President García rejects 20.3 percent approval rating and says Peruvians aren’t being fair

President Alan Garcia defended his administration Tuesday after a national poll showed frustration with rising food prices and a sense that Peru’s economic boom isn’t reaching the majority of its citizens helped pull his approval rating to 20.3 percent — its lowest point since he took office in July 2006.

“Sometimes the people are unfair with their criticisms, but you must think about how many good things the nation has in comparison to six years ago,” Garcia told Radio Programas radio in a telephone interview. “There is more work, more roads and the construction sector is growing.”

He attributed the people’s “impatience and sense of injustice” to the fact that “when one has a little more, dissatisfaction grows.”

The poll by Peru Market Research and Public Opinion Corporation, or CPI, published Monday, interviewed 1,5000 people in 26 Peruvian cities and rural towns, and had a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points. García’s 20.3 approval rate marked a nearly 12-point drop from May, when his popularity stood at 32.2 percent.

The poll Monday showed that in Peru’s highlands, Garcia’s approval rate hovers around 16 percent, while it registered slightly higher in Lima, at 26.2 percent.

García’s average national public disapproval rate was calculated at 71.8 percent by CPI, but registered at 83.6 percent in southern Peru, where one year ago a magnitude-8 earthquake killed hundreds and left thousands more homeless. His administration has been dogged by constant delays in the reconstruction effort and widespread accusations of government mismanagement and profiteering.

Speaking from Pisco, the town hardest hit by last year’s quake, Garcia on Tuesday rejected the charge that his government has botched the campaign to rebuild Peru’s southern coast.

“There have been public works. What happened here is that Pisco was left virtually razed to the ground,” Garcia said, “and to rebuild a city is difficult. Of course I am not satisfied, but the unfair statement that nothing has been done cannot be accepted.”

He added that the government has invested more than 1 billion soles, or about $400 million, so far this year in the reconstruction effort, and that another 500 million soles will be spent before year’s end.

The most common cited reasons for presidential disapproval were: rising food prices and inflation (43.5 percent), unemployment (5.3 percent), unfulfilled campaign promises (4.7 percent) and a bad economic situation (2.6 percent).

And, in spite of a six-year economic boom with a growth rate inching close to 10 percent a year, 73 percent of people polled said they consider the country’s — which has one of the worst income distributions in Latin America — economic situation as unchanged or worse.

Despite the unprecedented growth, poverty in Peru has fallen only slightly. And because the country’s earnings from mining, exports, and foreign investment have boosted wealth much faster than they have reduced poverty, the majority of the population — hit hard by rising global commodity prices for staples such as rice and oil — has seen little or no benefit from the newly-regained macro-economic stability.

Many highland farmers remain trapped in subsistence farming on small scattered plots, said Efraín González, an economist at Lima’s Catholic University. And whereas 60% of the labor force in Lima are waged workers, only 27% are in Apurímac.

These unwaged people are often more or less cut off from the market economy, contended Richard Webb, a social researcher and former director of Peru’s Central Bank.

More than 39 percent of the total population and two-thirds of the rural indigenous population live below the poverty line. And, according to Peru’s National Statistics and Information Institute, or INEI, in Peru’s poorest department of Huancavelica, the poverty rate climbed from 84 percent to 85 percent, state news agency Andina reported.

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