Focal Points Blog

New Peruvian President Humala’s First Challenge: a Polarized Peru

Cross-posted from the Tumblr site Peru Elections 2011.

With Ollanta Humala the virtual winner of Peru’s presidential elections, it is time to think about the very real challenges he faces as he prepares to take office on July 28, 2011.

Before analyzing the real policy and governance challenges facing Humala, we thought it important to examine an immediate challenge he faces: the need to calm the waters in Peru after a deeply polarizing political process that pitted his nationalist proposals against the more conservative program of Keiko Fujimori. It is important to remember that Humala and Fujimori were the two candidates that generated the highest degree of rejection among Peruvian voters on the eve of the first-round elections. In the second round, then, many voters found themselves forced to choose between the “lesser of two evils.” This resulted in a sharp and polarizing political process, which endured a grueling two months between the first and second rounds.

The polarization rippled through Peruvian society. Families were divided over which candidate to support. One middle-class lawyer told us that she supported Humala because she was vehemently opposed to a return to fujimorismo, but that the rest of her family supported Fujimori, and they implored her not to publish negative stories about Fujimori on her Facebook page. When she refused, her brother refused to speak to her.

More worrisome, the race and class-based divisions that are such a remarkable feature of Peruvian society came to the fore with a virulence not seen since the height of the internal armed conflict in Peru. This was seen in the media, with remarks with racist undertones or even overt racism were heard frequently. Aldo Mariategui, the director of the right-wing daily Correo, wrote in his column on the day before the elections warning that Humala would be a dangerous choice for Peru and implored his fellow citizens to vote for Fujimori in sharp, denigrating tones, “Peruvian, don’t be stupid at the voting booth tomorrow.” Fernando Szyszlo, the famous Peruvian painter, said that Peruvians faced an impossible choice in Sunday’s electoral contest. A triumph of Ollanta Humala, he said, “would be the triumph of the uneducated, of the ignorant, of those who do not know what is good for the country.” If Fujimori triumphed, he said, it would be “a victory for the corrupt.”

Peruvians concerned at the tone of racist remarks created a Facebook page called Democratic Shame in which people could denounce such behavior. Over 7,000 people have joined the page and have shared offensive remarks they have received or observed in the course of the campaign. One post read: “Shitty Indians!!! Only they could be so ignorant!!!” Another said: “Shitty Puneños… Die of cold, now let Ollanta send you clothes!” (Many people from Puno, especially children, have died due to extreme cold weather in Puno in recent years, and there have been frequent charity campaigns to prevent more deaths.) Ollanta Humala’s Facebook page was frequently intervened with racist comments and posts, also posted on Democratic Shame’s Facebook page. After the first-round vote, one Facebook user posted [sic]: “Shitty Indian, renounce your candidacy” while another said, in allusion to Humala’s supporters, “Son of a bitch, no one wants you, people who vote for people like you have know idea of what would happen if you become president, they are ignorant just like you…”

Peru is undoubtedly a society marked by deep racism. This was noted by Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which identified long-standing racism and exclusion as the root cause of the violence that devastated Peru in the 1980s and part of the 1990s. The current climate of polarization is deeply informed by this racism and by the classism that accompanies it. Humala has promised a government of national unity that brings together the country’s diverse democratic sectors and that is open to the participation of Peruvian civil society. This is an important step in the right direction, but tackling the underlying classism and racism that reared its ugly head in this electoral process will require much more than that.

Israel’s Atonal September Song

Dagan Netanyahu(Pictured: Meir Dagan and Benjamin Netanyahu in happier times.)

As is its tendency — simultaneously sober to a fault and arrogant — the New York Times affixed an unprepossessing headline, A Former Spy Chief Questions the Judgment of Israeli Leaders, to a story which was, in fact, astonishing. Ethan Bronner writes that Mossad’s former chief Meir Dagan

. . . contends that Israel’s top leaders lack judgment and that the anticipated pressures of international isolation as the Palestinians campaign for statehood could lead to rash decisions — like an airstrike on Iran.

The former intelligence chief, Meir Dagan. . . . made headlines a few weeks ago when he asserted . . . that a military attack on Iran would be “a stupid idea.” This week Mr. Dagan . . . said that attacking Iran “would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program.” . . . Mr. Dagan went on to complain that Israel had failed to put forward a peace initiative with the Palestinians and that it had foolishly ignored the Saudi peace initiative promising full diplomatic relations in exchange for a return to the 1967 border lines. He worried that Israel would soon be pushed into a corner.

