Yeah, that's him. Todo el mundo digan "Hola Alberto." Well this man has had a lot of titles: president, expatriate, ex-expatriate, convicted and jailed war criminal (you get the picture). Although, he may soon be getting two new titles: proud first father and ex-convicted and jailed war criminal. That's right, little Keiko's all grown up now, and she's still in the hunt for the presidency down here in Peru, despite being very closely allied to ex-dictator... I mean president, Alberto Fujimori. Keiko has even stated that she does not feel her father is guilty of any crimes and has not refuted any claims that she would attempt to re-try her father, potentially leading to his full and complete pardon.
I know, Keiko, I haven't the foggiest of how this all transpired... well, actually, that's a lie. I know how this happened, and I'll go ahead and tell y'all. But first let's meet Keiko's opponent: Ollanta Humala. Seen here wearing what I can only assume are his pajamas.
Ok, so the Peruvian Democratic process works as follows: there's one round in which almost anyone can run so long as they meet the criteria of being Peruvian, being backed by a party, and having a substantial amount of public support. In this year's first round there were five, more or less, (you ever notice that when you say "more or less" aloud it sounds like "moral-less" ...irony) serious candidates, two of whom were Ollanta and Keiko--yes, we're on first-name bases, what of it? Should no one grab the majority of the votes in the first round i.e. at least 50%, then the election goes to penalty kicks... oh, wait, no that's soccer. Dang it. Well, I guess, there then is a second round for the top two vote-getters from the first round, and here is where we currently find El Peru.
So what qualifies these two to lead this nation?
Well Keiko became first lady of Peru after her father and mother went through a horrifying, public divorce in the early '90s, ultimately culminating in Susana Higuchi, the former Mrs. Fujimori, claiming her husband was stealing millions from the Peruvian public and condoning atrocities committed by the Peruvian Armed Forces. Alberto and his two kids, Keiko and Kenji (by the way, Kenji is now a congressman, Alberto sure knew how to raise 'em) proclaimed Susana to be suffering from a mental illness and dismissed her accusations as the rantings of a mad woman who was just bitter. Ps. it's later revealed that Susana Higuchi was locked in the presidential palace and subjected to electroshock therapy by her husband before he would let her leave and proceed with the divorce. Thus, on the one hand, people support Keiko because she'll reinstate the neoliberal economic policies her father first implemented in the early 90s, which helped bring Peru out of it's worst economic crisis in history; however, on the other, much more intelligent hand (you know, the hand that DIDN'T get blown off during El Conflicto Armado) people are against Keiko because she's seen as her father's one sure-fire ticket outta the joint, and she won't reveal how she was able to afford her ivy league education on her family's modest income and almost no grant or scholarship money. Speaking of which, has anybody ever recovered those millions Alberto Fujimori stole during his reign?
So who's got the pisco sours to challenge this fierce competitor? I've already told you, pay more attention. I'll give you a quick rundown on Ollanta. He's a former military lieutenant who made his name doing two things: serving with honor in the Armed Conflict during the 80s and attempting a coup against the Peruvian President in the late 90s; according to wikipedia, Ollanta was unhappy with the way a certain President Fujimori--hmm, where have I heard that name before?--was proceeding with the country after the end of the war on terror, and thus he and his brother captured the city of Trujillo and kept several politicians as hostages. Can you say drama llama? Long story short, Ollanta is pardoned after his brother takes the rap, he goes into politics, and becomes a disciple of this man:
Ah. It's just not a South American Election until Hugo Chavez shows up, is it? So Ollanta is running on the "down with the imperialism of the godless capitalists from the North" (hi everybody back home) and "let's nationalize E'ERYTHING." Two quick things you should know: 1) Chavez has funded, almost completely, Ollanta's two presidential bids, I should mention that Ollanta ran five years ago and got CRUSHED by Alan Garcia--the same Alan Garcia who had driven the Peruvian economy into the ground in the late 80s. See? Connections, we're making them--and his current bid. 2) While having economic views that would make Fidel cry, Ollanta's social views are actually progressive: he's the only candidate willing to talk about same sex marriage in Peru (stunning when you consider how Roman Catholic this country is), he's stated that he would allow abortions in cases where they seem necessary (for those of you who don't know, abortion is 100% illegal in Peru, again, the Catholic thing), and he wants to redistribute wealth so that Lima and the other major cities aren't the only places where one lives comfortably in Peru.
