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SCOTT JAGOW: This is a year of elections in Latin America and on one ballot after another, candidates promising radical changes are winning. This weekend, Peru’s in the spotlight. Voters have two of those protest candidates to choose from. But here’s the thing: Peru is actually doing quite well. So why do people want a change? From the Americas Desk at WLRN, here’s Dan Grech.
DAN GRECH: Peru’s economy’s on a tear. Last year growth topped six percent and inflation stayed low. This year the economy’s forecast to grow another five percent. And Peru’s mining sector, driven by demand from China, has become a global powerhouse.
Professor Carol Wise from the University of Southern California is a specialist on the Peruvian economy.
CAROL WISE: If you look at the numbers on Peru, it has been a star.
But she says the country’s economy has an Achilles heel. 54 percent of its population live on less than $2 a day. Wise says there’s a clamor for change among Peru’s poor.
WISE: They’ve pretty much had enough of peddling in place and not really experiencing the kind of social mobility that you see with, for example, Peruvian mining executives that are in cahoots with the Chileans or the Australians and are driving their BMWs around.
In Latin America, and everywhere really, economic growth and political popularity usually go hand in hand. Not so for Peru’s outgoing president Alejandro Toledo. He’s an economist who’s kept a steady hand on the economic tiller. But politically, after 5 years in office, he’s deeply unpopular.
Michael Shifter is with the Washington-based think tank, the Inter American Dialogue.
MICHAEL SHIFTER: Peruvians thought there was a real opportunity to make progress on a whole range of reforms. And that really hasn’t happened. That’s why you have the two candidates that you have in the final round.
One candidate, Ollanta Humala, is a left wing populist, a former general who led a coup in 2000.He wants to nationalize the mines to spread more of that natural wealth to the poor.
The other hopeful, Alan Garcia, isa€¦ well, he’s a left wing populist too, a former president whose free spending bankrupted the country two decades ago. Garcia says he’ll hit mining companies with a windfall tax and spend that money on social programs.
Stephen Johnson is a Latin American specialist with the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
STEPHEN JOHNSON: People don’t feel that they’re really part of the economic engine that is driving Peru right now. And they’re looking for somebody who will talk for them and be the man on horseback who will come into town and bark some orders and shoot some bad guys and take up their cause.
On Sunday, voters will choose between the lurch to the left advocated by Humala and the nudge offered by Garcia.
Whoever wins will have to accommodate expectations of Peru’s poor, yet keep on board the business class so crucial to economic prosperity.
I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.