Dagan also expressed

. . . his belief that his retirement and the retirement of other top security chiefs had taken away a necessary alternative voice in decision making. In recent months, the military chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, and the director of the Shin Bet internal security agency, Yuval Diskin, have also stepped down. . . . “I decided to speak out because when I was in office, Diskin, Ashkenazi and I could block any dangerous adventure,” he was quoted as saying. “Now I am afraid that there is no one to stop Bibi and Barak. ” . . . This concern was backed by a former Mossad official, Gad Shimron. . . . : “The leadership makes fiery statements, we stepped on the brakes, we are no longer there and we don’t know what will happen.”

Meanwhile Ari Shavit of Haaretz told Bronner

“Dagan is really worried about September,” . . . referring to the month when the Palestinians are expected to ask the United Nations General Assembly to recognize their state within the 1967 border lines. The resolution is expected to pass and to bring new forms of international pressure on Israel. “He is afraid that Israel’s isolation will cause its leaders to take reckless action against Iran,” he said.

Netanyahu and Barak’s insulation in their echo chamber parallels Israel’s increasing isolation in the world and region.

Meanwhile, with respect to Iran, it behooves the West to heed former U.S. diplomat Thomas Pickering told Seymour Hersh for his recent New Yorker article:

Get off your no-enrichment policy, which is getting you nowhere. Stop your covert activities. Give the Iranians a sign that you’re not pursuing regime change. Instead, the Iranians see continued threats, sanctions, and covert operations.

Alberto Fujimori’s Future Inextricably Linked With That of Peru’s Democracy

Cross-posted from the Tumblr site Peru Elections 2011.

On April 7, 2009 former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was convicted for human rights violations in three cases: the Barrios Altos massacre, the forced disappearance of nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University, and the kidnappings of journalist Gustavo Gorriti and Samuel Dyer.

The legal proceedings against Fujimori demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that he was the key architect of a state plan to eliminate suspected subversives and opponents of his regime. He was sentenced to the maximum penalty in Peruvian law, 25 years.

The verdict was ratified on December 30, 2009 by a tribunal comprised of five Supreme Court justices. This was the final appeal, and the ratification means that Fujimori’s sentence of 25 years is firm and not subject to further appeal.

The Fujimori trial and sentence are regarded by Peruvian and international jurists, scholars and human rights observers as fair and impartial, and impeccable in guaranteeing and respecting the defendant’s due process rights. The Washington Office on Latin America organized several international missions to observe the trial and can attest to this directly.

Moreover, the guilty verdict against Fujimori has been hailed by international legal scholars such as Kai Ambos and Juan Mendez as a milestone in global justice efforts to end impunity and guarantee accountability for crimes against humanity such as forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and torture.

Fujimori did not question the impartiality of the judges nor did he impugn the proceedings against him while they were taking place. However, after the first sentence was ratified in December 2009, Fujimori and his allies launched a political and legal strategy to question the legitimacy of the verdict. This is because for the political project of fujimorismo, the release of Alberto Fujimori is an essential objective. Given the history of fujimorismo, especially its manipulation of the Judiciary and its trampling on democratic institutions to achieve its objectives, there is major concern among democracy and human rights activists that Fujimori could be freed using questionable methods.

There are two avenues by which Fujimori’s supporters have sought to have their leader released.

The first is via a presidential pardon. Since the initial verdict was handed down the question of whether or not the current president, Alan Garcia, would pardon Fujimori (presumably in exchange for a future promise of protection from prosecution for human rights violations committed during his first government) or whether his daughter, should she be elected president in 2011, would pardon her father. From the day of his conviction, Keiko Fujimori repeatedly stated that her “hand would not tremble” to pardon her father.

However, there are significant problems with this avenue. Peruvian law prohibits pardons from being granted to those convicted of aggravated kidnapping, as was the case with Fujimori. International law prohibits pardons from being granted to those convicted of crimes against humanity; the judges clearly stated in their verdict that the crimes of aggravated homicide, assault and kidnapping of which they found Fujimori guilty are crimes against humanity in international law.

