Brazil’s Influence in Peru’s 2011 Presidential Election

President-elect Ollanta Humala of Peru was officially declared the winner on June 6 and was congratulated by runoff opponent Keiko Fujimori. The latest count results from the Peruvian National Office of Electoral Processes gave Humala 51.54 percent over Fujimori’s 48.45 percent.

Surprising many, the Worker’s Party (PT), the party of the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, has sternly supported nationalist Humala, including by sending campaign political advisors to Peru in early January. In fact, Brazilian political strategists were the masterminds behind the dramatic political transformation that Humala underwent since the beginning of Peru’s presidential campaign. Despite the fact that this has been reported in various international news outlets, Humala’s political party initially denied any foreign involvement in their campaign strategies.

What is intriguing is that so far Brazil has only used its newly-acquired clout as a mediator in regional conflicts, such as the highly heated disputes between Venezuela and Colombia, the Bolivian internal crisis and the coup in Honduras.

So the question is why act now? What made the PT and the government takes a route that presented so many risks? What is the real motivation of Brazil’s closeness to Humala?

Apparently the PT’s leadership decided it was time for Brazil to strategically throw its weight and political know how behind an unlikely candidate. Although Humala did enjoy some popular support, his new image attracted a broader base and gave him some room to maneuver in the international markets.

Strategically Brazil reformed a far left politician into a more socially moderate one and in doing so it has presented the region with a new paradigm; Brazil is a regional power that is demonstrating a willingness to intervene within Latin America when the country’s interests are involved. There are many Brazilian companies that operate in Peru and close relations between the Brazilian government and the new incoming administration of Peru is important for these companies. Brazil and Peru also signed an energy cooperation agreement in 2010 and the agreement allows Brazil to build six hydroelectric plants, including one in Inambari, which is close to the Peruvian-Brazilian border and will generate power for Brazil.

Brazil also has invested billions in Peru’s infrastructure and is in the process of building two Inter-Oceanic highways— one is already finished and the other is still under construction— in order get direct access to the Pacific though Peruvian ports; this is ideal for streamlining supply chains to Asian markets. In fact, according to the Brazil-Peru Chamber of Commerce and Integration, Brazilian investment in Peru has the potential of reaching above $30 billion over the next decade.

Humala’s new campaign strategy was very different from the one he pursued in 2006. The New York Times stated that Humala in 2006 had “a die-hard radical image, donned red T-shirts, boasted of plans to assert state control over energy resources and blasted opponents for warming to the United States.”

The orchestrator of Humala’s new strategy was Brazil’s PT’s campaign manager, João Cerqueira de Santana Filho, a former journalist. Santana also happens to be the mastermind that triggered Lula’s presidential victory in 2002. Back then, the political campaign tactics were less complicated. Santana counseled Lula to avoid confrontations and radical proposals to break the resistance of his image as a union leader.

However, helping Humala win the presidency in Peru presented a greater challenge because of his support of a coup in 2000, his previous affiliations to ethnocentric ideology known as “etnocacerismo” and the perception that Humala’s ideology is along the same line as Chavez ideology. In fact, Humala’s close connections with Chavez was one of the reasons that led millions of Peruvians to turn away from Humala in 2006 election.

That is why PT advisors from Brazil were sent to Lima in February 2011 to shift Humala’s ideology and discourse to broaden his support and attract centrist voters. The advisors from Brazil also guided Humala to explicitly reject talk of seizing private companies and celebrate Brazil’s market-oriented economic model, while distancing himself from Venezuela’s Chávez and expressing support for relations with Latin America and Mercosur. They also gave Humala a makeover, changing his wardrobe from red shirts to dark suits, which also helped change his image.

With all these changes, Peru’s electorate had a new Humala, who publicly praised the “Brazilian experience” for “delivering success and results by respecting freedom of the press, the adequate management of the macro-economy, monetary stability.” The 180-degree change proved to be just enough to get Humala the presidency. Although it couldn’t have been possible without the public support of moderates like Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa and former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo, these personalities only threw their weight behind Humala once the electorate had given him the benefit of the doubt in the first electoral round. The Brazilian strategy had worked and, as soon as Humala declared that the electoral results indicated that he had won the elections, Brazilian presidential foreign affairs advisor, Marco Aurelio Garcia, publicly stated that Brazil was “most satisfied” with the results and has already invited the new president-elect to Brasilia.

Brazil had never used its leverage and influence a presidential election in another country as it did in Peru. Brazil behind the scenes work in influencing Peru’s presidential election was not so behind the scenes as many news outlets reported on what was going on. The question is whether Brazil chose the right candidate to promote and whether Humala’s win will pay off for Brazil in the end. Perhaps more important are the potential regional consequences for any upcoming elections in Latin America.

It is unlikely that the PT will undertake another project like this anytime soon. Recent upheavals within the Rousseff government have unsettled the six month-old administration. In fact, Lula da Silva has been back in the spotlight, influencing the outcome of several key issues. One aspect of this development is certain: the PT has redrawn the chess board across Latin America when it decided to meddle in the Peruvian election.