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Peruvian Voters Bring Back Former President

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A former Peruvian president who left office in disgrace 16 years ago won yesterday's runoff election.

Alan Garcia, in a stunning comeback, easily defeated former Army commander and political upstart Ollanta Humala. Alan Garcia served as Peru's president from 1985 to 1990. When his term ended, the country's economy was in ruins and it was plagued by rebel violence. Two years later, Garcia fled into exile.

New York Times reporter Juan Forero is in Lima. Hello.

Mr. JUAN FORERO (Reporter, The New York Times): Hello. Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, and in this first round, Alan Garcia - or in the first round of these elections, Alan Garcia barely managed to make it into the runoff. How did he manage to pull off this victory?

Mr. FORERO: Well, in this case, in the first round there were 20 candidates, and he was the second one, just managed to get in. And I think in the second round, people were just - more than anything else, they were worried about the frontrunner after the first round, who was Ollanta Humala, a nationalist the people really didn't know a lot about. A guy who offered very vague ideas for the future and whose nationalist policy scared a lot of people.

MONTAGNE: So Alan Garcia, in a way, was seen as the lesser of two evils.

Mr. FORERO: Exactly. That's what a lot of people would say. They were unhappy about the choices and, in the end, they went with Alan Garcia.

MONTAGNE: In some ways this contest looked like it was a race between Garcia and Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez, who had endorsed Ollanta Humala.

Mr. FORERO: Yes, Hugo Chavez injected himself into this campaign early on. He had initially been very much against the frontrunner in the early months, who was a pro-market candidate named Lourdes Flores. And then later on he just very forcefully and vocally offered his support to Ollanta Humala. In the end, that hurt Ollanta Humala and it also hurt Hugo Chavez, because his aims were to really build an alliance with Peru, joining Venezuela and Bolivia and Cuba in a coalition that he's put together in the last few months.

MONTAGNE: In your article you quote Alan Garcia basically saying, you know, the nation has won.

Mr. FORERO: Well, yes, Alan Garcia, of course, casts this as a great victory for democracy, not surprisingly. He has quite an authoritarian streak, but he's happy he's in.

MONTAGNE: Okay, so Alan Garcia's replacing Alejandro Toledo. What is likely to be Toledo's legacy?

Mr. FORERO: I think that history might be kinder to Toledo that it was during his five-year term. There was pretty strong economic growth here in Peru. Alejandro Toledo, however, was hit by, you know, several personal scandals that just didn't make things better, and a lot of empty promises, too.

But, in the end, looking back, Peru has had very solid economic growth to build on, in fact. And so I don't think that he will be viewed in a negative light in the future.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.

New York Times reporter Juan Forero in Lima, Peru, where former President Alan Garcia has been returned to office in a stunning comeback. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.