Moreover, it would be costly politically to grant Fujimori a presidential pardon. The vast majority of Peruvians now believe Fujimori was guilty of these and other crimes, the Fujimori sentence is viewed positively by two-thirds of the Peruvian population. It is perhaps for this reason that Keiko Fujimori has recently pledged not to pardon her father if elected. Her change of heart may be related to her faith that a second avenue to freeing her father is still available: a legal strategy that seeks ultimately to overturn the Fujimori conviction. To this end, Fujimori’s lawyers have submitted no less than 17 writs of habeas corpus to Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal (TC).

The TC has agreed to hear at least one of these writs of habeas corpus, but has stated that it would wait until after the presidential elections to emit its ruling. This habeas corpus essentially challenges a ruling that denied Fujimori’s petition alleging that the Supreme Court judges named to review his appeal of the April 2009 verdict were not impartial and requesting their removal from the case. Human rights lawyers note that while the TC has handed down very important rulings in the years since Peru’s democratic transition in 2000-2001 that established important human rights jurisprudence in Peru, in recent years it has handed down several rulings that move away from some of this jurisprudence that represent a backsliding in efforts to combat impunity (for example in 2010 the TC ruled that crimes it had previously considered crimes against humanity, in which no statutes of limitations can apply, were in fact simple crimes and that statutes of limitation did apply).

If the TC were to accept the argument outlined in the writ of habeas corpus, it would amount to a revocation of the ratification of the original sentence, and a new trial would be held that could lead to Fujimori’s exoneration, or to a different sentence that could facilitate a presidential pardon. WOLA and its partners in Peru are deeply concerned at such a prospect, which is especially likely should Keiko Fujimori be elected president of Peru this Sunday.

Should this comes to pass, not only is it highly likely that Alberto Fujimori will be freed; it is also probable that Vladimiro Montesinos, along with other members of the Fujimori regime currently serving prison time for corruption, drug and arms trafficking, and human rights violations will also be set free, and that a general amnesty will be put in place effectively ending attempts to achieve accountability for human rights violations committed in the context of Peru’s internal armed conflict. Such an outcome clearly puts Peru’s fragile democracy at risk. It would likely generate political and social discontent and instability, which could elicit the kind of repression and authoritarian practices of the Fujimori years that Peruvians have fought so hard so overcome.

New IDF Chief Makes No Bones About His Intention to Over-react to Palestinian Demonstrations

In response to Palestinian demonstrations on Israel’s borders last month, and the upcoming 2nd Gaza Freedom Flotilla later this month, the IDF’s new Chief of Staff Benny Gantz outlined the actions the IDF will take against such demonstrations from here on out:

The spectrum of the threats, in light of the changes in the Middle East, has broadened significantly – from daggers to nuclear weapons. There is a focal player in the Middle East – the street – and it is clear to us that in the coming months we can find ourselves in broad popular demonstrations, which gain public resonance. The IDF is preparing for these demonstrations.

Gantz discussed the implications of the fall of Mubarak in Egypt as well, and addressed security concerns regarding Lebanon and Syria.

For this reason, we will act with great fire power and full force at the very beginning of the confrontation. Anything the camera can stand or could stand in the first three days of fighting – it will not be prepared to put up with thereafter.

Gantz’s statements were collaborated by reporting from Ynet News and Electronic Intifada. The full text of the IDF Chief of Staff’s statement on the response to mass demonstrations is available in Hebrew and in English.

“Israel, it would seem, like other regimes in the region, knows of no other way to respond to people demonstrating for their legitimate rights than to shoot at them,” commented Electronic Intifada. Ynet News reported Gantz as saying that “the next conflict will be brief but intense.

Further Nabka demonstrations are currently being planned in Israel’s Arab neighbors.

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Yet Again the U.S. Backs the Forces of Repression in an Americas Presidential Race

Cross-posted from the Tumblr site Peru Elections 2011.

With less than a week to go before Sunday’s vote, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega, presented a report to the Peruvian government purporting to document Venezuelan government support for the campaign of presidential contender Ollanta Humala. According to Noriega, “We have a very sensitive source in Venezuela who says that Humala receives money, possibly from the Venezuelan Embassy in Lima, where cash is sent by military plane from La Paz (Bolivia), and from there across the border that is controlled by military attaches of the Venezuelan embassy in Lima.” In an interview with Univision, Noriega claims that “sources” in Venezuela have told him that Venezuelan military officers delivered cash for the campaign, but that he won’t release the report or the names of his sources so as to not put them in jeopardy. A high-level Peruvian government official told Univision that the report provided no proof of the allegations.

