The Incas and global warming – Opportunity knocks, again, in the Andes

By Nicholas Asheshov

The last time global warming came to the Andes it produced the Inca Empire.

A team of English and U.S. scientists has analysed pollen, seeds and isotopes in core samples taken from the deep mud of a small lake not far from Machu Picchu and their report says that “the success of the Inca was underpinned by a period of warming that lasted more than four centuries”.

The four centuries coincided directly with the rise of this startling, hyper-productive culture that at its zenith was bigger than the Ming Dynasty China and the Ottoman Empire – the two most powerful contemporaries of the Inca.

“This period of increased temperatures,” the scientists say, “allowed the Inca and their predecessors to expand, from AD 1150 onwards, their agricultural zones by moving up the mountains to build a massive system of terraces fed frequently by glacial water, as well as planting trees to reduce erosion and increase soil fertility.

“They re-created the landscape and produced the huge surpluses of maize, potatoes, quinua and other crops that freed a rapidly growing population to build roads, scores of palaces like Machu Picchu and in particular the development of a large standing army.”

No World Bank, no NGOs.

The new study is called “Putting the Rise of the Inca within a Climatic and Land Management Context” and was prepared by Alex Chepstow-Lusty, an English paleo-biologist working for the French Institute of Andean Studies, in Lima. Alex led a team that includes Brian Bauer, of the University of Illinois, one of today’s top Inca-ologists. The study is being published in Climate of the Past, an online academic journal.

Alex spends a lot of time in Cuzco and he told me the other day that the report “raises the question of whether today’s global warming may be for the Andes another opportunity”.

The core samples from the sediment of the little lake, Marcacocha, in the Patakancha valley above Ollantaytambo, show that there was a major cold drought in the southern Andes beginning in 880 AD lasting for a devastating century-plus through into 1000AD. This cold snap finished off both the Wari and the Tiahuanaco cultures which had between them dominated the southern Andes for more than a millennium.

It was at this same time that the Classic Maya disappeared in Yucatan. It was also a time, on the other side of the Pacific when major migrations from East Asia took place into Polynesia, an indication of a major Niño event; a Niño sees western Pacific currents switch to flow from West to East.

Core samples from glaciers and from the mud beneath lakes in the Andes, the Amazon and elsewhere have built up a history of the world’s climate and the message is crystal clear. It is that changes have taken place in the past, during the six or seven thousand years of our agriculture-based civilizations, that are just as big as the ones we are facing from today’s CO2 warming.

The message may be, too, that climate change is especially forceful in the Andes. Here we are, sandwiched thinly between the world’s biggest ocean and the world’s biggest jungle. The peaks are so high that they have had until just a few years ago deep ice on or near the Equator.

The valleys and surrounding hills have formed the roof of the human world for at least three millennia, according to Alex Chepstow-Lusty’s core samples. Nowhere else do millions of people live at or even near 4,000ms above sea level where it is cold, but getting warmer.

Today’s warming is also following on a colder spell that started, the core samples say, not long after the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century.

For instance, the pollen in the cores says that there was maize being grown under the Incas around the lake at 3,300m above sea level. Until recently the upper level for maize around the Urubamba valley was 3,000-3,100ms. In the past few years the maize level has moved up and today there is maize being grown again above Marcacocha.

Alex’s records show that hundreds of terraces were being built around the lake between 1100 and 1150 AD -“lots of mud followed by the heavy pollen of maize”.

Enrique Mayer, at Yale, tells me that “the question of the expansion of maize together with the Inca state is now a proven archeological fact, notably in the Mantaro Valley (Tim Earle).

“The question of why terraces are not worked now as intensively as they could has been worked on (Bill Devevan) in the Colca Valley where the terraces are actually in franco retroceso.

“Also, you have John Treacy’s book on Coporaque which is probably the most technically accessible to the argument that terraces are, like flower pots, expensive to maintain.”

There is also, of course, the work of John Earls on the terracing at Moray.

Today there are thousands upon thousands of fine flights of Inca terraces all over the upper ends of the valleys of Central and Southern Peru but few of them are used on a regular basis.

