Peru’s new president reveals ambitious plans to combat poverty

Outgoing President Ollanta Humala, left, and Peru's President-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski at the government palace in Lima, Peru. June 22, 2016. (Credit: AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Just weeks after his election, President-elect Pablo Kuczynski demonstrated his commitment to tackling inequality and poverty in the Andean nation.

“In 2001 we started with 54 percent of Peruvians in poverty, now we are at 23 percent. It’s an ambitious goal, but I want the poverty [rate]no more than 10 percent,” Kuczynski said in an interview with Peruvian broadcaster RPP on Sunday.

To reach his goal, Kuczynski will need to cut Peru’s current poverty rate by more than half, although the poverty rate only inched down 1 percentage point last year. Kuczynski also aims to make significant reductions in extreme poverty – defined by the World Bank as living under $1.90 a day – from the current rate of 4.1 percent to no more than 1 percent or 2 percent.

Kuczynski campaigned on promises to curb the nation’s poverty, which is deepest among indigenous populations living in remote rural areas, such as the Quechua and Aymara communities in the arid Andean highlands. The rural poverty rate in Peru is more than 50 percent. Overall, in a country of 30 million, about 8 million remain poor, and 3.7 million are living on less than $1.90 a day.

To help pull these populations out of poverty, Kuczynski has said his government will lower taxes for small businesses, strengthen the country’s institutions, curb corruption and crime and diversify the mining-heavy economy.

The president-elect also said his government would emphasize investments in infrastructure and running water for the 10 million Peruvians who lack it. To do this, experts estimate Peru will need to invest $9 billion (U.S. dollars) in potable water and sewerage infrastructure to guarantee access to services to 100 percent of the population.

But political analysts say it won’t be easy for Kuczynski to pass his plans for reform through Congress, which is heavily dominated by his campaign rival Fujimori’s party, Fuerza Popular (Popular Force). This power dynamic has already been made evident in a recent debacle where Kuczynski asked mine workers at a smelter in La Oroya to march on Congress to demand an extension to a liquidation proceeding which could cost the rural region 2,500 jobs.

“You all know who controls Congress,” Kuczysnki said to hundreds of mineworkers at the La Oroya smelter. “Let’s march so they don’t let La Oroya die!”

His comments were widely seen as an attack on the Popular Force party, which holds 73 of the Congress’ 130 seats.

“The comments aren’t appropriate for the president,” Popular Force spokesman Pedro Spadaro told El Comercio. “We are concerned that a president-elect ready to take office would make these announcements. Marches do not solve problems.”

Some fear the disagreement foreshadows difficulties to be seen throughout Kuczynski’s term in office and in his efforts to reform the country’s economy. But Fernando Zavala, a business executive and former finance minister who Kuczynski will appoint as his prime minister, is widely expected to help pass legislation through Congress.

“He is a person with a lot of knowledge of what is going on in Peru and of public administration,” Mr. Kuczynski said in the RPP interview. “He’s seen as objective and I think his presence is going to be very positive.”

Mr. Kuczynski takes office on July 28 for a five-year term, succeeding President Ollanta Humala.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com