That Noriega sees Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as a threatening enemy is no secret. (Assistant Secretary from 2003 to 2005, Noriega was replaced by a career diplomat in large part for having driven U.S.-Venezuelan relations to the breaking point.) Yet somehow, despite his obvious enmity for Chávez, Noriega claims to have internal sources that have provided him with this information. Also highly questionable is his timing, which certainly appears to be intended to give Humala’s opponent, Keiko Fujimori, a boost before Sunday’s vote. Ironically, Noriega was given an award by the government of former President Alejandro Toledo for his work (then as a top aide to then-U.S. Senator Jesse Helms) for his efforts to bring an end to the Fujimori dictatorship of the 1990s. (Now that he is working to put another Fujimori back in the presidential palace, he should have the decency to return the award.)

Such meddling in the electoral politics of Latin American countries was commonplace during previous administrations, though it sometimes backfired. In 2002, Evo Morales came very close to winning the presidency (which he then assumed in 2006) after statements against him by the U.S. Ambassador, Manual Rocha, caused his popularity to jump significantly. To its credit, since assuming office, the Obama administration has refrained from public interventions in electoral politics. According to a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, “The United States supports the democratic process, including elections that are free, fair, and transparent, and looks forward to learning the outcome of Peru’s presidential race. The Peruvian people will choose the next president of Peru. Regardless of who is elected, the United States looks forward to continuing its strong bilateral relationship with Peru.”

Behind the scenes, however, the U.S. Ambassador to Peru, Rose Likins, is evidently playing a very different role. As reported in a previous blog, she has openly expressed support for Keiko Fujimori’s candidacy in private meetings, including with a group of human rights activists where she actually attempted to defend Keiko Fujimori’s human rights credentials. According to journalist Gustavo Gorriti, “The U.S. Embassy strongly opposes Humala’s candidacy.” Like Noriega, Ambassador Likins no doubt fears another progressive government in South America joining the ranks of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela – all countries more willing to stand up to entrenched economic interests and the United States.

It is certainly true that Peruvian President Alan Garcia is now one the few consistent U.S. allies in the region. If Keiko Fujimori wins the elections on Sunday, it would be logical to assume that she would continue to play that role. However, it would be a mistake for the U.S. government to simply put Humala in the Chávez box. As reported previously – and despite Noriega’s claims to the contrary – Humala has sought to distance himself from Chávez, presenting himself instead as a more moderate candidate in the mold of the highly popular Lula in Brazil. Moreover, during the second round Humala has broadened his political support to include a range of progressive and moderate Peruvians. In short, if Humala were to win Sunday’s elections, it would behoove the U.S. government to reach out and try to work with him, rather than ending up in yet another situation of tense bilateral relations.

As is often the case in Washington, the official memory is short-lived. In the 1990s, the U.S. government was a key international actor in responding to human rights violations and the steady dismantling of democratic institutions in Peru. Developments there were seen as a direct threat to the democratic advances across the region and hence a threat to the U.S. government’s interest in promoting stable, democratic governments. Since then the U.S. voice has largely subsided. But a return to Fujimorismo in Peru would necessitate far more attention from the U.S. Congress and the Obama administration. Whoever wins Sunday’s vote, the U.S. government should be vigilant with regards to issues related to democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Peru and should work with its Latin American neighbors to ensure that the hard-fought gains of the last decade are not rolled back.

Finally, U.S. officials should not overlook the fact that a significant percentage of the population supports Humala – particularly in the southern and central parts of the country – which underscores the need address the countries’ real and deep inequities. While Peru has had impressive economic growth over the last decade, the levels of inequality have only improved slightly. Clearly, far too many Peruvians continue to suffer from extreme poverty, lack of opportunities for meaningful employment and a poor quality of life overall. If measures are not taken to address these issues – measures that go beyond food handouts – then the problems that Peru faces today will continue to grow larger, including social conflict and violence. Rejecting Humala as the “Chávez candidate” may be politically expedient for some, but negates the important role he has played in bringing the issue of inequality and poverty into the political debate.

