Peru's Garcia charges left conspiring to oust him
July 10, 2008 - Reuters

By Marco Aquino

LIMA, July 10 (Reuters) - Peruvian President Alan Garcia accused left-wing opponents on Thursday of conspiring to overthrow him through mass protests against his free-market policies.

Garcia's criticism was apparently aimed at union leaders and ultranationalist Ollanta Humala, a former presidential candidate who the government says masterminded a short-lived military revolt in 2005.

"What we are seeing is a conspiracy that is underway," Garcia told reporters, adding that the left had called a one-day general strike on Wednesday to tap discontent over rising food and fuel prices.

Demonstrators swarmed the streets of cities across the Andean country, snarling traffic and shutting down rail access to Machu Picchu, Peru's top tourist destination.

"They want to attack the democratic system ... and take power by force," Garcia said.

Though analysts say Peru's political stability is not a worry in the short-term, there are concerns among investors that a left-wing leader could win the presidency in 2011 if the government fails to lower the poverty rate, now at 40 percent.

Critics of Garcia, whose approval rating has fallen to 30 percent, complain that a six-year economic boom has failed to trickle down to workers and the poor.

"This is a government of the rich and of multinational corporations," said Mario Huaman, the leader of Peru's largest labor confederation, which organized Wednesday's strike. "The economic model must change."

Huaman has accused Garcia of being intolerant and human rights groups say he has a habit of criminalizing protests.

Garcia said left-wing groups in Peru have tried to use force in the past because they failed to win power through the ballot box.

"They have never won elections and aren't smart enough to conduct campaigns," he said.

Humala, the leader of the Nationalist Party, rejects allegations that he was behind the 2005 uprising, in which his brother Antauro led troops that shot up a police station to demand then-president Alejandro Toledo resign.

Humala, who nearly won presidential elections in 2006, claims the government wants to derail any hopes he has of running again and unifying the left.

Garcia, a close ally of Washington and a staunch defender of foreign investment, also criticized Peruvian leftists for looking up to other presidents in South America, such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales.

"They say we should be an Andean, Aymaran, Bolivarian republic, and some want to do this by force," Garcia said.

Chavez often invokes Simon Bolivar, who liberated South America from Spanish rule in the early 19th century, while Morales is an Aymara Indian who frequently criticizes the United States for practicing neo-colonialism in Latin America. (Writing by Terry Wade; Editing by Anthony Boadle)