Efforts have been made, among them by Ann Kendall, the English archaeologist, to resuscitate the old irrigation channels and the use of the terraces in the valleys above Machu Picchu. But most have been re-abandoned.

In the same vein the great forests of polylepis, the world’s highest tree, which capture and conserve moisture, have mostly been cut down for firewood.

As they say, you only have to look in the mirror to see where the problem is. FIN

Published June 25 in Caretas Magazine

Cooking is the difference between us and the chimps

By Nicholas Ashesho

At the University of Exeter, England, they have discovered that athletes who drink half a litre of beetroot juice a day increase their oxygen capacity by 18%. This would certainly help us up here in Urubamba, at 2,840 metres above sea level. But so far the main result I’ve noticed is that my urine has turned pink.

Beets, a cool-climate crop, are grown locally here and I make the juice from an extractor and throw in a few carrots and apples which soften the taste. But, staying with us the other day, a Japanese friend, Sensei Kanai, a doctor and martial arts teacher, got unusually upset when he saw the extractor being used at breakfast.

“No extractor, only liquadora,” Sensei ordered Sra. Ana, our housekeeper. He insisted that we should shove the fruit and veg into the liquadora and the result is indeed excellent, an all-inclusive Smoothie.

But I’m sticking with the extractor, too, since coming across “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human,” by Richard Wrangham, Professor of Anthropobiology at Harvard.

Prof Wrangham’s proposal is that the difference between chimpanzees, on which he is a leading authority, and humans, is that our ancestors, a million years ago, learned how to cook, that thanks to this our minds and bodies did a Darwin. It is this that has given us our biological edge over everyone else.

Here it is: cooked or prepared food is better for you than an all-in all-raw diet. This, he says, is why we are bigger than chimps and a lot smarter than everyone.

For instance, in order to get the oxygen benefit of a half-litre glass of beetroot juice I would have to gnaw my weary way through three kilos of raw beets.

In the same way I would have to eat twice as much raw fish or raw meat to get the same benefit as from half the amount of grilled, baked or fried.

For instance, Prof Wrangham says, our digestive systems can make use of 50% of the protein in a raw egg but of fully 90% of the protein in a cooked egg.

“Cooking increases the proportion of nutrients that the digestive system can digest.” Put another way; “Cooking makes the food we eat more nutritiously efficient.”

Raw-is-better is, Prof Wrangham says, simply not so. Our stomachs and mouths have become smaller and more efficient, thanks to cooking, and our brains bigger.

“Humans are adapted to eating cooked food in the same essential way as cows adapted to eating grass, or fleas to sucking blood,”

The catch is that those of us with middle-age spread have over-evolved.

One solution is to go back to a chimpanzee diet. Prof Wtangham says: “People who switch to a raw diet report feeling constant hunger and lose large amounts of weight.”

You don’t have to be a chimpanzee to know how that one works but Prof Wrangham repeats: “Raw foodism is against our biology”.

Up here in Urubamba, then, in the middle of a forest down by the river I have adopted a half-chimp, half-sapiens existence though I have the advantage, unlike most chimps, of having a qualified nutritionist, Andrea Suito to keep me on the straight and narrow.

I do the beetroot concentrate but only every other day, and the fruit Smoothie every day. Peru has a better selection of fresh fruit than anywhere in the world so I have a big plateful. I don’t have to leap through the trees to find it: Sra. Ana, of course, just trots off to the market.

During the morning I’ll have raw Quaker Oats with dried and fresh fruit and skimmed milk.

I get through the morning by cheating and drinking several cups of thick black coffee. I’m trying, with no success so far, to evolve to green tea.

Lunch is a huge raw salad and either some grilled trout from the Pumahuanca hatchery or a piece of supermarket chicken. During the afternoon I’ll have a milk shake of banana or, when I can find it, lucuma. Supper is a crema de tomate, green vegetables, onion or ajo with another bit of fish or perhaps jamon de pavo. I’ve completely given up sugar, even honey.