France Seeks to Act (Operative Word) as Israel-Palestine Peace Broker

Sarkozy Juppe(Pictured: France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppé and President Nicolas Sarkozy.)

“The status quo cannot be maintained, things need to get moving… if there is a single chance, it must be grabbed,” declared French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé to Le Monde before departing for a diplomatic trip to Israel and the West Bank with the goal of relaunching the peace process. After a layover in Rome where he met with PLO Chair-President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, he flew to Ramallah to speak with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and met Benyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Juppé was hoping to convince each party to come back to the negotiation table at a conference to be held in Paris before the end of July.

The conference was originally planned as a meeting of potential donors to the state of Palestine, but France now wants to expand the scope of the event to a resumption of peace talks toward the two-state solution. “We are convinced that if nothing happens before September, the situation will be very difficult for everybody at the UN General Assembly,” Juppé said on Thursday, referring to Mahmoud Abbas’s plan to request international recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and admission as a full member of the United Nations at the September assembly.

The negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization broke down last Fall. Netanyahu’s conditions for their resumption include Abbas’ break of relations with Hamas and the recognition of Israel as the nation of the Jewish people, while Abbas is requesting the immediate freeze of the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. However, Juppé believes that grounds have shifted significantly enough to hope to revive the process; according to him, the context of the Arab Spring, the Fatah/Hamas reconciliation and Obama’s acknowledgment of the 1967 borders are factors that have the potential to create a new opportunity to resume discussions.

The French Foreign Minister further echoed Nicolas Sarkozy’s previous statement that France would be ready to “take on its responsibilities” at the UN General Assembly in September, a “strong message,” according to Juppé. The innuendo is most likely to be interpreted as a decision for France to recognize the state of Palestine, an option that Sarkozy has already declared to be considering “in consultation with [France’s] European partners;'” yet his preference lies in a resumption of peace talks, which would prevent France from taking such a critical foreign policy decision.

Juppé’s trip fits into Sarkozy’s increasingly prominent will to see France play a larger role in the Israel-Palestine peace process. “Americans won’t succeed on their own,” he said in an interview in May. But while France is attempting to present itself as an alternative mediator, it is evident that its position does not differ from the United States’ in any significant way. In opposition to the U.S., Alain Juppé welcomed the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas as a “positive development.” The demarcation, however, stops there.

Indeed, Juppé specified that were the proposed Paris peace conference to take place, it would proceed according to the roadmap President Obama recently outlined. Phyllis Bennis and FPIF senior analyst Stephen Zunes have vehemently emphasized the flaws of Obama’s line. “President Obama identified the principles of U.S. diplomacy and Israeli demands as the ‘foundation for negotiations.’ But he is wrong. The only foundation that will work is that of international law and human rights,” writes Bennis.

Juppé further follows in the US footsteps by maintaining a rhetoric which revolves around the security of Israel first and foremost, with no mention for Palestinians’ security. His recent statement that “We must drive Hamas to evolve in the direction we are hoping for, which means renouncing violence and recognizing the state of Israel” is representative of the usual double-standard though which demands are made of Palestinians but not of Israelis: Juppé is not demanding that the members of Israel’s government who refuse to recognize Palestine do so, nor is he denouncing Israel’s crimes against Palestinians. Juppé conveniently chooses to push back the issues of refugees and Jerusalem to the following year, focusing only on the issues of borders and land swaps.

When, in a recent radio interview, Juppé was faced with a journalist who questioned France’s potential to be heard, he answered, “Who is heard these days, can you tell me?” implying that the international community was powerless at large to influence the situation. Yet his assessment is incorrect in the case of the United States: it is not that Obama is not heard, it is that he does not speak up. In a recent interview, Phyllis Bennis explained how the U.S. has failed to put proper pressure on Israel: “We never saw real pressure, what we saw from the US president Obama was a series of requests: ‘Please stop expanding settlements!’ Israel said no, the US continued to request, Israel continued to say no and the US stopped requesting. Real pressure would have meant that when Israel said no, that the US said ‘all that 30 billion dollars we’re paying you in military aid over these ten years, you can kiss that goodbye.'”

France’s leverage is much more limited, revolving primarily around its position as president of the G8 and G20 and the potential moral impact that its recognition of the state of Palestine would have at the next UN General Assembly. Whether or not Israel and Palestine come to the table that is offered to them in Paris, it is unlikely that a safe, secure and sovereign Palestinian state might result from the process as long as the United States do not use their own extraordinary leverage to push Israel to respect human rights and international law.

