The fact that Ollanta Humala appears to be the leading candidate to win the Peruvian presidential run-off is troubling, according to a Jewish Latin American expert. Based on partial results, no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote in Sunday's election and a run-off will be held in May.
"We're concerned in the sense that he has expressed similar ideas to some of the populist, leftist leaders," said Dina Siegel Vann, director of the Latino and Latin American Institute of the American Jewish Committee. "There has been concern about him being supported by [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez."
Chavez has taken a hostile line against the United States and nurtured ties to Iran. He has also reportedly invited Hamas leaders to visit Venezuela, although Vann said Venezuelan officials have told her no such visit was planned.
Humala had about 28% of the vote based on Monday's partial returns, with pro-business former congresswoman Lourdes Flores receiving 26% and center-left ex-president Alan Garcia with 25% in a second-place race too close to call. The policies proposed by Flores have been most in keeping with those of outgoing President Alejandro Toledo.
Humala's populist, military background resembles that of Chavez, and there is speculation that he would move Peru away from its close relationship with the US.
Vann said that relations with Israel could still remain strong if Humala won. She also said there were currently no signs of growing ties with Iran, but that Chavez's influence could introduce new wrinkles.
Vann said the current administration was "friendly to Israel and the Jewish community." Toledo's wife, Eliane Karp, made aliya from France years before her marriage to Toledo.
During the campaign, Vann said, Humala's campaign adviser made a derogatory comment about Karp that related to her being Jewish. The adviser, of Palestinian descent, was forced to resign following the incident. Humala's relatives have also made anti-Semitic comments, Vann said, but the 43-year-old retired army officer distanced himself from them.
"He really wants to make sure that everyone knows that he doesn't have any anti-Semitic feelings," Vann said. She estimated Peru's Jewish population at 3,000.
She said Humala's political party was new and that many of its positions remained unclear. "In terms of Peru's alignment with the US, we're going to be watching with great interest what the results bring," she said.
Vann criticized US policies she said strengthened Iran. She said federal subsidies extended to American farmers prevented Latin American countries from selling their crops in the United States. "As long as the border remains closed to their products, these countries don't have any other choice but to trade with the countries that will deal with them," she said.
Iran, she said, was a prime beneficiary of the that policy, pointing to Uruguay as a example of a country with a strong trade relationship with the Islamic state.
Vann is in Israel this week heading a delegation of US-Latino leaders. She stressed the importance of improving ties with their community, saying that Latinos had become America's largest minority.
She said most Latinos, who made up 31% of the US population, were "indifferent" to the Jewish community, while among elites she identified a "growing awareness." She said the lack of interest wasn't all bad: "The indifference stems from the fact that we don't have conflict situations."
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