I’ve lost 10 kilos and perhaps the key to it is that I’m down to a glass, two on Saturdays, of red wine. Alcohol in any form puts on weight but clearly the French have evolved more than the rest of us: it was they who discovered that red wine is good for you, the finest marketing coup of the past million years. Prof Wrangham undoubtedly approves. FIN



Published in Caretas Magazine Oct 23 2009

Get Ready, Everything’s going to change

By Nicholas Asheshov

How greenhouse warming is going to hit Peru’s deserts, the mountains, the jungle and even Lima is becoming a hot topic.

Here’s the first thing you need to know: No one has a clue what’s going to happen here nor when.

But, Tom Schelling tells me, the second is that make no mistake, “It’s serious” and that everyone has to get together to prepare for it. For a start, “the environmentalists might want to stop talking about future generations and start talking about the poor today.”

Tom is the one-man think tank who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2005 and he and Alice, his wife, were staying with us on their way to and from Machu Picchu.

He has also been taking part this week in a conference on climate change run by Richard Webb’s cutting-edge Instituto del Peru at the Universidad San Martin de Porres.

Preparing for the conference, Richard tried to make a list of the different predictions from computers and scientists about what’s going to happen in Peru. But he drew a blank. There have been two or three recent studies, one on the Mantaro valley and another on the Coast and Sierra from Ecuador down to Bolivia, measuring temperature change.

“But it amounts to very little, and little seems to have been discovered about how Peru´s geography will produce either more or less warming than the world average in each region, or how warming will translate into rainfall.”

Pablo Lagos, Peru’s Numero Uno El Niño scientist, at the Instituto Geofisico del Peru, tells me that they have put electronic buoys out into the sea off the North Coast “but the fishermen steal them”.

Here’s a scare story from the past. The most productive epoch of the Moche culture was brought to a vicious end between 536 and 594 by a devastating sequence of 30 years of rain followed by 30 years of drought.

If it happened once it can happen again.

The precision of the dates comes from core samples taken from Andean glaciers.

These same core samples say, too, that today’s mess is speeding up.

Prof. Lonnie Thompson, a leading glaciologist, of Ohio State University, has told the American Association for the Advancement of Science that the Qori Kalis glacier, the main compenent of the Quelccaya icecap in the Cordillera Oriental beyond Lake Titicaca, will have disappeared by 2012. Quelccaya is really high, at an average 5,470 ms a.s.l., and is the biggest glacier in the tropics.

Thompson has been drilling into Quelccaya since the 1960s and the cores date back to the time of Christ. But the disappearance of the ice has speeded up exponentially in the past few years.

“Tropical glaciers are the canaries in the coalmine for our global climate system [they combine] temperature, precipitation, cloudiness, humidity and radiation,” Thompson says.

Tom Schelling is quiet and good-humoured but from Harvard, Yale, the White House and elsewhere his steely mind has been slicing left, right and centre through the verbiage of the public issues great and small of the past half-century, wars, nuclear arms, abortion, drugs, China, Game Theory, race and a score more.

He is professor of foreign affairs, national security, nuclear strategy and arms control at the University of Maryland. His The Strategy of Conflict pioneered the study of bargaining and strategic behaviour and has been one of the most influential books of the past half-century.

He warns today of insect-born disease, food shortages and among others, a rise in the sea level of maybe six metres. Don’t think just beach house.

Tom doesn’t like Bush any more than the rest of us but he too is, famously, against the Kyoto Agreement (1990) because, he says, it’s unenforceable, therefore meaningless. “I told Al Gore he was lucky to lose the election (in 2000) because he would never have got it past the Congress.”

He says that until the United States gets together on a serious plan nothing much is going to happen. “We can’t help or push the Chinese, the Russians, the Indians and the Brazilians if we’re not leading things ourselves.”

He talks of rocketing sulphur into the stratosphere to help block the sun from over-heating the planet. “They don’t want us to know about this because they don’t want us to stop cutting emissions.”

When Tom, who was born in 1921, and Alice returned from Machu Picchu, I asked him how he’d enjoyed himself:

“It was one of the most wonderful days of my life.”


See you in Uhujapacha

By Nicholas Asheshov

Last week we buried Ken Duncan in the cemetery at Huayllabamba, a riverside town in the Urubamba Valley and, as is often the case, it would have been more fun if Ken himself had been able to enjoy it too.

