Alan Garcia, the president of Peru, appears to be a prizewinner for spouting some of the most inopportune, politically incorrect statements we’ve seen this month.
Garcia faces a revolt by an indigenous group in the Peruvian Amazon, where protesters have clashed with police over mineral rights issues. About two-dozen police and 30 civilians have been killed, and hundreds of people have been wounded.
There’s no question that the leader of the protest, Alberto Pizango, is out to capitalize on government mistakes. He called a government attack on protesters last weekend “genocide” and is rallying discontent among impoverished Peruvians.
Even in translation, and even allowing for connotations and social context, Garcia’s response is wooden. He rejected the indigenous protest as subversion in terms tinged with ethnic intolerance:
Estas personas no tienen corona, no son ciudadanos de primera clase que puedan decirnos 400 mil nativos a 28 millones de peruanos tu no tienes derecho de venir por aquí, de ninguna manera, eso es un error gravísimo y quien piense de esa manera quiere llevarnos a la irracionalidad y al retroceso primitivo.
These people don’t wear a crown, they are not first class citizens who can tell us, 400,000 natives to 28 million Peruvians, ‘you don’t have the right to come here at all’; this is a very grave error and anyone who thinks that wants to lead us into irrationality and a primitive retreat.
The larger context is the kind of racial intolerance that is too often evident in Peru and its neighboring countries. Garcia’s predecessor was the country’s first indigenous president, Alejandro Toledo, who rose from poverty to attend Stanford University and work at the World Bank. That didn’t stop the Peruvian elite from sneeringly referring to him as “El Cholo” — not necessarily a positive term.
Peruvian violence often has undertones of class warfare: The advance of the Shining Path in the 1980s was a blend of Marxist theoreticians reaching out and cultivating recruits among the dispossessed poor.
Peruvians hear Garcia and many don’t like it. One response on a Web site:
Que son ciudadanos de primera? que yo sepa,no hay nadie superior a nadie por que todos nacemos y morimos igual,la clasificacion y division de personas en rangos sociales(nobleza,burguesia y plebeyos)son cosas que ya no exipten eso quedo atras hace ya mucho tiempo.
Who are first class citizens? As far as I know, no one is superior to anyone else because we all are born and die the same way; the classification and division of people by social rank (nobility, bourgeois and plebians) are things that no longer exist…that was left behind a long time ago.
No surprise that Garcia has a sinking popularity rating — down to around 33 percent, according to recent polling.
– Peter Eisner