Taking Drones to Their Logical Conclusion: Nuclearize Them!

While the military has no plans to decommission the Stealth bomber or even the B-52 (already 59 years old), both of which are capable of carrying nuclear weapons, it is planning the Stealth’s successor. At the Los Angeles Times, W.J. Hennigan reports.

The military’s top weapons buyer [Ashton Carter] quietly visited . . . leading aerospace executives about plans to build a fleet of radar-evading bombers that the military hopes to have ready for action by the mid-2020s. . . . Now on the Pentagon wish list is a proposed fleet of 80 to 100 nuclear-capable bombers that could operate with or without a pilot in the cockpit.

Although the article focused on the cost and possible use of the “black budget,” the hook for commentators was the pilotless angle. In other words, nuclear bombs could be delivered by drones. Hey, at least we don’t have to worry about any more flight crews with cases of post-traumatic stress disorder that can only be measured in megatons!

Israel’s Demand to be Recognized the Nation-State of One People a Non-Starter

New at Right Web, it begins:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s newest tactic in advancing the Likud Party’s hawkish approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is his demand, first enunciated in his response to Barack Obama’s June 2009 Cairo Speech and now an ubiquitous talking point, that Israel be recognized by the Palestinians and other adversaries as either “the nation-state of the Jewish people” or “the national home of the Jewish people.” This demand is unprecedented in the history of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and the United States has, to its credit, rejected the framing. Indeed, how could such a concept—that a nation-state belongs not necessarily to its own citizens or even an exclusive subset of its citizens, but to an abstract if not fictitious transnational entity—serve as a principle of international law?

In the wake of Obama’s May 2011 speech on Middle East policy and Netanyahu’s exaggerated response to it, this precondition requires additional scrutiny because of its growing prevalence in hawkish discourse on the so-called peace process. The demand to grant official recognition to the Jewish nationalist narrative is now a regular neoconservative talking point, particularly at Commentary magazine’s “Contentions” blog. It has also been adopted by Obama administration allies like J Street, which seems to invoke the slogans of Jewish “nationhood” in order to remain kosher in the eyes of the American Jewish establishment.[1]

Origins and Opposition

Israel has always held that it is a state not merely of its own people but a transnational entity called “the Jewish people.” In his June 2010 book, The Invention of the Jewish People, the Israeli historian Shlomo Sand chronicled how this concept was created in the nationalist ferment of nineteenth century Europe and owes more to the historic doctrines of modern nationalism than to historical Judaism. Sand provocatively begins his book by illustrating that as far as the Israeli government is concerned, there is no such nationality as “Israeli”—only the universal “Jewish.”

To read the rest of the article, visit Right Web.

Israel’s Madrassas

Schools in which religious fundamentalism are central to the curriculum have always existed. In the United States today, the education of Christian fundamentalists’ children is devalued by the teaching of “subjects” such as creationism. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the religious schools known as madrassas focus on teaching the Koran to the exclusion of preparing children for the modern world. But that’s the least of it. In a recent post at Focal Points, Michael Busch explains.

It’s hardly a secret that rich Saudi Arabians, including those running the government, have used their considerable oil wealth to spread political and ideological influence throughout the world. . . . In an astonishing [WikiLeaks] cable published by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, however, it would seem that significant sums of Saudi money are fostering religious radicalism in previously moderate regions of Pakistan. . . . Bryan Hunt, then-principal officer at the US consulate in Lahore, reported a string of troubling findings on his forays into southern Punjab, where he “was repeatedly told that a sophisticated jihadi recruitment network had been developed.”

The network reportedly exploited worsening poverty in these areas of the province to recruit children into the divisions’ growing . . . madrassa network from which they were indoctrinated into jihadi philosophy, deployed to regional training/indoctrination centers, and ultimately sent to terrorist training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). . . .

These madrassas are generally in isolated areas and are kept small enough (under 100 students) so as not to draw significant attention. At these madrassas, children are denied contact with the outside world and taught sectarian extremism, hatred for non-Muslims, and anti-Western/anti-Pakistan government philosophy. . . . From there, “graduates” of the madrassas are supposedly either retained as teachers for the next generation of recruits, or are sent to a sort-of postgraduate school for jihadi training.

