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Peru swears in new president: Who is Ollanta Humala?

Peru's new President Ollanta Humala is a former Army officer who once led a rebellion. He faces the task of maintaining rapid economic growth while diffusing growing social unrest.

By Lucien ChauvinCorrespondent / July 28, 2011

Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala waves as he walks from the State Department after meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, July 6. At left is Humala's wife Nadine Heredia.

Joshua Roberts/Reuters/File

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Lima, Peru

Peru’s new president, Ollanta Humala, takes office today and may need all the skills of his Inca warrior namesake to juggle multiple social demands while maintaining this Andean country’s rapid economic expansion.

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Mr. Humala begins his five-year term amid one of the longest economic expansions in the country’s history. Peru's gross domestic product has risen at an average rate of 7.2 percent annually, according to the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), with the highest growth over the past five years. The economy grew by 8 percent in the first five months of this year alone.

This flood of cash could come to a screeching halt if the Humala administration does not find a balance between his many campaign promises of social inclusion, including new welfare programs and dealing with ongoing social conflicts, and keeping the economy strong.

While inflation is negligible and exports are booming, the government agency that safeguards citizen rights catalogued 217 social conflicts in June, 105 of which saw at least one violent incident. More than 100 protesters have been killed in clashes with police officers in the past few years, nine alone in two protests in the highlands in June.

More than half of the conflicts are environmental in nature and aimed at the heart of the economic motor – mining and oil or gas projects. The Energy and Mines Ministry forecasts $42.5 billion in investment in mining projects in the coming five years. Another $15 billion should be added by energy projects.

“It is not going to be easy for the new government to deal with conflicts. It will take time to tackle the cause of these conflicts,” says Jose de Echave, a director of the nongovernment group CooperAccion.

Humala has decided that this can be done with an 18-member Cabinet that spans Peru’s political spectrum. Several ministers, including Foreign Minister Rafael Roncagliolo, come from a solid left-wing tradition, while Harvard- and Johns Hopkins-educated Finance Minister Luis Miguel Castilla is an orthodox economist. There are also a few nonpolitical picks, such as Susana Baca, a Latin Grammy-winning singer, who is the first Afro-Peruvian woman to form part of the executive branch.

Luis Benavente, a political science professor at the University of Lima, said Humala is trying to emulate Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, “following a conservative economic plan while trying to improve the standing of the country’s poorest sectors with more leftist social policies. The left is going to have to accept the fact that it will not run the economy.”

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