Analysts Question Humala’s Possible Change in Resolving Conflicts

Expectations that President Ollanta Humala’s new cabinet will take a strong stand against protesters of mining and energy projects could backfire on the government, said political analyst Santiago Pedraglio.

Humala, a 49-year-old former army officer, replaced more than half of his 19-member cabinet on Sunday in what many analysts say was largely due to disagreements on how to resolve protests against Newmont Mining’s $4.8 billion Minas Conga project.

The shuffle included the resignation of Humala’s cabinet chief and close ally since 2004, businessman Salomon Lerner Ghitis, who was replaced by Interior Minister Oscar Valdes.

Valdes,  a retired military officer who taught Humala in the 1980s at the Chorrillos military academy, was closely involved during the negotiations with Cajamarca’s regional leaders led by Lerner Ghitis but reportedly took a harder line against the protests and fully backed Humala’s announcement of a state-of-emergency to quell the demonstrations.  Lerner Ghitis had not been informed of the decision and found out about the state of emergency during negotiations in Cajamarca.

Ex-President Alejandro Toledo, whose Peru Posible party had a loose alliance with Humala’s government, said the agreement with Humala has been called off. Toledo raised concerns that Humala’s new cabinet represented a shift towards the “militarization” of the government.

Valdes and other cabinet members reject that claim, saying they will continue dialogue with protest leaders and that the new cabinet is intended to improve unity following disagreements between previous officials.

While much of the business community supports Humala’s new cabinet, some analysts question whether the strong hand approach will be able to quell protests.

“In our view the promotion of Valdes, who had been Interior Minister, would appear to indicate that the government will be less willing to negotiate with rural communities, and quicker to use authoritarian tactics to break up what is a growing number of protests,” said a spokesman at the Lima stock brokerage firm, Celfin Capital.

“What could happen is that the strong hand could work and we are going to see what the consequences are for the country. I hope that it is not grave or catastrophic,” Pedraglio said during an interview with Ideeleradio. “But also what could happen is that the strong hand becomes weaker and doesn’t work, that at the end of seven or eight months it deteriorates so much that there needs to be another change.”

“I think that this strong stance could boomerang,” he added.

According to Celfin, the policy could result in “more action, and less dialogue, which in our view may not necessarily mean success.”

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