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Peru Trip Report

By Jimmy Carter

Past history: Monitoring this election was a labor of love. Rosalynn and I have been involved with Peru for many years, beginning in 1948 when I was in submarine school in New London Connecticut. While there, our best friends were a Peruvian submariner, Manolo Piqueras, and his wife Maria. The spouse of his son Manolito is Suzanne Villarán, the only woman minister in the national government.

While I was president, we were trying to convince the many Latin American military dictators to minimize weapons purchases, to honor human rights, and to permit the establishment of civilian governments. I asked Rosalynn to head an American delegation to Latin America, and one of her seven destinations was Lima, where she presented these arguments to General Morales Bermúdez Cerrutti. Subsequently, she returned to represent our nation at the inauguration of civilian president Fernando Belaúnde Terry.

She and I went back to Peru in 1984 to help initiate the building of several hundred Habitat for Humanity homes in the high mountains along the shores of Lake Titicaca. This was when Alan García Pérez was the leading presidential candidate, and we had long discussions with him, other leaders, and our personal friends about the future of the country.

2000 elections: The Carter Center joined with the National Democratic Institute in 2000 to monitor Peru's elections, which proved to be fraudulent. Alberto Fujimori was completing his second five year term and insisted on the right to seek a third term, obviously contrary to constitutional limitations. After subverting the authority of the Congress and the Supreme Court, he mounted a campaign and used every means to enhance his own effort and to intimidate his political opponents.

The Carter Center, NDI, the Organization of American States, and other international observer groups condemned the entire process and left the country in protest. Fujimori's foremost opponent, Alejandro Toledo, also withdrew from the contest, and the incumbent went on to win a hollow victory with only 51 percent of the counted votes. It was later revealed by "Vladi" videos taken by his security chief, General Vladimiro Montesinos, that massive bribery was used to accomplish these goals.

After the publication of the first video proving bribery by Montesinos, pressure on Fujimori mounted from his own people and the international community. He finally announced that he would not serve this third term but would orchestrate another election while still in office and abolish the intelligence service led by Montesinos. This proposal was also unacceptable, and on a visit to Japan he announced his resignation from office and is still living in exile. The parliament refused his resignation and removed him from office on grounds of moral incompetence.

2001 election: After a massive cleansing of the government and election organizations, Peru planned another election for Sunday, April 8. Once again, Toledo was clearly the leading candidate, with challengers Lourdes Flores Nano, an attorney, professor, and member of Congress; former president Alan García; and six other party candidates. As Election Day approached, the latest polls showed that Mrs. Flores was maintaining a significant lead over García, but that his popularity was increasing.

In addition to representatives of The Carter Center, headed by Chuck Costello and Jennifer McCoy, our partner NDI delegation was led by Patrick Merloe, and we were joined by former Guatemala President Ramiro de Leon Carpio, Michigan State University President Peter McPherson, and U.S. Congressman Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa. Our observer group comprised 35 members from 11 nations, and after extensive briefings they were deployed throughout the nation.

The leaders of our delegation remained in metropolitan Lima, where 30 percent of the votes would be cast. We visited the major candidates (before and after the election), members of the two highly respected groups that conducted and judged the national election process, military leaders, interim President Valentin Paniagua, Prime Minister Pérez de Cuellar, and with other international observer groups. We also met with the national ombudsman and with the most remarkable of all, leaders of Transparencia.

Transparencia is an organization of domestic observers that has recruited and trained more than 21,000 volunteers (and have several thousand more on a waiting list and eager to serve). They have been involved in all aspects of the campaign and election process and have earned an incredible degree of trust and confidence among party leaders and the general public.

Their trained monitors were deployed throughout the nation, even in the most remote areas of the jungles and mountains, some of them requiring several days to reach their destinations. Transparencia expected to complete a quick count by 9 p.m. on election night, using 1,500 scientifically chosen reporting sites among the 91,697 mesas (polling sites), and with a very high expected accuracy.

We visited a large number of mesas on Election Day, and found a disturbing delay in beginning the voting process. The number of voters per mesa was limited to 200, which meant that in large schools in Lima there were as many as 100 mesas and 300 tables were necessary in the national stadium to accommodate the voters in that area. All poll officials were new because anyone having been involved in last year's fraudulent process was excluded.

Although well trained, they were inexperienced, and the complicated procedures and meticulous attention to every detail caused most citizens to wait about an hour before casting their first votes. During the day, however, they overcame this initial problem, and nationwide voting was completed almost perfectly and on time.

Immediately after voting ceased, exit polls showed Toledo in the lead but without a majority and Garcia being narrowly in second place, with a run off now required within 30 days of the final announcement of official results. That evening, Transparencia announced its quick count, which was accepted by the news media and the public as practically final. Toledo had 36.6 percent, García 25.9 percent, and Lourdes 24.2 percent (which would prove to be almost exactly accurate). Voting is mandatory in Peru, with an enforced penalty of US$35 for not voting.

This is probably the cause of 13 percent of the ballots being blank or null, cast by citizens who refused to vote for any of the candidates or who spoiled their ballots. We could see no possibility of any error in the casting and counting of ballots, and (for the first time in our experience as monitors) there was not a single complaint about the accuracy of the voter's list. A national record of about 15 million voters is maintained, constantly corrected for new registrants, those who move over seas or to a different home in Peru, or die. It was interesting to note from early reports that only two votes in every 10,000 were disputed or challenged in any way in the presidential contest.

Before ending our Election Day activities we attended the Transparencia quick count announcement and visited the three major candidates. They exchanged visits with one another later in the evening and pledged to accept the final results graciously. Although Toledo had a 10 point lead, he seemed strangely sobered by the results while Garcia appeared to be calm and confident. It will be interesting to see how the campaign evolves.

The election was a beautiful experience for the nation and for us international observers. In our final statement before leaving Peru, we extended congratulations and outlined some suggestions that can streamline election procedures, without injury to the superb system that was evolved quickly after the debacle of the previous year.

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