It turned out to be a rousing send-off. It included a trumpet-and-euphonium thump-thump band; a few hits of Scotch and the never-fails drama of a wailing widow determined to lay her hands on the money.

Ken, 64, an irascible, clever Scot had lived on his farm nearby for most of the past 15 years. It was he who introduced to Peru the awaymanto, a wild Andean fruit, as a commercial crop. He even sold some made-in-Cuzco jam, he would tell us, to Harrods and claimed to have met Mohammed Al-Fayad, Dodi’s father.

He spent the last month of his life in the clinic in Cuzco and had hired a couple of off-duty policemen to stand at the door to shoo off the wife, a communera from the highlands of Huancavelica who he hated.

No matter. She and her mum were there, tearful and in black, within minutes of his death and they quickly shelled out borrowed banknotes to acquire Ken’s body from the hospital.

“In the old days,” Roger Valencia tells me, “people in the Andes believed that when you died you moved along to Uhujapacha, which was a repeat version of the world they had just left.

“The only difference was that it was timeless. ”

Roger, friendly and polished, is Cuzco’s top guide: if you are a princess or a film star visiting Cuzco and Machu Picchu, you get Roger.

“If you were the Inca here, you were an Inca in Uhujapacha. If you were a soldier you should be buried with your equipment, a farmer or a ceramicist, the same. If you were a llama, you were a llama next time around. Not much social mobility.

“Also, it was important to take along presents.” All of which explains why ancient Peruvian graves have always been a rich source of treasure trove.

No longer. Not long ago I was window-shopping for a nice cemetery and the one up the road at Maras has a glorious view over the Cordillera. But the locals advised against it. They told me that these days people will quickly steal even your modest marble headstone.

Today people in the Andes are just like the rest of us and think, right or wrong, that we can’t take it with us so Ken was buried simply in a grave alongside his campesino neighbours.

After the funeral service in the town’s quiet colonial church, all organized by Carmen, the widow, we accompanied the casket and the band, playing noisily through narrow streets to the cemetery. At every corner the procession would stop, as is traditional, for a prayer or some wailing chants.

We crowded into the modest cemetery on the edge of town. A god-daughter and a couple of neighbours made short grave-side speeches.

Carmen, a thin 40-something who until Ken’s death had been prohibited by judicial order from getting within 1,500 yards of him, now stood flanked by her mum and lawyers within 1.5 yards of him, wailing as she shoveled her piece of earth onto the coffin.

Moments later things livened up again in the street outside with several crates of beer and wine. There must have been a hundred people, mostly from around Ken’s farm a few miles away.

As the afternoon faded into dusk even over the great mountains rising out of the valley, Carmen told everyone that she was serving supper down in the parish rooms. And the band, paid for by one of Ken’s god-sons, played on.

I remember a few years ago in San Lorenzo de Quinti, in Huarochiri, a traditional area in the highlands deep behind Lima, members of a family up from the city spent the afternoon telling ancestors the latest news.

It was good-humoured and convivial with frequent toasts in aguardiente.

“Y la Sandra, que te recuerdas tuvo problemas en tercero, termino muy bien su secundaria y esta de novia con un chico del barrio y esta trabajando como secretaria en la municipalidad.”

“El Jorge esta pensando entrar en la Policia Nacional… tía Juana no podía venir por estar delicada parece ser de los riñones y el esposo no encuentra trabajo….”

I certainly hope that when I’m getting bored in timeless Uhujapacha people will come and keep me, too, up to date.


Published in Spanish by Caretas magazine the week of October 27 2008

New train companies to compete on the Machu Picchu line

One new company, possibly two, will be competing with Peru Rail later this year, providing more railroad services on the highly-prized line to the pre-hispanic citadel of Machu Picchu, Peru’s key tourist attraction.

The first company to be granted the license is Inca Rail, formed by the Peruvian company Grupo Crosland and Turistren of Colombia as the operator. According to Juan Alberto Forsyth of Crosland, the company expects to begin the service in October with one triple-car train for 150 passengers and will add two more triple trains by the end of the year.

