Garcia Win in Peru a Loss for Venezuela's Chavez

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Peruvian voters elected leftist leader Alan Garcia to a five- year term on Sunday, returning the former president to office 16 years after his first stint.

It is a tough defeat for Ollanta Humala, the populist candidate who won the first round less than two months ago. But it is also a blow to Venezuelan leader and US nemesis Hugo Chavez, who openly backed Mr. Humala.

In his election-night address, Mr. Garcia said the result is "a defeat for the expansionist efforts of [Mr. Chavez]. Peru's democracy said 'no' to him."

Garcia's "rhetorical challenges to Hugo Chavez are very welcome to a US government that would very much like allies in the region against Chavez," says Cynthia McClintock, a professor at George Washington University in Washington and specialist on Peru.

In his final campaign swing, Garcia offered to lead a regional alliance to contain Chavez, saying that it is time for the region to stand up to his "petrodollars and imperialism." He envisions a center-left bloc with the leaders of Brazil, Chile, and other nations as a response to a more radical left-wing option pushed by Chavez and Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Chavez's brand of left-wing populism has won over newly elected Bolivian Presi- dent Evo Morales, who recently moved to nationalize his country's gas industry, and is rolling out plans for land reform similar to those Chavez has implemented in Venezuela. Hoping for a similar result in Peru, Chavez backed Humala.

But this support backfired when Garcia, knowing that Chavez enjoys little sympathy in Peru - only 13 percent of Peruvians have a favorable opinion of Chavez in polls - seized on the opportunity and began portraying Humala as a Chavez puppet.

Chavez is also actively backing Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega's presidential bid in Nicaragua.

It remains to be seen whether Chavez's support will help or hurt Mr. Ortega, but there is evidence Chavez has harmed populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's chances in Mexico's July 2 presidential election. Analysts in Mexico credit a negative ad campaign comparing Lopez Obrador to Chavez with a sharp drop in Lopez Obrador's poll numbers last month. Until then, he had been holding a comfortable lead.

But Garcia will most likely have to forget about Chavez while getting ready to take office on July 28. He will soon have to make good on a list of promises while steering clear of the populist measures that doomed his first presidency in the 1980s.

"We have to have an impact within the first few months in office. If not, we will lose the support of the population," says Enrique Cornejo, principal economic adviser to Garcia and his APRA party.

Garcia's come-from-behind victory in the runoff caps a long road to political rehabilitation that began when he left office in 1990 with only 7 percent support after presiding over what was by all accounts one of the worst administrations in modern Peruvian history. …