Two Dozen RPCVs Assist Washington-Area Peruvian Consulate
With June 5th Run-off Election for Peru’s Presidency
Twelve Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who had served in Peru or who served as Volunteers elsewhere but also worked in Peru (albeit with other agencies), answered the call from Deputy Consul General Maria Eugenia Chiozza de Zela of the Peruvian Consulate to report to the Consulate’s Mid-Atlantic Regional polling place on Sunday, June 5th. They were recruited to help with Peru’s Presidential run-off election. Another dozen Spanish-speaking RPCVs from Metro Washington supplemented the first 12.
The contingent was headed by RPCV Mike Wolfson (Peru, 1964-66) who made and adjusted assignments throughout the day. Mike also walked the rounds to the six polling locations spread out over the sprawling campuses of a high school and an adjacent middle school, distributing water bottles to volunteers assisting voters while sweltering under the noonday sun. Most RPCVs were stationed outside explaining to over 13,500 voters where to find their correct building, room, and voting table.
With a Peruvian partner, Tino Calabia (Peru, 1963-65) helped to captain the volunteers staffing the main entrance to the campuses, greeting waves of thousands of voters who had traveled from as far north as Delaware or as far west as Kentucky. He felt gratified by the huge turnout but also experienced sympathy each time he had to turn away Peruvians who left dejected because their voter IDs showed they had not registered with a Consulate in the U.S. and so were only eligible to vote in Peru.
Bill Eilerman (Peru, 1965-67) was happy to escort those in wheelchairs determined to arrive at their building before polls closed promptly at 4 p.m. Throughout the day, Eilerman was awed by the civic commitment of Peruvians residing in the U.S. who brought along babies and elderly parents for this once every five years event. In their native country, Peruvians are fined for not voting, but the rule was suspended for U.S. residents in 2008.
A few of the most fluent RPCV Spanish-language speakers, such as Sarah Stewart (Guatemala, 2004-06; Honduras, 2006-07; Panama Response 2009-10; plus with an NGO in Peru, 1998-2000), worked inside the buildings. In coordination with Peruvian volunteers from the diplomatic corps, she managed the complicated tasks of supporting the installation of voting tables, each staffed by three Peruvians pre-selected by lottery. In some cases, she calmed voters forced to wait in line for hours since several pre-selected staff arrived late or not at all. The no-shows will be fined because some voters then had to be drafted to take their place as emergency staff, unwilling though a few voters showed themselves to be. Still, such substitutes were often applauded for their service by others in the polling location.
Sarah also assisted staff with the closing of voting tables, the counting and recording of ballots, and the delivery of results to the supervising diplomatic staff. During the occasional down-time, she conversed with Peruvians curious about why the Peace Corps was at the polls. In this casual way, she acted on the second of Peace Corps’ Three Goals: helping to promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served by continuing to inform, for example, the Peruvian voters, about America’s tradition of service to others. In turn, through learning more about the Peruvian voters and their election processes, Sarah can fulfill the third goal: subsequently helping Americans to gain a better understanding of other peoples.
As to the election’s outcome, early on, a slim margin separated the two run-off candidates, but Congresswoman Keiko Fujimori eventually conceded that former army colonel Ollanta Humala had won. Many voters had feared that Fujimori would be prone to continue the policies of her father, former President Alberto Fujimori who sits in prison convicted of corruption and human rights abuses. (Like most voters in the capital of Lima and in Peru’s north coast provinces, those who cast ballots in the Washington metro area as well as many other Peruvians living outside of Peru voted predominantly for Fujimori.)
Of the four candidates previously leading before the April 10th first-round election, two of the losing moderates chose opposing sides in the polarized run-off. Former President Alejandro Toledo, who as a youth had been mentored by two PCVs, supported Humala. He supported him despite two facts: in 2005, Humala publicly backed an armed uprising staged by his brother against Toledo; and Humala’s brother, like Alberto Fujimori, sits in prison. Meanwhile, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, though Toledo’s finance minister and later Toledo’s prime minister, backed Fujimori. (Of the four previously leading candidates, Keiko Fujimori, Toledo, and Kuczynski earned graduate degrees from U.S. universities.)
Many expect Humala to preside from the left, having openly expressed admiration for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during Humala’s prior campaign for the Presidency. But in the recent campaign Humala said he now looks to the more moderate, market-successful policies of Brazil. Nonetheless, immediately following Humala’s victory, Investors.com, a branch of Investor’s Business Daily, ran a headline, “Peru’s Election Results Dishearten Investors,” noting that “Peru’s benchmark stock index plunged 12.5% . . .”
On the other hand, by June 7th, a “New America Media” headline announced, “Peru Election 2011: Peru’s Poor Make Their Voices Heard.” The article pointed out that, “While the recurring story lines of the election campaign were the Fujimori family’s disgrace and the radical past of Humala, the most profound back story was that Peru’s poor — heavily represented in the rural areas and outside the power center of the capital in Lima — decided Peru’s new President.”
However the course of Peru’s next five years may wend, Calabia believes that many Washington-area RPCVs will again respond to the Peruvian Consulate’s call for assistance with the Peruvian elections of 2016. “Those of us whom the Peace Corps sent to Peru worked for Peruvians there. It seems only natural to help out again, when asked to help Peruvians living here.” Besides, regardless of how Regional DC Peruvian residents voted and the polarized election’s final outcome, U.S. and Peruvian citizens working together and their social interaction at events, such as Sunday’s, can only further strengthen bilateral relations and global understanding. [Filed by our reporters at the election.]