Peru: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's Remarks on Peruvian Presidential Candidates Sets off Diplomatic Conflict
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez raised the ire of the Peruvian government in January with comments on the electoral campaign underway in Peru. Peru's President Alejandro Toledo ordered his ambassador home after Chavez publicly praised and met with nationalist presidential candidate Ollanta Humala of the Partido Nacionalista Peruano (PNP), while attacking Humala's main competitor, Lourdes Flores Nano of the Unidad Nacional (UN) party. Peru alleged that Chavez was "interfering in the internal affairs" of the country, though Toledo later told the press that conflict had been "overcome."
Chavez "salutes" Humala, Toledo withdraws ambassador
Early in January, Chavez said he saluted Humala for his actions in October 2000. "Ollanta recounted to me how...a group of soldiers carried out an act of rebellion in an area where transnational businesses had taken ownership of the wealth of that neighbor nation [Peru]," said Chavez, calling the rebellion a "quijotada," an act worthy of fictional knight Don Quixote. A retired lieutenant-colonel, Humala led a short-lived military uprising of 50 men against former President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) the month before his 10-year government collapsed amid charges of corruption and human rights violations (see NotiSur, 2000-10-06).
Chavez went on to characterize Humala as one of those engaged "in the battle that unites us: nationalism, the rescue of natural resources, the rescue of sovereignty, confronting the threat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), demanding respect for our peoples." Chavez said that shared nationalism was the "savior of sovereignty" against the threat of the Andean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) with the US, which President Toledo's government signed in Washington in December. Chavez also broke out into song with a verse of Peru's national anthem.
"Now, with Evo Morales and Ollanta Humala, we see the indigenous resurgence in recent years," said Chavez, making the comments during a Jan. 4 joint press conference with Morales, then President-elect of Bolivia. Humala and his wife Nadine were in attendance, sitting in the front row when Chavez pointed them out and praised them. Their presence was an unannounced surprise for the Peruvian press.
Peru immediately recalled its ambassador from Venezuela while accusing Chavez of interfering in its internal affairs. "Concerning the declaration made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, which constitutes interference in the internal affairs of Peru, the government of Peru has recalled for consultation its Ambassador Carlos Urrutia," read a statement posted on the Web site of Peru's Foreign Ministry late Jan. 4.
President Toledo said Chavez was "destabilizing" Latin America by interfering in his neighbors' internal affairs, adopting language the US government has been using for years when referring to Venezuela's chief executive and phrasing similar to what Florida Gov. and first brother Jeb Bush would use during a Jan. 20 visit to Peru.
"Chavez is president of Venezuela, not of Latin America," Toledo said in an interview with Radioprogramas in Lima. "He can have all the petrodollars he wants, but that doesn't give him the right to destabilize the region."
Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel reacted to Toledo's comments on Jan. 11 by calling his presidency a failure. "The Venezuelan government doesn't destabilize, but rather stabilizes the region when it attacks social problems," Rangel said in a statement. "Toledo lacks good judgment, and his political opinions are no doubt undermined by the immense failure of his presidency."
Chavez defended his statements, saying, "The president of Peru was bothered. What am I doing? I wanted to get to know [Humala], I want to hear him, and I listened; six hours we talked. He spoke to me of Gen. [Juan] Velasco Alvarado (1968-1975) of the Peruvian national revolution, of the forgotten and abandoned Indians of Peru. …