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Leader of Peruvian opposition sets sights on a higher target

By Michael L. Smith

The Globe and Mail, March 14, 1983

A tall, youthful figure steps up to the speakers' podium amid the road of almost 100,000 voices.

Alan Garcia, deputy for Lima and general secretary of Peru's American Revolutionary Popular Alliance (APRA), lets loose a white dove. It flies in a perfect arc from his hand to the sky, as if it has been rehearsing the flight all week.

Mr. Garcia, aged 33 in a party run until recently by men 30 years his senior, has been rehearsing this moment for much longer. He took over the top job in APRA four months ago, but it is clear that he wants much more.

The meeting is to celebrate the birthday -- February 22 -- of Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, the found of APRA (one of the oldest parties in Latin America), and its leader for 50 years.

Mr. Haya has been dead for 3 ½ years and his party has gone through two humiliating electoral defeats and a major internal split.

It is still the main opposition but a year ago it looked as if APRA, following the fate of almost all Peru's political parties, would follow Mr. Haya into the grave, like serfs into a pharoah's pyramid in the words of deputy Carlos Roca, 36, spokesman for the party's intellectual wing.

Two day before the rally, Prime Minister Fernando Schwalb, 66, went before a joint session of Congress to deliver a warning to the country: to avoid unleashing an unprecedented economic crisis, the Government would have to take extraordinary measures.

Public sector investment was axed by $1-billion to $1.5 billion in order to reduce the state deficit from last year's 6.6 percent of the gross domestic product.

The Government's renewed austerity program is in compliance with an International Monetary Fund agreement signed last year and caused partly by an awareness that international bankers want to see action before lending to Latin American countries.

President Fernando Belaunde Terry's popularity in opinion polls has dropped to half of what it was two years ago. In December, a Cabinet shuffle was precipitated when prime minister and finance Minister Manuel Ulloa resigned because he could no longer hold off opposition to his austerity program. He had been the ruling Popular Action (AP) party's leading contender to replace Mr. Belaunde in 1985.

Only four years ago, Mr. Garcia was a minor figure in APRA. Now he has become the symbol of the renewed vigor in the party leadership which has combined tradition with fresh faces and style.

A young Aprista activist says: "It's as if we changed the motor in an old sturdy car. The body is still the same but it has more drive."

In the televised congressional debate on Mr. Schwalb's message, Mr. Garcia said the Government should be more concerned with paying off its electoral debt to the Peruvian voter, instead of meeting the foreign debt to international banks.

Mr. Roca says: "The Government lacks social sensitivity and still thinks it has a blank cheque from the electorate. It wants to protect its prestige as a good creditor."

With credentials from the Socialist International (APRA is a consulting member) Mr. Garcia and APRA are trying to capture a brad center-left coalition that goes from the industrialists, disgruntled by the Government's free-market approach, to the shanty town dweller, longing for the days of cheap, subsidized rice. In other words, they wan to unite all those who are disenchanted with the Belaunde administration and harsh Latin American finances.

For APRA, this strategy carries its risk. Aprista deputy Luis Alva, in charge of the party's economic program, says: "We're not going to accept co-government with AP but we don't want to bring the roof down on top of us all," referring to the perennial threat of a military coup.

In October last year, Mr Garcia and his friends made an astute alliance with APRA's provincial wing and won control of the party. He then reshaped strategy and attitudes.

Opinion polls show that APRA leads the pack in political preferences, with 5 percent in Lima, not a traditional party stronghold. Aprista leaders say that a composite of nation-wide polls show the party with 40 percent.

It is 11 p.m. at the rally. Mr. Garcia orders the parade cut short so that the program can move on to the speeches.

He is the last speaker of the night, and finishes at 1 a.m. From the fanfare and money spent, it is clear that the presidential election campaign has just begun and APRA has come out of mourning for its founder.