That includes “martyrdom,” a.k.a., becoming a suicide bomber.

Meanwhile, it may surprise you to know that Israel has its own form of madrassa. At Foreign Affairs, Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation writes that:

. . . the Haredi [ultra-orthodox] population has grown . . . from 3 percent of the population in 1990 to over 10 percent today. . . . One notable phenomenon in the past decade and a half has been the rapid expansion of the state-funded but independent education system established by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. . . . In many provincial Israeli towns and neighborhoods, Shas schools have come to trump the state-school system in the provision of certain services, such as transportation and hot meals. . . . Over the past 20 years, the number of Jewish primary school students enrolled at ultra-Orthodox schools has grown from just over seven percent to more than 28 percent.

This trend has great implications for Israeli society and its economy: the Shas system and other ultra-Orthodox schools teach a narrowly religious curriculum that is less geared to providing pupils the skills necessary to compete in a modern economy.

At least they can claim that they’re not producing suicide bombers. In the end, though when the state fails to provide a good education or other services, theocrats rush in where the state no longer treads.

Turning His Back on Chavez, Peru Presidential Candidate Humala Invokes Lula Instead

Ollanta HumalaThe Peru Presidential Election Finalists, Part 2: Ollanta Humala

Cross-posted from the Tumblr site Peru Elections 2011.

After having come close to winning the Peruvian presidential elections in 2006, Ollanta Humala will once again compete in the final round of voting this Sunday, June 5 to determine who will be Peru’s next president; this time however, the outcome is far less certain than was the case the last time around when he faced Alan Garcia. While Keiko Fujimori maintains a slight lead over Humala, the most recent polls have the candidates in a statistical dead heat, with less than one percentage point difference between them. If this trend remains unaltered on election day, then quick counts may not be able to discern a clear winner, and official results could be delayed for two weeks or more. This could escalate the existing climate of polarization that is a notable feature of this drawn-out electoral process.

Both candidates have evoked strong negative reactions from sectors of the electorate. With less than a week to go, the percentage of voters who say that they would never vote for either candidate is very high, at 40 percent for Humala and 39 percent for Keiko (though this is down significantly from the first round, when 50 percent or more said they would not vote for either candidate). While many believe that Keiko Fujimori’s candidacy represents a return to fujimorismo of the 1990s—characterized by the dismantling of democratic institutions, human rights violations, massive corruption, and impunity—for others Humala’s candidacy has evoked fears of the emergence of another Hugo Chávez-style government that could subvert democracy and transform Peru’s economic “success story” into an economic ruin.

Yet the Ollanta Humala of 2011 is presenting a quite different image from the Humala who nearly defeated Alan García in 2006. Humala has sought to distance himself from Chávez, presenting himself instead as a more moderate candidate in the mold of the highly popular former Brazilian president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. Indeed, when Chávez spoke out about the first round of voting, Humala asked him not to intervene in Peruvian politics. And while the press has spread rumors of Venezuelan campaign contributions, no evidence of such support has been found.

More importantly, since the first round of voting Humala has broadened his team of advisers to include a range of progressive and moderate Peruvians, such as economists Danny Schydlowsky and Javier Iguiniz, jurist Fransico Eguiguren and others. The new technical team has produced a consensus document that reflects the broadened political coalition, which lays out a government program oriented towards improving Peru’s vastly unequal income distribution while respecting the free market economic model, promises to make the Peruvian state more transparent and to root out corruption, and that guarantees respect for democracy and human rights. Most importantly, the new plan offers a government of concertacion nacional, or a government of national unity.

Critics claim that this is a ploy to appeal to moderate voters, but that once in office, Humala will revert to his radical, leftist ways of the past. However, others believe that Humala’s conversion is genuine —and that there will be significant popular pressure on him to abide by his campaign promises. This includes Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, who had famously said, prior to Peru’s first-round vote, that if the election were to come down to a decision between Humala and Fujimori, it would be like having to choose between AIDS and terminal cancer. Days after the first-round vote, however, Vargas Llosa came out in favor of Humala. He has since published articles and made several statements reiterating his reasons for this decision, among them the need to prevent the return of the Fujimori-Montesinos mafia, which he argues would occur should Keiko Fujimori be elected president.

