of councilors, is still to be ratified by Fuentes, but he has made it clear he intends to call for a referendum concerning Puno’s autonomy.

However, seemingly eager to distance himself from the events in Santa Cruz, Fuentes told cable news station Canal N that his objectives are limited to obtaining more autonomy and greater decentralization from the central government in administrative, judicial, financial and legislative matters, and not a clean break from the rest of the country.

Peru’s education minister, José Antonio Chang, condemned the initiative and Fuentes, saying, “It appears that he in the service of a foreign government, and in as much should not be in Peru.” Asked by daily La Republica if he was referring to Venezuela, Chang replied, “Evidently.”

Housing Minister Enrique Cornejo said the government should “defend the unity of the state.”

Fuentes has repeatedly accused Garcia’s government of political persecution against him and earlier this year said he was considering seeking political asylum in Bolivia.

He is a strong supporter of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or ALBA, the network of cultural centers, which many Peruvian lawmakers believe are ideological fronts funded and orchestrated by Chavez to meddle in Peru’s internal affairs and promote a regional revolution.

Víctor Urbiola Garrido, Governor of the Puno region, expressed doubts the Puno referendum could obtain similar results to that of Santa Cruz. He noted that Santa Cruz is a wealthy region, capable of sustaining economic and political activity, and can live without direction or help from Bolivia’s central government in highland La Paz.

Puno, on the other hand, is just recently embarking on a development process and lacks the resources to make it on its own, Uriola told Peru21.

One of the three Puno councilors who cast dissenting votes to reject the initiative, Carlos Baldárrago Abarca, told Radioprogramas radio that the new regulation violates the Law of Regional Governments.

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