The second company expecting to be given the green light is Andean Railways Corp, which met the Ministry of Transportation requirements last week and is now waiting for the approval of Ferrocarril Transandino, which operates and maintains the railway line.

ARC’s main operating shareholder is Iowa Pacific Holdings, Chicago, a conglomerate of railway companies operating in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Illinois.

Nicholas Asheshov, one of the British investors, with Christopher Roper, both with long-standing connections in Peru, told Peruvian Times that Iowa Pacific’s focus is on freight but they have a long-established tourist/passenger company in Colorado and another that specializes in old trains which run all over the US and Canada. Andean Railways aims to corner 20% of the 500,000 tourists that visit Machu Picchu every year.

Both companies plan to offer first-class railcars as well as economy class.

A third company, Wyoming Railway, has been granted a preliminary license but has yet to present its proposals to the Ministry of Transport.

For the past nine years, since the national railway system was privatized, the sole service to Machu Picchu has been provided by Peru Rail, operated by Orient Express Hotels Ltd and owned equally by the famous travel company and Peruval Corp, with interests in tourism, real estate and infrastructure.

However, an antitrust ruling last year by Indecopi, the national copyright and fair competition institute, opened the door to competitors.

Ferrocarril Transandino, as operator of the railway line, has been critical of the Ministry of Transport’s decision to “lower the barriers” to companies it does not consider on a par with Peru Rail.

Raúl Galdo, director of Legal and Regulatory Services at Orient Express, which shares equal ownership of Ferrocarril Transandino with Peruval, told El Comercio, “We’re surprised at the Ministry of Transportation’s flexibility to modify the technical and financial requirements in order to grant operating licenses to companies that otherwise would not have been accepted.”

“Inca Rail, for example,” Galdo said, “has Turistren of Colombia as its operator, a company that operates a 30-mile line on the weekends between Bogota and Zipaquirá. In the case of Wyoming Railway, its operator is Maryland and Delaware Railroad, a company that operates a 120-mile route twice a year for a chicken fair. And in the case of Andean, its operator is Iowa Pacific Holdings, which runs a tourist route between May and October since 2005. We want these companies to enter the route?”

Ferrocarril Transandino has been operating the railway line since 1999, when it won the bid for a 30-year concession to operate, expand and maintain not only the 124 km narrow gauge line to Machu Picchu, but also the standard gauge 800 km line from Matarani and Mollendo on the coast to Arequipa, Puno and Cusco.

Within the next week, it will be posting a bid for timetables. Inca Rail has shown an interest in three daily schedules, while Andean Railways is aiming to request four.

Inca Rail will be running its service between Urubamba, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu and has acquired land in Ollantaytambo for its yard. It is investing $4 million, which has included the purchase of the narrow gauge cars in Portugal, for outfitting in Peru. Crosland’s earlier experience in the railway business has been to supply locomotives to Enafer, the Peruvian railway system prior to privatization, and to the former state mining company Centromin as well as to its main client, Southern Copper Corporation. Forsyth stressed, however, that this only involved supply and after-market support, which is why the company brought in Turistren as a partner.

Published April 29, 2008 by

OP-ED – The 2011 Election: Facing a leap back to the bad old days

By Nicholas Asheshov

Special to the Peruvian Times

With the short end of a week before voting on Sunday, April 10,  the first round of Peru’s presidential elections has lurched into a curtain-raiser to a bitter run-off featuring a stark choice between business-as-usual+plus and Chavez-style grab-it statism.

The polls say that Ollanta Humala, representing the specter of a depressing dive into Venezuelan-style shambles is way out ahead against a trio led by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a pragmatic free-marketeer promising a pueblo-friendly lift-off for an already-humming economy.

Under Humala, a far-left rabidly anti-Chilean, airports, ports and telecom, energy, probably banks, newspapers and TV would be nationalized, according to his written manifesto.  LAN, the dominant force in local aviation, would certainly be hobbled if not sent packing.  The same fate might await some of the big foreign investments in energy, mining and retailing.  The half-forgotten sound of international agreements and contracts, not to mention constitutions, being torn up, is back on the air.

