In October 2010, for the first time in history, voters in Lima elected a female mayor. Susana Villarán was a seasoned political figure who had long been involved in politics and human right issues—helping to establish Lima’s vaso de leche (glass of milk) program to combat child malnutrition and serving as a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Villarán also served as Peru’s Minister of Women’s Affairs and Human Development and as Police Ombudsman.
She is now in full campaign mode again ahead of a March 17 vote on whether to recall her as Mayor of Lima. The movement to recall her is not due to any type of negligence or misuse of funds; in fact, she has focused on cleaning up Lima. Instead, her efforts to move Lima forward have enraged certain constituencies—and they are now fighting back.
But with less than two weeks before the recall vote, it increasingly looks like Mayor Villarán may keep her job. A poll conducted by Ipsos Perú (February 20–22) reveals that 54.5 percent of limeños still intend to vote to recall her with a “yes” vote, while 45.5 percent will vote against the recall. But that 9 percentage point advantage for the “yes” campaign reveals a tendency where opinion polls increasingly show the “yes’ vote losing steam. Just one week earlier, the “yes” campaign had a 16 percentage point lead. Last November, 65 percent of voters in Lima said that they would vote to recall Villarán.
If she stays in office, the Lima Mayor will work to finish the job she started over two years ago.
Villarán came into office with three top agenda items: security, transportation, and the rights of children. She and her team worked to create new social programs and initiatives, such as the Warmi Wasi center for women fleeing domestic violence, the “Barrio Mio” (My Neighborhood) social services program, and CicloLima, which included a serious and long-term reorganization of Lima’s chaotic and overburdened public transportation system. Villarán also made a special effort to promote transparency in public management and to sanction any sort of corruption in the municipal government.
Under her tenure, the Metropolitan Municipality of Lima launched a highly-regarded web-based transparency portal in 2011 to provide public access to information. The city also launched an investigation of the Relima–Comunicore case, a corruption scandal that involved Villaran´s predecessor, Luis Castañeda Lossio.
From the beginning, Villarán did not have the full support of all sectors of Lima: she was elected mayor with a narrow 38 percent to 37 percent victory over her nearest rival, Lourdes Flores Nano. Villarán´s two-year government also has involved some mistakes, including the collapse of one of the walls of the Via Parque Rímac, a traffic-management development project, and delays in the construction of the Costa Verde coastal boardwalk project. Despite her background as a leftist political leader and her willingness to tackle the long-term problems of Lima, such as transportation and insecurity, Villarán’s crackdown on Lima’s informal economy—by relocating merchants to a new wholesale marketplace—has made her more unpopular among the middle, lower-middle and lower socioeconomic classes.
As a result of Villarán’s low approval rates, Marco Tulio Gutiérrez, the director of the Instituto Peruano de Administración Municipal (Peruvian Institute of Municipal Management), launched a signature-gathering campaign to recall Villarán at the beginning of 2012. Gutiérrez successfully gathered the 400,000 signatures needed to prompt a recall vote, and last October, the Jurado Nacional de Elecciones (National Elections Jury—JNE) scheduled a referendum for March 17, 2013, on whether to recall Villarán.
The campaign to recall Villarán is unsurprisingly backed by Solidaridad Nacional, the party of Villarán’s predecessor, Castañeda Lossio (2003–2010), who has denied any involvement in the Relima-Comunicore scandal. The two-term former mayor of Lima leads the list of mayoral candidates that voters would elect to take over if Villarán loses her job. Meanwhile, referendum leader Gutiérrez has openly expressed his interest in working with Castañeda if he runs for public office in the next election.
The confrontation between the two sides of the campaign has intensified as the referendum date approaches. The “yes” campaign has described Villarán as incapable of governing Lima, while the “no” campaign, led by Luis Favre, a famous Argentinian political advisor who directed the political campaigns of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, argues that Villarán represents the change that Lima needs. Not a day passes without a representative of either side reinforcing the “yes” or the “no” perspective in the news.
Less than a month away from the referendum, Villarán´s campaigners have a few more weeks to keep reversing the polls. Nevertheless, the high economic, political and social costs of the referendum reveal the city’s deep social divisions and conflicting political goals. As long as limeños lack a commonly-conceived idea of what is best for the city and its future, the possible recall of Villarán will do little to create agreement among Lima’s diverse sociopolitical actors.
On Thursday, the Peruvian government agency Registro Nacional de Identificación y Estado Civil (National Identification and Civil Status Registry –RENIEC) finished validating over 400,000 signatures supporting a referendum to recall the mayor of Lima, Susana Villarán.
