Peru’s Alan García would like to be president for a third term

With all eyes on Peru, as the Andean country hosts the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, Leaders’ Summit this weekend, President Alan García said he wants to run for a third term.

Headlines heralding García’s comments to daily El Comercio are enough to make most Peruvians anxiously shudder or  hold their breath, conjuring unpleasant memories of now-jailed ex-President Alberto Fujimori’s constitutionally dubious run for a consecutive third term in a rigged election eight years ago.

But García, 59, a leftist turned free trade advocate who presided over a disastrous 1985-1990 government, isn’t interested in violating Peru’s now-sacrosanct ban on consecutive presidential terms when his current administration ends in 2011. Rather, his musing about mounting another bid for office wouldn’t be until 2016.

García won the presidency for a second time in 2006 by defeating nationalist Ollanta Humala, a firey nationalist who inspired fears he would lead Peru down the road of Venezuelan-style socialism.

“It’s up to the Divine Providence to decide,” said García, in the exclusive interview with El Comercio. “But of course, I would like to be president of Peru for a third time. And when I see people who want to stick spokes in my wheels, I say: ‘ do just the same as the last time, and I’ll be back even quicker.’”

“Naturally… I am ready for the Inquisition,” he said. “I am a man dedicated to Peru, and have no where else to live.”

In 1985, García, 36, was swept into the presidency, obtaining a majority in Congress. Dubbed the “Latin American Kennedy” his first term began on a high note, as he raided the nation’s reserves for social spending, creating a false sense of prosperity soon dissipated into national despair amid four-digit inflation, rampant corruption and a Maoist Shining Path guerrilla insurgency.

Fujimori, a practically unknown university rector, was swept into office in a surprise second-round victory over Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. He went on to be loved and despised by Peruvians in equal measure during the 1990s for leading an authoritarian government that on the one hand defeated the guerrillas and returned economic stability, but on the other ran roughshod over Peru’s democracy, crushing political dissent an openly persecuting opponents.

García fled into an eight-year exile in 1992 after Fujimori sent troops to his house, allegedly with orders to kill him.

“If I would have stayed (in Peru) and fought hard, I am sure that — I think — it would have made things much more difficult for the dictatorship,” García said of Fujimori’s iron-fisted regime. “That’s why they had to take me out.”

García returned from years in self-imposed exile after Fujimori’s government crumbled in November 2000, and ran for a second term a year later, losing to ex-President Alejandro Toledo in the 2001 election.

In 2006, by combining promises of loosened credit for the poor, lower utility prices and interest rate cuts, he narrowly won the 2006 presidential election, winning the support of the business community in a run-off against Humala.

During his 2006 election campaign, Garcia assured Peru’s business sector that he would not repeat the leftist populist policies of his 1985-90 presidency — a promise he has kept.

True to his word, Garcia has been a free market maverick, following through with the free trade agreement with Washington, negotiated by his predecessor, Toledo, signing other free trade pacts with Canada and Singapore, and pursuing free trade deals with China,  the European Union and even Peru’s neighbor and traditional rival, Chile.

But Garcia has also faced a backlash for his 180-degree turnaround from his socialist roots, evidenced by approval ratings that have plummeted below 20 percent in national polls.

“We are complainers that have been badly educated by paradigms like that of Atahualpa, who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for rescue,” said García, referring to the Inca ruler captured and murdered by Spanish Conquistadores in 1532, despite making good on payment of a ransom of tons of gold. “So, we have been accustomed to believing that we are a defeated country.”

Over the past few months, García has faced nationwide mass protests against his political and economic policies and renewed cases of government corruption. In October, thousands of Peruvians marched on Congress to demand the ouster of his Cabinet, three days after his administration was rocked by an oil concession kickback scandal.

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