Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

New president vows war on poverty

Peru's president Ollanta Humala wants to target poverty in his country (AP)

Ollanta Humala, the leftist military man who won Peru's presidency after abandoning a radical platform, promised in his inaugural address to make his priority the one in three Peruvians still mired in poverty.

The 49-year-old former army lieutenant colonel charted a plan for spreading the wealth from Peru's mineral boom beyond Lima, where it has been concentrated among a small elite, to long-neglected hinterlands.

"Peru's peasants and the poor in the countryside in general will be the priority," Mr Humala said in remarks before a newly installed Congress and dignitaries who included 11 presidents, almost all from South America.

He quoted South Africa's anti-apartheid hero and former president, Nelson Mandela, in arguing there can be no democracy where misery and "social asymmetry" persist.

Mr Humala's will be a daunting juggling act - he also signalled his intention to maintain the business status quo and honour all international pacts, including a raft of free-trade agreements enacted by his predecessors.

To reassure foreign investors, Mr Humala retained the incumbent central bank chief, Julio Velarde, and named as finance minister Luis Miguel Castilla, a deputy finance minister for the past year and a half in the outgoing government of president Alan Garcia.

The Cabinet is dominated by moderate technocrats but also includes, as culture minister, the renowned singer Susana Baca. She is Peru's first black Cabinet member.

Humala did not explain how he planned to pay for the generous social programmes he catalogued, most of which he promised during the campaign, though he has said he intends to seek taxes on windfall mining profits.

The pledges include modest old-age pensions for Peruvians at age 65, beginning with the neediest; raising the minimum monthly wage in two stages from 218 to 270 US dollars by next year; free pre-schools in Peru's poorest districts, college scholarships for top-performing needy students and building hospitals in 50 cities where they are lacking. The first minimum wage increase - 27 US dollars - is slated for next month.

Mr Humala also promised to invest in public transportation in the traffic-choked capital of Lima; to expand roads and railways; to rebuild Peru's merchant marine and to re-establish a national airline. Aeroperu went bankrupt in 1999. He said he would dedicate more natural gas from the Camisea field for domestic use rather than export, and has promised to lower natural gas prices, though he did not mention a target price.

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