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Indian Support Helps Peru’s Humala Advance

April 11, 2006

AYACUCHO, Peru (AP) _ Resentment of the European-descended elite that has ruled Peru for more than four centuries runs deep in this provincial city up in the Andes mountains.

So does support for retired army Lt. Col. Ollanta Humala, the nationalist candidate who leveraged the rancor Peru’s poor majority feels for its ruling class into a first-place finish in Sunday’s presidential election, assuring himself a spot in a runoff.

``The people here in the interior of the country, the humble people, are behind him more so than for those other parties that are in favor of the rich,″ Luis de la Cruz, a hardware shop owner.

Among the mostly Quechua-speaking inhabitants of Ayacucho and surrounding state, Humala’s support neared 60 percent, with more than 70 percent of the region’s votes counted.

His next closest rival in Ayacucho state was Lourdes Flores, a pro-business former congresswoman, with 11 percent.

Flores was vying for second place in a too-close-to-call race with Alan Garcia, a center-leftist former president, according to official results with just over 76 percent of the vote counted.

A victory by Humala, who had 29.8 percent of the vote, could tilt this Andean nation leftward, though how exactly and by what means are looming questions.

Humala has said he would respect private property and civil liberties but promises to oust what he’s called a ``fascist dictatorship of the economically powerful.″

Peru’s middle and upper classes are generally terrified by Humala, a former military man who appears cut from the same cloth as Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s militantly anti-U.S. president.

Flores and Garcia, by contrast, generally support the free-market policies that have generated economic growth averaging 5.5 percent the past four years.

The lower classes complain that that growth has not made a significant dent in a poverty level that hovers just above 50 percent.

Here in the Ayacucho region and along Peru’s Andean highland spine, where the petticoated Indian women with their felt hats are postcard-pretty to tourists, campesinos eke out livings growing corn and potatoes and producing colorful tapestries, clay sculptures and other artisan crafts.

``Ayacucho is still the most sensitive department in Peru. The poorest people are here,″ said Urbano Munoz, a 37-year-old university professor in Ayacucho.

It matters little to them that Humala grew up in the middle class in the capital, Lima, the Pacific coast 205 miles away.

``The people feel defrauded by successive governments and in general by the political class and Ollanta is capitalizing on all this discontent and frustration,″ said Munoz.

It’s a situation not unlike the one that helped Evo Morales, a coca growers’ union leader, win the presidency in December in bordering Bolivia.

Humala’s father, Isaac, is a retired Marxist lawyer who was born in the Ayacucho region and graced his son with a Quechua name that means ``warrior who sees all.″

Ollanta Humala ``doesn’t think he’s superior to us,″ said 23-year-old Jessica Fernandez Quispe, who sells bread in a market. ``He doesn’t make promises he won’t keep.″

Isaac Humala is the founder of ethnocacerism, a racist movement named after a 19th-century president, Andres Avelino Caceres. It is rooted in a concept of ethnic vindication for Peru’s indigenous descendants of the Inca Empire against their lighter-skinned oppressors.

Ollanta Humala insists he does not share his father’s racist ideology, but there’s little question he has benefited from it.

``He has not needed to champion the racist preaching of his father and his brothers because people see him anyway as someone who is going to put the whites in their place,″ said Jorge Bruce, a psychoanalyst and respected social commentator in Lima, where nearly one in three of Peru’s 27 million people live and where Flores dominated Sunday’s vote.

Ruben Gomez, head of Humala’s regional campaign in Ayacucho, reluctantly acknowledged that Humala’s physical appearance is a powerful draw.

``He is like us, like an average person,″ Gomez said. ``That is the great difference, as opposed to the other politicians who come with neckties, they have another physical look, perhaps that greatly influences how the population sees the candidates.″

By contrast, Humala has worn T-shirts and jeans during campaigning.

And in a now-famous photo of Humala, taken during the campaign, he is dressed as Pachakutek, the storied Inca warrior king who expanded that nation’s empire to its widest in pre-Columbian times.

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