Peru: Fear in the Election Campaign

Almost 20 days before the date set for the second round of Peru's presidential elections, the electoral campaign has begun to include more than just kissing babies and smiling for photos. In the past week a series of events are showing the polarisation and even radicalisation that has come to surround candidates Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala.

Maybe this is a result of the virtual stalemate shown in the polls. The first [es] polls showed a distance of between 6 and 8 percentage points between Humala (who was in first place) and Keiko. The next [es] polls showed a difference of between 5 and 3.8 percentage points between the two candidates. Later polls [es] gave a difference of 1 or 2 points but this time with Fujimori in the lead, displacing Humala as the electoral favourite. And some of the latest [es] polls confirm this trend while others show Humala making a comeback.

Candidatos Ollanta Humala y Keiko Fujimori

Candidates Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori

For many voters this second round is just the way Mario Vargas Llosa described [es] it after he heard the results of the first round: “Humala or Keiko? That's like choosing between AIDS and cancer, a rather academic discussion.” A lot of people are resisting voting for Alberto Fujimori‘s daughter as they say they fear the return of the people who participated in her father's corrupt regime. On the other hand, many won't vote for Humala for fear of returning to an outdated model like communism, and falling under the influence of ‘chavismo‘.

But is that really how things are? At this crossroads where Peruvians find themselves, the mass media should be fulfilling an informative and clarifying role, but this is far from reality. A recent poll shows [es] that the public sees the candidate for Fuerza 2011, Keiko Fujimori, as receiving greatest support from the media (48.3%). Ollanta Humala, on the other hand, is seen as having greater media support by about the same percentage of people who think neither candidate receives media support (18.1%).

This perception is not gratuitous – a few weeks ago it was made public [es] that two journalists from the cable TV chanel CanalN were fired “for not supporting Keiko Fujimori”. Meanwhile, there were rumours [es] that another 4 journalists quit their jobs at the newspaper Perú 21 “for not attacking Ollanta Humala in their writing.” Coincidentally both media outlets are owned by the same group of companies.

Gustavo Gorriti, journalist for IDL-Reporteros, recently declared [es] that there is a media front against Humala. Among other things he said that when talking about the threat that Ollanta's tendencies towards authoritarianism and chavismo pose to democracy, the media immediately support and promote Fujimori's candidacy, without considering that it may pose a much more serious threat to democracy and human rights.

But it is not only a question of bias in a large section of the media, but also of events that involve various levels of violence, and that make it clear that fear, an element that is present mainly in the counter-campaign against Humala, figures not only discursively, but also in reality and, unfortunately, it comes in varying degrees from both sides.

Javier Fernández from the blog Javi270270, reported [es] on the attack, or ‘escrache‘, of journalist Jaime de Altahus on leaving the television channel where he works (Canal N). A group of people (Javier mentions a Colectivo Dignidad [es] (Dignity Collective) that called a sit-in at the entrance to the channel's building, protesting their pro-Fujimori stance) surrounded and blocked the passage of the journalist's vehicle, while protesting against him with epithets of varying levels of offensiveness:

lo que ha pasado ayer a Altahus no es nada nuevo. Ciertamente es una salida que algún grupo ha decidido frente a tanta parcialización de los medios como la que describió Gustavo Gorriti casi a la misma hora.

What happened yesterday to Altahus is nothing new. It's surely some group's reaction to the level of bias in the media, as described by Gustavo Gorriti almost at the same time.

In addition, Javier points out the lightness with which other media described the attack as coming from “Humalist mobs”. Altahus himself later stated [es]: “I don't know what their relationship is to Humala […] but they were obviously defending the position of Ollanta Humala”. Carlos Quiróz from the blog Peruanista mentions [es] that there could have been infiltrators in the protest who carried out the violent acts in order to later incriminate Humala's supporters.

Another confusing event took place against Keiko Fujimori herself in the jungle region of Satipo. When the candidate was getting out of the truck that had taken her to a meeting, someone threw an egg at the vehicle. Media outlets like El Comercio talked [es] of eggs and stones, while in La República they wrote [es] that the incident had been exaggerated and reported on attacks by Fujimori's security personnel against the journalists that tried to record the incident. Matte from the blog Lugares Comunes (Common Places) writes [es]:

Rápidamente, la candidata acusó a Ollanta Humala del ataque a través de su cuenta de twitter. Sin embargo, podría tratarse de un montaje hecho por la candidatura fujimorista. […] Según fuentes policiales, quienes atacaron a Fujimori habrían sido empleados municipales. […] (esto) nos recuerda al incendio del Banco de la Nación, en Lima, durante la Marcha de los Cuatro Suyos, para acusar de ser violentos a quienes luchaban por la democracia.

