Eccentric family causes headaches for Peru leader

October 6, 2011 - 11:30 AM
Peru All In The Family

In this undated photo released by La Republica newspaper, members of the family of Peru's current President Ollanta Humala, top right, pose for a photo in Lima Peru. In the back row, from left to right, are Ulises, holding un unidentified child, Ivoska, Alexis, Katia and Ollanta. In the front row, from left to right, are Imasumac, father Issac, and mother Elena Tasso. The one family member not in the photo is Ollanta Humala's brother Antauro. (AP Photo/La Republica)

LIMA, Peru (AP) — President Ollanta Humala has kept his public appearances to a minimum in his just over two months in office and strived to avoid controversy. Other members of his highly eccentric family, however, do not share the president's low-key style.

His father, Isaac Humala, is the outspoken founder of "ethnocacerism," which argues that Andean natives like him and his children are superior to descendants of the whites who colonized Peru and still dominate its politics and economy. The natives, he asserts, should be running the country instead.

Brother Antauro Humala is serving a 19-year prison sentence for leading a 2005 attempt to overthrow the government with an attack on a police post in the highlands city of Andahuaylas that claimed the lives of four police officers and two attackers.

He laments that the president abandoned the militant socialist ideals they once shared in order to get elected, telling The Associated Press "the government is every day more beholden to the right."

Plenty of world leaders have relatives who embarrass them now and then. But few extended first families can compare with the Humalas.

Other relatives creating discomfort for the president include Ollanta's oldest brother, Ulisses, who urged people ahead of the election not to vote for him, saying "he'd be disastrous for the country." And younger brother Alexis traveled to Russia just before inauguration day July 28 to talk to heavyweights in that country's fishing and natural gas industries. The president-elect said the trip took him completely by surprise, and it still hasn't been explained.

"Ever since Ollanta Humala appeared on the political scene in Peru he has had this kind of shadow of familial accompaniment," said political analyst Nelson Manrique.

The Humala family's peculiarities played prominently in the 2006 presidential race, when his parents described homosexuals as immoral and spooked Peru's upper class with talk of class war. Humala narrowly lost to Alan Garcia in a runoff.

During the latest campaign, Humala's relations largely kept out of the public eye. But once he was elected, brother Antauro gave a series of jailhouse interviews in which he insulted leading members of his brother's government.

He called the Premier Salomon Lerner, who is of Jewish origin, "a foreigner," and suggested Lerner was really running the government. He also called the president of Congress inept.

The president's father, Isaac, meanwhile said in an AP interview: "I'm sorry that the president's advisers and ministers are sabotaging him."

Lerner's response in a newspaper interview: "It must be painful for the president, more than an annoyance, to have this kind of disquiet in his family."

Ollanta and Antauro Humala became public figures in 2000 when they declared disobedience to then-President Alberto Fujimori as his government was collapsing, marching in a bloodless mutiny into the mountains from their base in Locumba.

Their relationship changed five years after the bloody Andahuaylas revolt, which Antauro claims had his brother's full backing.

He told the AP that Ollanta hasn't visited him since he was imprisoned. But that hasn't stopped the 48-year-old former army major from taking partial credit for his brother's victory.

"It would have been impossible for Ollanta Humala to rise to power if we hadn't rebelled in Locumba and if we didn't rebel in Andahuaylas. It was a necessary sacrifice," he said.

"If I had not made that decision, Ollanta Humala wouldn't have been a candidate and wouldn't have won the presidency," he added.

The president, 49, is clearly uncomfortable with such statements. He told CNN last month "I love my brother but don't share his ideas."

Isaac Humala, who had seven children in his marriage to Elena Tasso and three outside of it, sought to instill in all his offspring his doctrine of ethnocacerism, which asserts the superiority of the "copper-hued race" that descends from the Incas.

He made his children read leftist thinkers such as Jose Carlos Mariategui and the poet Cesar Vallejo, turning dinner-table discussions into colloquia.

The 81-year-old lawyer raised them for greatness, particularly the brothers who figured third and fourth in birth order and whom he persuaded to opt for military careers.

A few years ago, he described for a TV interviewer his ambitions for the two sons who would become soldiers. "A military career is a direct route to power," he said, "because with 60 armed men you can seize the (presidential) palace."

Ollanta would rise to lieutenant colonel and military attache in South Korea before being retired, just prior to the Andahuaylas uprising, over his perceived disloyalty to then-President Alejandro Toledo.

In Isaac Humala's eyes, Andahuaylas made his son Antauro a hero.

"The role that Antauro plays in a society of tragedy is of martyrology," he said in a phone interview. Isaac Humala acted as his son's lawyer in a bid to get the murder conviction thrown out.

The Supreme Court last month reduced the sentence from 25 years to 19 years but rejected a request for a retrial on reduced charges of sedition. Antauro claims he never fired a shot.

Although he receives spotty reviews from family members, President Humala's low-key, no-nonsense approach to governing gets high marks from the public. He enjoys a 65 percent approval rating among Peruvians, according to a September Ipsos Apoyo poll. Peruvians are pleased he is making good on promises to create programs that benefit the poor without abandoning free-market-friendly policies.

A whopping 88 percent of respondents said Humala should not pardon his brother Antauro.

But that doesn't seem to deter Antauro, who says his Ethnocacerist Party will field a candidate in 2016 presidential elections, when Ollanta is constitutionally barred from running for re-election.

In addition to calling for having native Andeans run the government, the party platform argues for putting people convicted of corruption before firing squads.

"Ollanta Humala may be in the presidency but he's less free than I who am imprisoned," he said. "In a way, in prison I am freer than Ollanta in the government palace."

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Associated Press Writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report.