Saturday, June 10, 2006

Peru: Alvaro Vargas Llosa On Peruvian Election

Interesting essay here.

Many countries are experiencing a revival of pernicious ideologies that try to pit the indigenous population against what they decry as the false values of the Western civilization that has been a part of this hemisphere since the 16th century. Nowhere is this struggle more acute than in the Andes, with its strong indigenous roots, and to some extent in Mexico. Venezuela and Bolivia have already taken the anti-Western path, Ecuador could follow and Peru is torn between those who want to be a part of -- and to enrich -- a liberal democracy and market economy, and those who resent them. In Colombia, President Alvaro Uribe is a solitary bulwark against this Andean trend.

Behind the ethnic fracture is an ideological scam. Anyone who has traveled in the Andes understands that Indians and mestizos want to own property, to trade, to cooperate peacefully and, yes, to practice their many rich customs -- just like anyone else. They do not want a caudillo expropriating every aspect of their lives in the name of liberation. But indigenismo, the fraudulent ideology whose roots lie in decrepit European social utopias, has cleverly manipulated people who have a justified frustration with a liberal democracy that has not delivered the goods. So potential caudillos such as Humala have become powerful social symbols.

I would clarify this a bit. The biggest indigenous social movements in the Andes were not imposed from above; they started at the grassroots level reflecting long-held grievances that had been under the surface for decades (and centuries). The timing was crucial, after the democratic opening and the failure of traditional political parties and labor unions in the 80's.

Vargas Llosa is right, some foreign ideologues and NGO's did influence the direction and language of these movements. This imported ideology super-imposed itself upon pre-existing tendencies; many in Bolivia's movement came from a strong syndicalist tradition. It is a sometimes uneasy combination of old Left dogma, anti-globalization rhetoric, and post-modern ethnocentrism, nationalism, and Indigenous pride. Just how contradictory this heady brew is, was on display in Bolivia during Chavez recent speech to a largely indigenous crowd: they were not moved in the least by constant references to Bolivar - whom they do not view as a "liberator." But, to win votes, you do not have to sell a whole ideology, only say what you are "against" - neo-liberalism, corruption, exploitation of indigenous peoples, multi-nationals.

In the 1960s, American historian Carroll Quigley explained in ``The Evolution of Civilizations'' that decadence starts when social arrangements that serve social needs turn into institutions that serve their own needs.

That, precisely, is part of Latin America's plight. The disconnect between official institutions and social needs -- the legacy of too many caudillos and the absence of the rule of law -- has thrown many people into the hands of leaders who espouse nationalist ideologies. The challenge is to heal the rift, not to widen it as Humala was planning to do.

That is the challenge, it is a matter of bringing home the bacon.