Brazilian companies, led by big construction and energy like Odebrecht, Vale do Rio Doce and Petrobras would, on the other hand, be favored.  Humala, like all Peruvians, likes Lula but, more to the point, his PDB party is providing electioneers and finance for the Humala campaign.   Brazilian companies are already trying to pepper the Andes with huge hydro-electric schemes with the power pylons heading for Sao Paulo.

Venezuela and Cuba are the models, “with appropriate local adjustments,” Humala says.

The media in Lima produce and discuss endlessly, as well they might, a flood of polls that after a ho-hum start at the turn of the year, today put Humala, a former army comandante and mutineer to boot, at close to 30 percent with Kuczynski, PPK, a former Wall St banker, and two others, Keiko Fujimori and Alejandro Toledo, bunched together at between 18 percent  and 20 percent.

The elections will see 14 million over-18s of a 30-million population vote for which of two candidates get into the final run-off in early June.  They are also voting on Sunday for a 120-seat Congress, whose membership will be roughly in line with the percentages obtained by the five leading candidates.

Both the Congress and the President are elected for a five-year 2011-16 term starting July 28, Independence Day.  Voting is obligatory.

With Humala, the only left-winger, a sure thing to get into the run-off, Sunday’s race is for the single remaining slot to run against him in June.

Luis Castañeda A fifth contender, Luis Castañeda, a colorless, murky former Lima mayor, is down from 30 percent support in January to below 11 percent.  So the focus is on Toledo, Keiko and PPK.  The hope of, one supposes, two-thirds of the electorate is that one of these will in June pull together the non-left votes to beat Humala into, they hope, oblivion.

The four contenders have emerged after more than three months of campaigning as clear-cut TV characters.

Humala Ollanta Humala, an army mutineer accused of human rights violations, was described on TV by Hugo Chavez in Caracas this past week as “a good lad, a good soldier.”   Caracas has provided much of Humala’s campaign funds according to well-established paper trails through, for instance, NGOs fronted by his wife, Nadine.  He has, naturally, got the Lima and provincial middle class frightened, terrified in fact, that Peru — which has been emerging over the past couple of decades into a coming-along economy with poverty rates finally ticking down — will slough back into the lost decades of the 1970s and 1980s.

Keiko Fujimori The polls say, as they have for the past three months, that Keiko, a self-confident 35-year-old daughter of former dictator Alberto Fujimori, currently doing life in a Lima jail for human rights violations, has a solid 20 percent of the vote.

She, in effect, is the one that Toledo or PPK must beat on Sunday.  She is also going to be the easiest to beat for Humala, as even though she would be joined, reluctantly by PPK and Toledo, she is not yet a convincing presidential figure.

Alejandro Toledo, 65, president 2001-6, only a few weeks ago looked a shoo-in to the final round with close on 30 percent in the polls.   He bills himself as a toughie Andean Indian ex-shoe-shine boy with a Stanford PhD.  Sounds ideal, but his record in office was as a vacillating, hard-drinking womanizer with approval ratings of 8 percent, marking him at the time the least popular elected leader in Latin America. Today he is still lively but a pompous bore on the TV, and this has hauled him back down despite a campaign that is well-financed by a foggy consortium.

Joining these leaders during the past few weeks is Kuczynski, PPK, an Oxford-educated Wall St banker and former Central Bank executive, finance and prime minister, one of whose daughters is a fashion-plate Park Ave socialite and former New York Times staffer.

Kuczynski, 72, is an accomplished flautist with a grand piano in his Lima town house and another at his mountainside country estate on which for relaxation he plays Bach fugues and Mozart sonatas.

Pedro Pablo KuczynskiKuczynski in 2001-2 sorted out the high inflation, low-income mess as the first finance minister in Toledo’s otherwise vacuous government, and has financed his own campaign – he sold a south-Lima beach house and cashed in some stock.  But until a month ago it was looking, at three or four percent in the polls, like just a quixotic swan-song.  Columnists were thanking him for, at least, pepping up a desultory melee.  At that time, too, Humala was also a back-of-the-pack also-ran at 10-12 percent.

