Peru’s rise

From the Washington PostBy The Editorial Board

AT THE turn of the century, Peru was a struggling South American country with a poverty rate of 52 percent, while Venezuela was slightly richer, with 46 percent of the population rated poor. Today the difference between the two countries could hardly be more dramatic. After 17 years of Hugo Chávez’s autocratic populism, poverty in Venezuela has soared to 76 percent, according to a recent survey. Meanwhile, in Peru, it plunged to just 22.7 percent in 2014, and it is still falling.

AT THE turn of the century, Peru was a struggling South American country with a poverty rate of 52 percent, while Venezuela was slightly richer, with 46 percent of the population rated poor. Today the difference between the two countries could hardly be more dramatic. After 17 years of Hugo Chávez’s autocratic populism, poverty in Venezuela has soared to 76 percent, according to a recent survey. Meanwhile, in Peru, it plunged to just 22.7 percent in 2014, and it is still falling.

One big explanation for this difference could be seen in the results of the Peruvian presidential election on June 5, which produced a surprise victory for Pedro Pablo Kuczynski , a right-of-center former investment banker. Repeatedly since the collapse of the right-wing populist regime of Alberto Fujimori in 2000, Peruvians and their leaders have flirted with — and then rejected — populist solutions. The result has been a steady course of centrist, free-market policies and a prolonged boom of foreign investment and exports that have elevated the country of 30 million into the ranks of Latin America’s most successful economies, along with Chile, Mexico and Colombia.

Mr. Kuczynski , who lived in the United States for many years and once held U.S. citizenship, defeated Mr. Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko Fujimori , by a razor-thin margin. He did so largely because many Peruvians feared a revival of the autocracy and corruption that marked the previous Fujimori government and led to Mr. Fujimori’s imprisonment. In the end even Peru’s left-wing leader endorsed the 77-year-old Mr. Kuczynski , who promised democratic stability and seasoned, technocratic management of the economy. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the elections of radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, and lackluster support for regional counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives.

We are a group of concerned policy experts that fear the results of these destructive agendas for individual freedom, prosperity, and the well-being of the peoples of the region. Our goal is to inform American policymakers and American and international public opinion of the dangers of these radical populist regimes to inter-American security.