Quickly the candidate blamed Ollanta Humala for the attack through her twitter account [es]. Nevertheless, it could have been staged by Fujimori's side. […] According to police sources, those who attacked Fujimori were municipal employees. […] (this) reminds us of the fire at the Banco de la Nación [es] [National Bank] in Lima, during the [protest known as] the Marcha de los Cuatro Suyos [march of the four districts] in order to accuse those fighting for democracy of being violent.

A third incident comes, supposedly, from Fujimori's side. César Lévano, director of the newspaper La Primera, which has anti-Fujimori tendencies, was sent a wreath of flowers, like those used at funerals. Lévano himself wrote [es] that the message was meant to discourage his sources, who have shown fundamental veracity and strategic location. He added that the newspaper's information on the Plan “Sábana” (“Sheet” Plan) [es] has had international repercussions. In the blog Elecciones2011 (Elections2011) they comment [es] that:

Y aunque nadie se explica de donde salieron ambas coronas, esta práctica se realizaba en los años 90 (NdA: los años del fujimorismo) para intimidar a los periodistas.

Although no-one can explain where either wreath came from, this practice was used in the 90's (Author's note: the decade of Fujimori's reign) to intimidate journalists.

These three incidents, among others, illustrate in a special way the dynamics of the current political campaign, in which the media are playing an important role, although for some it is a negative one. In the magazine Mariátegui‘s blog, there are some conclusions [es] on the matter:

Los medios de comunicación masivos pretenden calumniar a Ollanta y ensalzar a Keiko Fujimori, sin ningún tipo de reclamo. La victimización de la prensa y el constante clima de polarización incitan a periodistas como Renzo Mazzei a justificar la campaña mediática denunciada por Gustavo Gorriti sobre el cargamontón de El Comercio contra Ollanta. […] Si el ambiente sigue con manipulaciones en medios y en encuestas que difieren abismalmente, vendrán más incidentes que pondrá en frente no sólo a fujimoristas y nacionalistas, sino a los medios, los colectivos y los jóvenes como en el 2000 …

The mass media mean to slander Ollanta and praise Keiko Fujimori without complaint. The victimisation of the press and the constant climate of polarisation incite journalists like Renzo Mazzei to justify the media campaign denounced by Gustavo Gorriti when speaking about El Comercio's bullying of Ollanta. […] If the situation continues with manipulation in the media and in polls that differ abysmally, more incidents will come, bringing to the forefront not only Fujimori's supporters and nationalists, but also the media, collectives and young people, like in the year 2000 …

From a similar perspective but with various differences, Renzo Mazzei writes [es] in his blog El Aliento de la Cebolla (Onion Breath):

Observo a diario que muchos de los simpatizantes humalistas pifean las preguntas de los periodistas referidas a temas que seguramente no son del agrado del candidato. Algunos periodistas han sido empujados, golpeados y hasta acorralados como ocurrió con Jaime de Altahus. Hay que recordarle al señor Humala que estos actos no solo le quitan votos sino que además justican para muchos esa campaña mediática de la que habla Gustavo Gorriti. Al señor Humala le debería preocupar no solo hablar su bendita pensión 65 o el programa SAMU sino también aquietar los apasionamiento de sus militantes. De lo contrario cualquier protesta contra alguién que anuncie su respaldo a Keiko Fujimori será relacionado con el modus operandi de algunos simpatizantes humalistas.

I see every day how many of Humala's sympathisers dodge journalists’ questions on issues that are obviously not to the candidate's liking. Some journalists have been pushed, hit and even surrounded and cornered, as happened with Jaime de Altahus. Mr. Humala must be reminded that these acts not only takes votes away from him but also for many they justify the media campaign that Gustavo Gorriti talks about. Mr. Humala should be concerned not only with talking about his blessed pension 65 or the SAMU (Urgent Medical Assistance System) program, but also with stilling the passions of his militants. Otherwise any protest against someone who announces their support for Keiko Fujimori will be related to the modus operandi of some of Humala's sympathizers.

Meanwhile, journalist Jackqueline Fowks also stresses [es] in her blog the presence of fear in the campaign:

el miedo en una sociedad que ha vivido terrorismo, es gasolina al lado de un fósforo prendido. Los spots radiales de Confiep y el video de la Sociedad de Radio y TV son aludidos hoy por Jorge Secada Koechlin y José Villaorduña, quienes sugieren que los empresarios quieren perder algunas libertades y vendérselas a Fujimori.

Fear [es], in a society that has lived through terrorism, is gasoline next to a lit match. Confiep's [the National Confederation of Private Business Association's] radio advertisements and the Radio and TV Society's video are today alluded to by Jorge Secada Koechlin and José Villaorduña [es], who suggest that businesspeople want to lose a few freedoms and sell them to Fujimori.

What will happen in the remaining days of the campaign? Maybe the trend will continue, that is, more violent events, more polarisation and more misinformation. How will Peruvians vote in the end?

Columnist Farid Kahhat wrote [es] “It doesn't seem that how about half of Peruvians will vote in the second round can be explained by ignorance or resentment.” It probably shouldn't be explained by fear either.

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