But in February they both took off.   PPK drove a “PPKamion” and distributed PPKuy dolls — cute fluffy guinea pigs — to attract a wider audience for his well-thought-out program and hands-on experience to get Peru’s lagging education, health, jobs, pensions and infrastructure adjusted upwards to a pushy 7-8 percent growth economy.

Suddenly PPK shot up to 10 percent, then 14 percent.  Now he’s up in the 17-18 percent league with one poll putting him second behind Humala.

Humala, starting as a cloudy has-been, has more than doubled his early-days polling.  But unlike PPK he is no dark horse.  In 2006, he came within a few points of becoming president of Peru, wearing a red T-shirt and openly fawning on Chavez, then as now the only important re-creation of Latin America’s bad old 1970s and 1980s of muddled stagflation and bully-boy caudillos.

For this election Humala has put on a coat and tie.  He refuses to answer questions about his published Chavez-like program. the familiar, dreaded  paraphernalia of up-the-workers cant.   His brother Ulysses has created a stir by going public with a description of him as a little-Hitler dictator.

Another brother, Antauro, a cashiered army major, has been in jail the last six years  for leading a paramilitary gang in an attack, which Antauro says Ollanta planned, on a provincial police station that killed four unarmed policemen.

In the 1990s, Ollanta led an army mutiny against Fujimori in the mountains of the far south.

His rabid anti-Chilean position connects with a thick top-to-bottom atavistic seam in Peru’s often-moody psyche. This appeals especially to Peru’s grouse-patch millions, and not just out in the sticks:  Humala is as strong in Lima as PPK.

A wider xenophobia, typical of elections everywhere, has slimed its way selectively through the campaign.   Now that he might win, Kuczynski has been attacked ferociously by Toledo and Humala for having a U.S. passport, acquired in 1999 — Kuczynski’s wife Nancy is from Wisconsin — with, therefore, clear conflict-of-interest issues.   PPK replied, variously, that Toledo might have thought of this when he made PPK his Premier in 2005 and that he was relinquishing his U.S. passport anyway.  In a TV debate on Sunday, Toledo, who lives in Palo Alto, Calif., and whose acid-tongued wife, Eliane, is a Belgian Zionist, referred to PPK as “Mister Kuczynski” as if they’d never spent hundreds of high-powered hours together running the country.

PPK was born in Lima in 1938, his parents refugees from Hitler.  His mother was a cousin of Jean-Luc Godard, the French cineaste and his father Max was a Berlin-born medic who founded a hospital for lepers in Iquitos and, in effect, eradicated leprosy from Peru.  He was also active in the high country of Cusco and Puno as a doctor. PPK has photos of Dr Max and himself as a kid in the backwoods of Peru in the 1940s.  Max even spent the best part of a year in a Lima jail as a political prisoner under the dictator General Odria, in 1948.  Max sent Pedro Pablo to Rosall, a tough boarding school in northern England, from where he won a scholarship at the age of 17 to Exeter College, Oxford   A few days ago PPK, campaigning in San Cosme, a desperate Lima slum, ran into an old man, a former leper rescued more than half a century ago by Max.  It was, as can be imagined, an emotional moment.

PPK, never a shrinking violet, has developed a relaxed-but-quicksilver, folksy-but-serious TV and campaign-stump style. To his followers he is way and ahead the best potential president that Peru could want.  He fits in today, too, to a current that has seen Ricardo Martinelli in Panama and Sebastian Piñera in Chile, both tip-top business figures, leading lick-things-into-shape governments.

But Humala, too, represents a well-established presence:  Chavez in Caracas, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Correa in Ecuador, Ortega in Nicaragua, even the Kirchners in Argentina.

ENDS, as usual, we know not where.

Published April 5, 2011, by the Peruvian Times

Nick Asheshov is a Director of The Machu Picchu Train Co., Urubamba.
A veteran journalist, noted explorer and entrepreneur, he was editor of the Peruvian Times from 1969 to 1990.
This report was prepared specially for the Peruvian Times.

Op-Ed: Observations on the Election Results

“The coming years will for sure compound this as the voting tsunami lines the pockets of a few, but salts the wells of families all over Peru.”