Villarán, the first woman to take office as mayor of Lima in January 2011, has received extensive criticism for the launch of a new wholesale marketplace that opened on September 23.
The backlash against Villarán started when she announced plans to relocate merchants of La Parada and La Victoria markets to the new wholesale market of Santa Anita. Merchants were not content with the new market and began violent protests against the mayor’s initiative in La Parada marketplace. Lima’s public transportation was forced to bypass two central metro stops for the safety of the passengers.
With the signatures validated Thursday, Lima’s Jurado Nacional de Elecciones (National Elections Board—JNE) can now announce a citywide recall referendum. The elections board will have 90 days to set a date for the referendum.
If Mayor Villarán is removed from office, her successor would be city councilman Fidel Gregorio Ríos Alarcón. The new mayor would serve until December 2014.
After more than 90 years, Yale University has agreed to return 363 ancient artifacts excavated by Hiram Bingham, who is accredited with discovering Machu Picchu in Peru. According to the Ministry of Culture, the 363 Inca pieces that Bingham excavated will first be exhibited in Lima’s Museo de la Nacion in March 2011, and then will be moved to Cusco’s Casa Concha. The rest of the items will be returned by 2012.
The agreement came after national and international campaigns, a lawsuit and negotiations between delegations. The efforts even sought out help from Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.
Although a memorandum of understanding was signed between Yale and President Alan García in 2007 for the return of the artifacts, problems arose when former Peruvian first lady Eliane Karp did not agree to the terms. She wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times that Peru would only receive a limited amount of the original artifacts, when in fact the Peabody Museum at Yale University would retain the rest of the artifacts, supposedly numbering 46,332 in total.
Teodoro Penadillo Carmen, the man suspected of being a former high-level Shining Path guerilla known as “Comrade Rayo,” was arrested Monday while allegedly recruiting new members for the group in Lima. Penadillo is suspected of being the former Huallaga Regional Committee chief for the Shining Path according to Minister of the Interior Fernando Barrios. Peruvian counterterrorism police arrested Penadillo in the San Juan de Miraflores neighborhood of the capital after receiving intelligence that Penadillo was leaving the city to return to the Huallaga region, an area where the Shining Path guerillas are still active.
Penadillo’s return to the Huallaga region was anticipated as the Peruvian military captured Edgar Mejia Asencio, known as “Comrade Izula” last Wednesday. That operation left two other rebels dead in an area near the Huallaga River. Penadillo had been ordered to return to the region to assume command of the security squad for the Shining Path’s leader, Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, known as “Comrade Artemio,” who remains at large.
In its continuing campaigns against the Shining Path guerillas the Peruvian government has offered 1 million soles (US$385,000), while the United States has offered US$5 million each for information leading to the capture of the rebel group’s remaining leaders at-large—Comrade Artemio and Victor Quispe Palomino, known as “Comrade Jose.”
With 100 percent of ballots cast in Sunday’s mayoral elections in Lima now counted—but not yet verified—Fuerza Social candidate Susana Villarán is in the lead with 38.498 percent of votes compared to 37.588 percent for her opponent, Lourdes Flores of the PPC-UN, according to reports this morning from the Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales (ONPE). However, these numbers were based on the verification of just 74 percent of votes cast, leaving 26 percent of votes to be evaluated by elections monitors. The delay has been stirring suspicions of fraud in an election where the next mayor of Lima may be determined by less than 1 percent of votes cast.
Regardless of the outcome, Lima is poised to elect its first female mayor in five centuries. Currently in the lead, Susana Villarán has served as Peru’s minister for women and social development, represented Peru on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as well as participating in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. She wrote an article on female representation in judicial systems in a previous issue of Americas Quarterly. Villarán also staged an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2006.
Final results are expected to be announced by tomorrow.
Susana Villarán appears to have squeaked into Lima’s mayorship with the narrowest of margins, amid fearmongering that the human rights activist could be a “trojan horse” for radical leftists.
Villarán, a moderate, will be Lima’s first leftist mayor since 1983, and the first elected female mayor in five centuries.
With 58.4 percent of the votes counted, Villarán had 38.95 percent, compared with Lourdes Flores, a lawyer and two-time presidential candidate, who secured 36.85 percent. Fernando Tuesta, a respected pollster at Lima’s Catholic University, told Peruvian daily La Republica the margin giving Villarán a victory, although small, was almost certain to stick.
With Peru’s economy bouncing back strongly from last year’s global recession, Lima is benefiting from a boom in construction, strong inflows of foreign direct investment and the rapid growth of a new middle class.