This is the first of a series analyzing Colombia’s neighbors in the beginning of Santos’ second year.
It has been many years since Peru has been one of Colombia’s mayor allies in the region. The similarities between both countries are staggering: Both are cut by the Andean mountain range and the Amazon, which create different geographical regions within the countries and difficult communication between them; both have fought illegal armed groups for many years; both have suffered severely because of drug production and drug trafficking, and both are defenders of the neoliberal model with which they’ve tried to boost their economic activity, as well as typically having right-wing governments.
Their great difference is their orientation: Given the location of its capital, Peru focuses its wealth, progress and economic activity in the coastal region. In addition, since it only has waters in the Pacific Ocean, then its focus on Asia shouldn’t come as a surprise. Colombia, on the other hand, has its capital on top of the Andes, and this has made the ruling class oblivious of the other regions, so many secondary (and powerful) cities have emerged. Also, given the predominance of the Caribbean for Colombia, the country is northern-bound and thus an alliance with the Caribbean states is natural. Of course, that has meant, for the most part, an alliance with the United States.
Since Humala was elected president, many feared that Peru would turn left and embrace Chávez’s model, but the new president has said time and time again that he would pursue a path similar to that of Brazil’s Lula. Indeed, it was very reassuring that he would keep a friendly stance towards businesses and the free trade path worked by Toledo and García with the appointment of a moderate cabinet. In fact, Peru’s markets were on the rise because of the appointments.
However, great controversy followed his swearing-in ceremony because former president García didn’t attend and, most importantly, Humala said that he would abide by the principles in the 1979 constitution. He considers that the 1993 constitution, written in Fujimori’s term, is illegal, even if that constitution was approved in a referendum.
Humala is thus giving mixed signals: A pro-business cabinet but a hit to the opposition (Fujimori’s supporters) in his first day. Despite that, a poll showed that his approval ratings went from 55% to 62% and that many approved his inauguration speech. The poll also shows that 60% of respondents favor the 1993 constitution and only 11% would like to go back to the 1979 constitution.
More recently, Peru halted the coca eradication program because the government wants to evaluate it. This has stirred a lot of criticism because other countries, namely Colombia and Mexico, have never halted their eradication efforts. According to organized crime website InSight, Humala’s stance in pausing the program means that he is taking a more critical position towards the war against drugs. This shouldn’t be feared because the new president has said time and time again that he is against the legalization of drugs, and so what may come out of this is a better strategy for combating the cocaine supply chain.
Overall, Humala remains somewhat unpredictable in his day to day actions, as his stunt with the constitutions showed, but the big picture seems to remain quite clear: He is going to continue with the efforts of Toledo and García. It would be folly of him to risk everything that Peru has accomplished by taking a radical stance. In that regard, the relation with Colombia will continue as it has been for many years, or it may even improve, given the actions taken by both governments in the past couple of years to deepen integration.
Colombia shouldn’t fear Humala’s actions, but it should actually try to strengthen ties with Peru as much as possible. Improving friendly relations between both countries is of the utmost importance in Latin America’s current situation.