Venezuela's Chavez wins friends in Peru quake zone

Por Venezuela Real - 12 de Agosto, 2008, 23:43, Categoría: Injerencia de/en Venezuela

Terry Wade
The Washington Post
 August 12, 2008

PISCO, Peru (Reuters) - When an 8.0 magnitude earthquake hit two coastal cities and destroyed 37,000 homes in Peru, President Alan Garcia promised a speedy reconstruction effort that would burnish the country's new image of dynamism.

One year later, the cities of Chincha and Pisco still look devastated, Garcia's popularity has plummeted, and the only president who has won hearts and minds here is Venezuela's socialist leader, Hugo Chavez.

Chavez, who has used his country's oil wealth to spread his influence throughout Latin America, has given away 100 new three-bedroom houses with green lawns in Chincha, and named the community after his hero, Simon Bolivar, the 19th century independence leader.

"Thanks to God and to Hugo Chavez, I have a house," said Emma Euribe, 50. She and her four children moved into their plastic-walled home two months ago, marveling that it sits in front of a new park and came fully furnished.

"Look what Hugo Chavez, who isn't our president, has done for us. The corruption here needs to stop because we're human beings in need," she said.

The quake on August 15, 2007, killed more than 500 people.

Chavez is spending money in Peru largely to support his ally and Garcia's rival, Ollanta Humala, an ultra-nationalist who hopes to become Peru's next president in 2011.

Garcia, a former left-winger who has become a fervent believer in free markets and a favorite of foreign investors, narrowly beat Humala in the 2006 presidential vote but he cannot run for reelection.

His approval ratings have fallen steadily to around 26 percent for failing to bring the benefits of Peru's economic boom and newfound wealth to the poor.

Following the quake, Garcia promised to respond quickly and effectively. Instead, victims feel abandoned by their own government and complain of diverted funds, missing assistance checks and stolen clothing donations.


In Pisco, at least 56 families are still living in tents, and the most visible signs of government action are one-room shacks made of particle board for homeless families.

Just off Pisco's main plaza, where 150 people died in a church that collapsed, the body of Raquel Parodi Hulerig lies in a pauper's grave on an empty lot, topped with a makeshift cross. Blocks away at the cemetery, skeletons that burst out of caskets held in marble drawers are still exposed.

"The reconstruction has been frustrating. The government missed an opportunity to show it could do things well," said Alfredo Torres of the Ipsos Apoyo polling firm.

Chavez has moved to take advantage of Garcia's shortcomings and win new friends. In recent years, he has helped his closes allies -- Ecuador and Bolivia -- with energy investments, sent cheap oil to the Caribbean and fertilizer to Nicaragua, and bought billions of dollars of Argentine bonds.

Garcia and Chavez have clashed in the past but the Peruvian leader was in no position to reject any international aid.

Pisco residents accuse the city government of resorting to gimmicks to make it look like progress has been made ahead of the quake's anniversary on Friday. Workers have been rushing to build walls to cover up empty lots.

"They are putting make-up on Pisco to say they've done something," said Cesar Cordero, whose bakery collapsed. Straw mats on poles now serve as makeshift walls for his kitchen.

Residents say crime is rampant and the police station in Pisco has yet to be rebuilt. Officers must rent out rooms in private homes instead of sleeping in the barracks.

The government says it spent 1.23 billion soles, or about $400 million, responding to the earthquake, both on emergency rescue efforts and to rebuild roads, power and sewer systems.

"We've done all that is possible. The numbers are there to for anyone to investigate," Garcia told reporters last week.

Garcia made a surprise visit on Tuesday, to Pisco, where residents had threatened to throw eggs at him if he showed up for the anniversary commemoration on Friday.

"The anniversary is just a date. The rebuilding work continues," he said.

Still, in Pisco, many are unhappy with Garcia.

Her house destroyed, Berta de la Cruz Espinoza, 58, now lives with five family members in one small room, and insists that the government should have done more.

She also hopes the next election will be won by Humala, who is popular among the poor and who foreign investors fear would roll back years of free-market reforms.

"Frankly, we don't have a lot of faith anymore but hopefully Humala could do more for us," she said.

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