Humala, Chávez and Chavismo

Peruvian president Ollanta Humala in WashingtonHugo Chávez has kept an uncharacteristically low profile while battling cancer, but the irrepressible Venezuelan leader is once again receiving visitors.

First on the list is Ollanta Humala, Peru’s president-elect, who is due to meet his one-time role model on Friday. Peruvians – and foreign investors – will be keen to see how loyal Humala still is to Chávez’s “Bolivarian revolution”, given his more recent enthusiasm for “Lulismo” – the social reform pioneered by former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva.

Humala narrowly lost the 2006 election to Alan Garcia amid fears that his close ties with Chávez would give the Venezuelan undue influence in Peruvian affairs.

This time around Humala distanced himself from Chávez, even going so far as to tell the Venezuelan to butt out after Chávez commented that Humala was “a good soldier” .

And Humala’s first overseas visit after the elections was not to Venezuela but to Brazil, source of his latest political inspiration.  This month, he was in the US, meeting Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state. He has also been to Bolivia and Colombia.

Plans to visit Chávez earlier were postponed due to the Venezuelan president’s illness.

Nevertheless, Lulismo  has been far more helpful to  Humala than Chavismo.  Touting a message of social reform coupled with economic growth and a strong private sector helped the Peruvian add urban moderates to his traditional base of rural, disenfranchised voters.

His new,  more varied, political base reflects the reality of Peru today – despite riding high on the commodities boom, with one of the world’s fastest growing economies, more than a third of Peruvians are still poor.

The new rhetoric got him over the line, but Humala circa 2011 is still something of a mystery.

Peruvians are watching closely to see if Humala on his one-day trip to Caracas reverts to Chávez’s model of “Bolivarian revolution” or sticks with Lulismo.  The two old soldiers will have much to discuss.

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