When pressed in a recent interview about his support for Humala, Vargas Llosa said: “Humala today is surrounded by many more democratic individuals than those seeking a socialist revolution…If he wins the elections it will be because he has the support of an important sector of democratic, liberal Peruvians, like myself.”

Other prominent Peruvian intellectuals have made similar pronouncements, from writers to artists to academics, like Vargas Llosa, in support of Humala and insisting on the need to prevent a return of fujimorismo. Perhaps the most important endorsement this past week came from former President Alejandro Toledo. As Toledo led the battle against the Fujimori dictatorship in the 2000 elections, many political observers assumed he would, like others, back Humala in the final stage of the campaign. Toledo held out, however, until May 26 when he announced that his party “has decided to support, without any ambiguities, the candidate of Ollanta Humala.” That same day, Pedro Pablo Kuczysnki, not surprisingly, announced his support for Keiko Fujimori.

Even human rights groups that have criticized Humala in the past due to credible allegations of his involvement in human rights violations when he was a captain in the army during Peru’s internal armed conflict, have opted to support Humala, albeit reluctantly. The initial case against Humala brought by human rights groups was dismissed after the witnesses reversed their testimony, an occurrence that is disturbingly common in Peru, as witnesses are bribed or threatened into retracting their initial statements. A case is now moving forward in the courts in which a close associate of Humala is accused of doing just that. But recent revelations in La República suggest that some of these accusations may be a fabrication of the Peruvian intelligence services designed to discredit Humala, a disturbing indicator of how the methods of the past are being resurrected in an effort to assure Fujimori’s victory on June 5.

While some have criticized human rights organizations for taking a partisan position, the argument of many human rights activists is that in the face of the current electoral choices, they have no option but to vote for Humala to prevent a return of fujimorismo. For example, Ernesto de la Jara, the Director of the Instituto de Defensa Legaal (IDL), argues that he will vote for Humala because he is “absolutely certain that a return to Fujimorismo… is the worst thing that could happen to Peru… Humala is distrusted for a number of things that he could do, but Fujimori has already done them all: remain in power for longer than the Constitution permits; threaten freedom of expression and institutional independence; govern with the support of the military; approve a new, hand-tailored Constitution; have ties to Chávez; and be a populist, having the state’s resources at his disposal.” (See full statement here.)

After the first round of voting, many who absolutely rejected a return of Fuimorismo but had concerns about Humala called on the candidate to officially and publicly commit to respecting the democratic rules of the game. He did so on May 19 in a public ceremony, in which he swore on a bible and read a statement “in defense of democracy and against the dictatorship.” The ceremony was preceded by a brief statement by Vargas Llosa by videoconference from Spain. Though it was a landmark moment in his campaign, it got virtually no press coverage in Peru due to the absolute bias in the Peruvian media in favor of Fujimori’s candidacy that we reported on in a previous post. (Such is the scenario that yesterday, Vargas Llosa made public a letter to the director of El Comercio, Peru’s largest-circulation daily, saying he would no longer publish his weekly columns there since it has joined the Fujimori “political machine.”)

In his speech, Humala pledged that if elected he would respect the five-year presidential term limit and not seek any constitutional change that would permit his reelection; respect the independence and authority of the other branches of government; respect the human rights of all Peruvians and to avoid any type of political interference in investigations into human rights cases that are on-going or opened in the future (no such promise has been forthcoming from Keiko Fujimori); and respect and guarantee freedom of expression and of the press. He also pledged to implement policies to achieve a more just distribution of Peru’s economic resources and greater economic, social, political and cultural inclusion of all Peruvians, especially those living in poverty or extreme poverty, while ensuring that these changes will be carried out respecting the rule of law and taking into account the need not to risk and to stimulate economic growth. In so doing, he addressed the demand of many of his reluctant supporters that he formally pledge to respect the democratic rules of the game.

As we have clearly stated in previous posts, there are very real reasons to be concerned about an Humala presidency, particularly in the area of human rights. However, in 2011 he has presented a more moderate image, while remaining firm in his commitment to address Peru’s continuing and deep inequalities, and has taken steps necessary to broaden his political base of support. Whether or not his actions are sufficient to propel him to victory in the final round of voting remains to be seen.

Coletta A. Youngers is the Latin America Regional Associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor at George Mason University and also a WOLA Senior Fellow.

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