Take a look at Peru, if you want a sense of what to expect from the set of options on offer by the US political scene. Recently, that Andean country held a presidential election, where the choice was between a neoliberal technocrat and a malevolent right-wing populist. In early June, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former World Bank economist educated in Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School beat Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former president and now-imprisoned Alberto Fujimori, by one-quarter of a percentage point, taking the presidency.
During his 10 years in office, 1990–2000, Fujimori served as a classic free-market strongman, using the country’s war on the Shining Path and law-and-order policies to implement a sweeping program of fiscal and physical torture: privatization; austerity; deregulation of mining; and suspension of constitutional rights. He beat the Shining Path, winning him populist support from marginalized sectors of the population, tired of being betrayed by elite politicians. That support has since transferred to his daughter, who ran a Trump-like anti-establishment campaign that came up short only by a handful of votes.
As Caroline Yezer writes in NACLA (recently revived—everyone should subscribe!), the rightful fear of Fujimori led the Peruvian left, after it had its candidate knocked out in a first round of voting, to put aside whatever concerns they had about PPK and vote the lesser evil:
During the elections, diverse sectors of anti-fujimoristas—students, artists, and human rights activists, as well as civil groups that were targeted by Fujimori’s regime (many of them located far from the Lima center)—organized protest marches that drew tens of thousands to the streets. Together, these groups declared “No to Keiko” in cities across the country. Among the crowds were citizens who were secretly sterilized against their will as part of a population control project targeting poor and indigenous women in the 1990s, as well as groups like Alfombra Roja (Red Carpet), an activist collective that does political performances in public spaces to provoke discussion about reproductive and other rights for women in Peru. These protesters networked through new Facebook groups dedicated to defeating Keiko’s candidacy. And in an unusual bipartisan move, Mendoza’s Frente Amplio party, which had received the early support of many of these groups, even ended up endorsing Kuczynski ahead of the country’s second-round vote, urging members to cast votes for the candidate in order to stop the return of fujimorismo. There is no doubt that Kuczynski would have lost the election without this timely alliance between the left-leaning Frente Amplio and other anti-fujimorista activists across the nation.
PPK won, by little more than 40,000 votes out of 18,000,000 cast. He hasn’t even taken office yet—he will on July 28—but all signs are that he has interpreted his hair’s-breadth victory as a mandate to abandon his tentative coalition with the left to push forward aggressive deregulated growth policies, particularly in Peru’s mining sector.
The president-elect has called for diluting Peru’s hard-won and fairly decent air-quality standards, a measure long sought after by international mining corporations, and has vowed to reopen a poisonous 100-year old smelter, that was shut down in 2009 because of the toxins it was releasing into the atmosphere and drinking water. He’s already sided with Washington against Venezuela and signaled that one of his first acts will be to cut taxes.
Like Hillary Clinton in the United States, Kuczynski is a prototypical member of the trans-American governing class, with deep roots in both the private and public sector and its revolving-door relationship between Washington think tanks, the State Department, and high-level Latin American ministries. In addition to his work with the World Bank, Kuczynski’s Peruvian portfolio in the past included the ministries of the economy and of mines. In the United States, he’s worked with hedge funds, investment banks, and mining companies, including Pegasus Capital Advisors, a private equity investment firm in Greenwich, Connecticut; New York’s Rohatyn Group; an emerging-market hedge fund, International Finance Corporation; and the Pittsburgh-based Halco Mining.
In other words, Kuczynski represents that class shunted aside with the rise of the Latin American left over the last two decades but which is now making a comeback. He’s appointed a cabinet that is an ideal-type representation of inter-American neoliberalism: His finance minister is a former director of JPMorgan Chase; the minister of mining is a financial consultant; and the environmental ministry went to an economist. The labor minister is a businessman and devotee of the free-market ideologue Hernando de Soto. All were educated either in the United States or the United Kingdom and all are reasonable men and women. Kuczynski is so reasonable that he commiserated with Barack Obama about the threat Donald Trump represented to Western Hemisphere “free trade.” If Trump wins in November, Kuczynski joked that he would take a “saw” to US-Peruvian relations and cut them off. Obama and Kuczynski each promised to do all they could to enact the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Peru’s economy is overwhelmingly based on resource extraction (gold, copper, and oil), and there is little hope for a coordinated, hemispheric-wide response to climate change without Lima’s cooperation. Judging from Kuczynski’s cabinet picks and his promise to enact policies to increase resource extraction by 25 percent, labor, community, and environmental struggles around mining and oil will escalate, glaciers will continue to melt, and the Amazon will turn to sludge and ash.
But he’s better than Keiko Fujimori. No doubt.
Meanwhile, back in the United States, we need to stop Donald Trump the way Peruvians stopped Keiko Fujimori. No doubt. Trump, like Fujimori père and fille, represents an existential threat to constitutional democracy. Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker, sums up the need to support Clinton in terms very similar to the Peruvian left’s support of Kuczynski: “Hillary Clinton is an ordinary liberal politician. She has her faults, easily described, often documented…. No reasonable person, no matter how opposed to her politics, can believe for a second that Clinton’s accession to power would be a threat to the Constitution or the continuation of American democracy. No reasonable person can believe that Trump’s accession to power would not be.”
But reason also demands that we be honest about the ways in which the economic dislocation caused by Clintonism (that is, what the rest of the world calls neoliberalism) has set the stage for Donald in the United States, much as it did for Keiko in Peru. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton was an active promoter of increased resource extraction in Latin America, pushing both fracking and the privatization of petroleum production. Were she to win in November, her relationship with Kuczynski would be strong.
Meanwhile, in Peru, the forces of fujimorismo were beat back but not vanquished. Fujimori’s party controls congress, and remains waiting in the wings.