Latin America: Coca-Friendly Candidate Wins First Round of Peru Presidential Election 4/14/06

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Ollanta Humala, a former army officer turned populist and indigenist who says he wants to legalize the coca crop, has won the first round of Peru's presidential election. Under Peruvian electoral law, if no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates will compete in a run-off.

With 80% of the votes counted late Monday, Humala was leading with 29.9% of the vote, while former President Alain Garcia and conservative congresswoman Lourdes Flores were battling for second place. Garcia had 24.9% of the vote, and Flores had 24.8%, with minor candidates accounting for the rest.

In pre-election polls, Flores led Humala in a potential head-to-head vote, 55% to 45%, but Humala led Garcia by a like margin. Still, even if Flores wins second-place, the strength of the vote for Garcia, whose positions on most issues are closer to Humala's, suggests that Humala could rally to defeat her.

A Humala victory would be a blow to the Bush administration and US drug policy in the region. Humala was endorsed by Washington bete noire Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and embraces the pro-coca policies of newly elected indigenous Bolivian President Evo Morales. Humala said during the campaign that he would legalize the coca crop and seek to develop its commercial application in products such as soft drinks and gum. At one point during the campaign, he even suggested mixing coca with flour to make coca bread for school children.

With Peruvian coca production on the rise and coca grower unions flexing their muscles, US-backed forced eradication programs would most likely be doomed. Nor can Washington be happy with the prospect of another radical indigenous populist taking the reins of power in the regime. But sometimes you reap what you sow.

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Issue #431 -- 4/14/06

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