Peru’s presidential election this week could be a critical moment in the battle against neoliberalism across Latin America.
This second round is a runoff between the right wing Keiko Fujimori and populist Ollanta Humala.
Keiko Fujimori is the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, who ruled Peru as a dictator for the whole of the 1990s. He brought in a fierce programme of neoliberal policies. And he led the brutal suppression of the insurgency by the Maoist Shining Path.
Ollanta Humala, on the other hand, is backed by large sections of the labour movement and organisations of the rural poor. His manifesto speaks of the growing gap between rich and poor in Peru.
The vast majority of Peru’s media has backed Fujimori over Humala. It has even said that Humala’s campaign is funded by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, without providing any evidence.
Humala comes from a long tradition of nationalist Latin American leaders who have strong ties to the military but seek public office by taking on some of the demands of the poor.
In the 2006 election his manifesto struck a chord with the downtrodden majority. Despite losing the contest by a small margin, he managed to build a base of support.
Since then, though, he has toned down his rhetoric to appeal to the middle class.
He recently swore on the bible to make no changes to the current constitution—brought in during Alberto Fujimori’s dictatorship and designed to give the markets free rein.
Sections of the middle class fear that Humala’s victory would unleash social forces demanding far more than he is promising.
Their fears should not be dismissed out of hand.
The working class and indigenous groups have become more militant in recent months.
A creative and popular campaign across Peru against Fujimori has caught the imagination of many young Peruvians.
There is clear potential for the creation of a revolutionary and anti-capitalist movement.
But relying on the election of a popular leader is a danger.
Humala may be elected on the basis of his respect for democracy, despite the paranoid ravings of the capitalist press.
The way forward, though, can been seen in the successful campaign against privatisation by sugar workers who recently struck and occupied a large plaza in central Lima for 100 days.
It is this kind of action that can really start to bring about the change needed in a country where healthcare is denied to 40 percent of the population.