Peru Elects a New President
What does Ollanta Humala’s victory mean to Peruvian Educators and Education?
The election June 5th of centre-left presidential candidate Ollanta Humala of the Peruvian National Party could signify important changes for CoDev’s partner, the Peruvian Education Workers’ Union (SUTEP) and for public education in the Andean country.
During the 1990 – 2000 dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori, SUTEP lost its legal status and numerous teacher activists were imprisoned. In the decade since the fall of Fujimori, elected neoliberal presidents continued the assault against the teachers’ union. The offensive reached its height in 2007 when the government of outgoing president Alan Garcia banned eliminated automatic union dues and pension fund check-offs, cut union leave, banned the right to strike for educators, and imposed bi-annual standardized exams for teachers.
These changes starved the union of both the financial and human resources needed to carry on an effective defense of learning and working conditions in the country’s public education system. CoDev and the BC Teachers’ Federation quickly stepped in with emergency funding that has allowed SUTEP to maintain four full time table officers, who have campaigned hard to reinstate the rights stripped from teachers by the Garcia government.
During his campaign, President-elect Humala committed to increase state investment in both public education and the health system, and in a meeting on May 7th with leaders of Peru’s K-12 and post-secondary education organizations, he promised to reinstate pension and union dues check-offs and revisit the issue of union leave for SUTEP leaders.
However, SUTEP Education Secretary Hamer Villena warns the union will have to be vigilant to ensure the new government complies with Humala’s promises. While initiating his electoral campaign from a strong left-nationalist platform, over the months Humala moved gradually to the right in an effort to calm investors and win over the Lima-based middle class. And, Villena warns that some advisors close the new president favour a continuation of policies aimed at weakening the union and privatizing education.
Still, after decades of neglect and open hostility, the election of President Humala offers great opportunity for teachers and public education in Peru. “The teachers of SUTEP have always struggled for a better education in Peru,” says SUTEP Women’s Secretary Nelly del Ríos Roldán. “We see today that with the new government that will take office July 28th, we teachers have a great opportunity to rebuild Peru’s education. “