By Nicholas Asheshov

Here are some immediate technical observations on the knife-edge victory of Ollanta Humala.

  • Keiko Fujimori’s people fatally misjudged the final two or three weeks of an inordinately long campaign. The polls show well enough that if the election had been in mid-May, Keiko would have been first past the post. Keiko’s kitchen cabinet, led by Jaime Yoshiyama, a first-class minister in her fathers first administration (1990-92), were so self-confident that they refused to broaden out and form a coalition. They thought they could go it alone.As President Garcia told associates: “They’re close, much too close,” — son muy cerrados. Once Keiko had got into the second slot of a two-person contest, she should immediately have formed a governing coalition pulling together the all-over the-shop center-right, led by PPK. In the first-round campaign Keiko had said repeatedly that she would form alliances once into Round Two. She did not do so, and lost the election because of it.
  • No question but that the heavy-metal support of Mario Vargas Llosa and other big names, including Toledo, persuaded the hundreds of thousands of doubters that Ollanta Humala is, after all a decent middle-of-the-road fellow who just wants a better deal for the poor.Over the past two or three weeks the TV and leading newspapers have published accusations and prima facie evidence that Humala should be investigated for witness-tampering on his own human-rights violations, gross breaches of the electoral finance regulations, foreign financing (Venezuela) of his campaign, tax-dodging, and a handful of other breaches of the law – according to the media.Whether or not these are reasonable cases, or just last-minute electoral campaigning by the anti-Humala people, we will now never know. Whatever, these doubts, as presented in the media, made little or no difference. What seemed often like a broadside campaign against Humala had either no impact, or not enough to make a difference.
  • The polls, led by CPI, Datum, Ipsos-Apoyo, seem to have done their best. But in an electorate that includes stone-age Indians and families on the Forbes list, the polls in fact could only reflect what people were thinking and could not predict accurately beyond a few days. In the middle of last week, for instance, both Datum and Apoyo had Keiko just ahead, but by Saturday Apoyo was sending its expensive banking clients clear and accurate predictions of a clear Humala victory. But this was after the markets had closed for the week.
  • The most disconcerting part of this scrappy match continues to be the complete dis-articulation of the center-right, as represented by PPK, Toledo and Castañeda. In November PPK went privately to Toledo to try to forge a deal under which PPK and Toledo would together contest the election. Toledo would hear none of it, and that was that. Toledo, a low-achiever president, proved to be a hopeless campaigner, despite heavy financing and his once-30% imploded on voting day to 15%-odd.PPK was clearly, of all the candidates, the one most capable of running a country in the 21st century. He was unable, however, to raise the cash needed for a hard-run campaign against a well-financed field. Both Keiko and Humala had plenty of cash but PPK, known personally of course to every banker and leading businessman in the country, had to finance his effort out of his own pocket.The kind of money involved might have been $3 million, perhaps $5 million. More than a hundred times that was wiped off the value of quoted shares in five minutes on Monday, and much more in other values. The coming years will for sure compound this as, the voting tsunami lines the pockets of a few, but salts the wells of families all over Peru.

Today’s Economic backdrop:

Prices on the Lima stock market collapsed at the open Monday in response to the preliminary results of the voting on Sunday and, following down-the-limit procedures, was closed for a couple of hours.  When it reopened the indexes were down around 12%.   Peru-related shares on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE instantly reflected the negative view of the business community by sinking strongly and by midday Banco de Credito/Credicorp, BAP, shares were down 14% to 87, while the Peru Investment Fund, EPU was down 12% at 38.50.
Earlier this year BAP had been at 120 and EPU at 50, so both have lost around one-quarter of their value so far this year.
Peru stocks continued to fall in afternoon trading on the NYSE.   BAP was nearly 20% down on the day at 82.   This meant a loss to shareholders just on Monday of well over $2,000 million, two billion, dollars.

EPU, the Peruvian investment fund, at 37.50, had lost a face value of around $500mn for the day.

Total face-value looses on publicly-traded shares were in excess of $6,000 million, six billion dollars.

Published June 6, 2011 by