Poverty Line Divides Peru in Presidential Vote

Many Peruvians voting want a new president who will stop the country\'s economic growth from slipping away.

Published: 10th April 2016 01:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th April 2016 01:57 AM   |  A+A-


Segundina Leandro serves coffee during breakfast of rice and eggs with her husband Francisco at their home in Uchuraccay, Peru. Peruvians head to the ballot box Sunday for general elections. |AP


LIMA: Many Peruvians voting on Sunday want a new president who will stop the country's economic growth from slipping away. But millions never felt that growth in the first place.

Along a hillside ridge in southeastern Lima runs what locals call the "wall of shame."

Topped with loops of barbed wire, it divides the posh Las Casuarinas neighborhood from the hardscrabble district of Pamplona Alta.

The six-mile wall went up five years ago to keep crime away from the big houses, swimming pools and green lawns of Las Casuarinas.

For 7,500 residents on the other side, in dusty shacks without electricity or running water, it just keeps in place the social divisions that fuel crime.

"I was sad when they built the wall. I am not here because I like living in squalor, but because I need a job," said one resident, Amelia Gomero.

She migrated from the north of the country to seek her fortune in the city.

"With that wall, they just remind me that I am poor."

Locals say none of the candidates running for president has been around here meeting voters.

Residents have used the wooden campaign signs with candidates' faces to build walls for their huts.

"Inequality is a critical issue that needs to be resolved in order to return to economic growth," said Armando Mendoza, a researcher for the development charity Oxfam.

"That is something politicians do not understand."

Silver and gold

A fall in commodity prices has hurt the economies of mineral-rich Latin American countries.

Peru has been hit less hard than some. Foreign companies are busy mining its copper, silver and gold, as they have for centuries.

The country enjoyed a boom of six percent annual growth on average from 2006 to 2013.

Growth slowed in 2014 to 2.4 percent then ticked up to 3.26 percent last year -- not enough for some voters, who complain that outgoing President Ollanta Humala has not done enough.

"In the short term, a new president has to achieve growth of four to five percent to regain confidence," said economist Jorge Gonzalez.

"And to meet all of people's expectations, it has to grow seven percent in the long term with structural reforms."

Small companies, estimated by the International Labor Organization to employ 80 percent of Peru's workers, are struggling, particularly in Peru's key textile industry.

Shopping centers sell cheaper clothes made in China.

"Sales have fallen by half. Factories employing 200 people have shut down," says Susana Saldana, owner of a clothing workshop in Lima.

The official unemployment rate is 7.2 percent but that does not measure the situation in rural areas.

When solid growth was the norm, Peru was able to reduce its poverty rate sharply in less than a decade, to 22.7 percent in 2014. But four in 10 Peruvians are still at risk of falling into poverty, according to Oxfam.

Mendoza says this nation of 30 million people -- stretching from coastal desert plains over the soaring Andes to Amazon basin lowlands beyond -- has grown over-reliant on its mineral wealth.

"That generated false confidence. It put the country on autopilot," he said.

"Inequality must not continue to be treated as a secondary issue as if it will solve itself."

Promising a 'decent life'

Candidates wooing Peru's 23 million voters have promised to improve their fortunes.

Conservative front-runner Keiko Fujimori, daughter of disgraced ex president Alberto Fujimori, vowed to "step on the accelerator of growth."

She has promised tax breaks for small-time businesses.

"We will build a network of basic services to give people a decent life," she bellowed at her closing campaign rally.

Polls indicate she will win a third of the vote on Sunday, sending her to a run-off against the second-place candidate.

One of the two vying for that place is Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former Wall Street banker and ex-minister.

He has vowed to create three million jobs by boosting business and growth.

The other contender is left-wing lawmaker Veronika Mendoza.

Closing her campaign, Mendoza vowed "to improve the economic situation for Peruvian families with cheap energy and wages at a level that they deserve."


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