A head-scratcher, I know, but between these two evils, I think I'm throwing my support behind Ollanta. As they are saying down here "With Ollanta we have doubts, but with Keiko we know what we're getting."
Oh, where was the picture above taken? I'm glad you asked, dear reader. That picture was taken this past weekend when I was visiting Puno. The lake is not the famed Lake Titicaca (go ahead, get your laughs out) but, rather, Lake Umaya, which is actually smaller but still awesome. I'm going to let the video explain most of Puno, but I will give you two quick treats: Puno is located at about 13,000 ft above sea level, and my favorite poet, Carlos Oquendo de Amat (pictured below getting his driver's license picture taken) was born there.
A few quick notes: the first body of water in the video IS Lake Titicaca, we took a boat tour of the lake and visited the human-made floating islands (La Islas Flotantes Uros). Honestly, Puno is too incredible to put into words, or really a video. It's a place where you can still feel the earth breathe like it once did before modernity, and, if you're quiet, the lakes around Puno whisper to you, and even if the language they speak has been forgotten by time, you still listen and try to understand.
Now without further ado, here's Puno in video form (I found a restaurant called Monterrey, just a shout out to my mom and her family):
Two weeks ago, I also left Lima to visit a town called El Carmen and a city called Chincha. Both are known as places with a large concentration of Afro-Peruvian culture and people. Aren't you lucky, you made it through the boring election stuff, and now you get TWO videos:
Finally having the opportunity to travel around the country, I've realized one thing above all else. I'm not studying abroad in Peru, I'm studying abroad in Lima, and that distinction NEEDS to be made. This country has undergone so much centralism in it's history that to proclaim Lima as representative of Peru is like saying New York IS the United States. Certainly, there's a proud history in New York, and I'd recommend it to anyone who wanted to visit, but I would recommend that people see the rest of the country too. As many of you are aware, I took a road trip last summer, and the sights I saw driving from Maine to Seattle were incredible, things you'd never see if you just went to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, etc. While I'm not condemning the coasts--I mean I go to school on the eastest of the East Coast, I think too often people scoff at the so-called "fly-over states" without any real knowledge of them, their people, or their beauty.
Similarly, Limeños scoff at Puneños and Ayacuchenos and Arequipeños and anyone else who isn't from the capital; those people and their lives are ignored until a paramilitary group emerges from within them and starts spreading violence throughout the country side, and, even then, they're ignored until that paramilitary group's violent streak hits Lima. Then, those from the countryside are all condemned as being terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, and thus become victims of violence for which the state is responsible. Finally, when the violence has subsided, those from the countryside gain a bit of recognition for their hardships, and they go to the polls and vote for someone they feel truly represents them and their beloved countryside. Then you get Ollanta Humala vs. Keiko Fujimori for the presidency of Peru.
So the predicament Peru is in isn't that hard to understand, nor for that matter are some of the issues other countries are currently facing. Too often, I think, we go about defining ourselves by negation: Arizona is bad, but at least it's not Mexico, Mexico is bad but at least it's not Iraq, Iraq is bad but at least it's not North Korea, so on and so forth. Though there exists this divide between countries, divides within countries, I feel, are often more dangerous, because they go ignored for so long. Trust me, I'm from Arizona, and most people hear that and think golf, weather, the Grand Canyon, and crazy anit-immigration laws. But how many people who thumb their nose at us have ever actually visited or gotten to know my state? What do they know of our sunset that has more colors than a crayola box? Or driving along the curb after a huge, desert shower just to see how much water you resuscitate from the gutter because our streets drain so poorly? What can they tell me about the reality of living in a place that has deserts one hour to the south and snowy mountains 2 hours to the north? I'm not saying I'm not guilty about making generalizations about most places, I think that's within human nature, but where those generalizations become problematic is when we use them to mark a clear line between US and THEM (East Coast/West Coast, North/South, Western World/Middle East) and we stop seeing the THEM as people who live and think and feel and hurt and hope and desire.
To punctuate this surprisingly long blog post, I'll leave you with a poem written by Carlos Oquendo de Amat because he's better than me at saying a lot of things:
El paisaje salía de tu voz
y las nubes dormían en la yema de tus dedos
De tus ojos cintas de alegría colgaron
Encendieron las hojas de los árboles
En el tren lejano iba sentada
Y el campo volteaba la cara a la ciudad
Oquendo de Amat, Carlos. 5 Metros de poemas. Brooklyn, NY: Lost Literature Series, Ugly Duckling