The normally bustling streets of Lima were more quiet than usual yesterday. While school children paraded through downtown early in the morning, many limeños had left town to take advantage of “Fiestas Patrias”, the country’s Independence Day celebrations and the second most important public holiday of the year. This year, there was another reason for people to be off the streets. Glued to their televisions, Peruvians watched the inauguration of Ollanta Humala, the country’s new president.
New presidents of Peru are always sworn in on Fiestas Patrias — or 28 July — delivering their first address to a captivated audience, watching eagerly without the distractions of the usual working day. Among other things, Humala’s inaugural address pledged an incentive to return to work, by raising wages by 25 per cent over two stages.
The anticipation of Humala’s presidency has been great. In a country with a conflict-ridden and unstable past, Peruvians are used to periods of relative calm being uprooted by corrupt government and socio-economic inequality. While some are hoping that Humala will alleviate Peru’s vast poverty and social polarity though redistribution programmes along the lines of Brazil’s popular former President Lula, others fear that his family’s history of noxious ethno-nationalism will come into play.
However, most people on the streets of Barranco — Lima’s most free-spirited neighbourhood — are positive about Humala’s appointment. Having campaigned on centre-left principles for this election, Humala gained the support of many of Peru’s most well-known artists and intellectuals. Indeed, when he announced his 16-member cabinet earlier this week, Lima’s cultural elite were still impressed. Among the most praised are Susana Baca, Peru’s new culture minister (and the first black member of cabinet for almost two centuries) and Miguel Caillaux Zalazzi, the country’s incoming agriculture minister.
Drawing further comparison with Lula, who appointed Brazilian singer Gilberto Gil as his minister of culture in 2003, Baca is one of Peru’s most beloved singers. Known for her work to preserve the history of Peruvians descended from African slaves, Baca’s background and music represents unity in a country divided by income, geography and race.
As former head of the biggest organisation of small farms in Peru, it seems Caillaux Zalazzi will be set on improving support for the country’s thousands of small farms who, over the last decade, have been empowered by the country’s important food movement.
“Our farmers have been forgotten by the politicians for the last 200 years. For the first time, cooks are joining with the farmer to build a new culture together,” says chef Gastón Acurio, a godfather-like figure to Peru’s food and agriculture industry. “The most important thing is to make the customer conscious of what is happen. When society’s concept changes, the politics change. I’m optimistic for this government; it will be different. I think we have a lot to look forward to over the next five years.”