Peru’s Garcia says he’s changed his ways


Peru’s controversial ex-president Alan Garcia told a jubilant crowd of supporters he had learned his lesson the hard way and would not repeat his past mistakes if given a second chance in the upcoming elections. “We have the experience of our first government. The country knows we are able to recognize our mistakes … and to make our apologies,” Garcia, 51, told a crowd of about 25,000 people who packed a Lima square Wednesday.

Critics say Garcia ran the country to the ground during his 1985 to 1990 government. When the now ousted and also discredited Alberto Fujimori took over the presidency in 1990, he inherited a moribund economy, four-digit inflation and a country besieged by powerful leftist insurgences.

Garcia also was accused of corruption, and only returned from nine years of self-imposed exile in January after the charges lapsed.

A golden-tongued orator, Garcia told Wednesday’s rally he was confident he would force a run-off against frontrunner Alejandro Toledo, but his supporters roared that his victory would already come in Sunday’s balloting.

Opinion polls put Garcia in third position, a few points behind conservative Lourdes Flores, although political analysts say he could still overtake her in the coming days.

Mudslinging between the two leading candidates has played into the hands of Garcia, who has made a point of campaigning on a platform of political rather than personal issues.

The charismatic politician played up his rivals’ unpopular personal battles in a roundabout way at Wednesday’s gathering.

“I salute my rivals,” he said, praising Toledo for having stood up to Fujimori’s authoritarian government, and Flores for promoting the cause of women.

But, he added, “today more than ever the people expect from its politicians a demonstration of serenity, responsibility and dignity.”

A populist running for the social-democratic American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), Garcia reiterated his pledges of job creation, cheap credit, higher salaries and better use of the country’s agricultural and industrial potential.

He promised to end what he said was he unrestrained neo-liberalism of Fujimori, saying his government would step in to fulfill the needs the free market did not cover.

Leonides Silva, an enthusiastic supporter at the rally, said he believed Garcia would deliver.”I’m convinced he is now the best man to lead this country, because he has acquired experience the hard way and has learned what should not be done again,” said Silva, a 31-year-old law student.

On Thursday Garcia was due to head to northern Peru and conclude his campaigning in the city of Trujillo, his longtime stronghold.

Toledo, for his part was scheduled to hold his final rally in Lima and Flores was to address a gathering in Arequipa, 1,000 kilometers south of Lima.

By law, Thursday is the last day on which electoral rallies may be held.

Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court on Wednesday reversed a ban on exit polls that was adopted to avoid a repeat of the chaos caused last year when initial projections turned out to be incorrect.