Fool me once, shame on…
I would show the pictures I took of election day with my digital camera, but I can’t, because it has been sitting in customs here for 2 months. The local authorities apparently deemed it unnecessary to tell me not just that they have my camera, but where exactly I can look for it so I can actually pay the import tax. I am also currently a fugitive in Perú which sounds more fun than it is. Unfortunately it is not as romantic a life as lived by Butch and Sundance when they ran away to Bolivia to hide out and continue robbing banks. No, I am on the other end of the robbing here as I have been told, with very little explanation, that I cannot renew my visa. I am however welcome to stay as long as I like, I just have to pay a dollar a day penalty. Fascinating. I wonder who made up that policy over a few too many pisco sours. My guess is it is a temporary thumb to the nose until the US government actually signs the TLC, a NAFTAesque trade deal with Perú. To my knowledge no candidate ran on a platform of helping Gringos find their detained properties or actually obtain formal visas, so even if I could vote, I didn’t really have a candidate proposing to fix my particular problems.
For those that could vote today, and voting is obligatory here, there were a few options. 127 thousand candidates seeking some twelve thousand spots around Perú. Yes, I did the math too, that is about 10 candidates per race, a bit of a problem if you are seeking legitimacy with your governance.
I gave an inspired speech to my class explaining to my students that their responsibility as journalists is ten-fold during elections. I explained that without them propaganda gets injected directly into the bloodstream of unwitting voters. They applauded after my presentation, which included footage of the Gore vs. Bush Florida debacle, although I couldn´t tell if they clapped simply because my stump speech was over, or because they liked it. We did get at some interesting issues. While I lamented the low voter turnout in a country, not naming names, that insists on having its elections on non-holiday Tuesdays, my students actually said they would prefer a non obligatory voting system. They said that too many people make up their mind in line, or leave selections blank opening the door for strategically paid voting booth attendants to add some ink. Is there a system out there that inspires instead of requires? (Am I stealing this rhythm from Al Sharpton or is it truly original?) Anybody...? Bueller…?
No alcohol is sold the weekend of elections and candidates are not allowed to campaign in this period either. To fill this void an army of yellow clad ice cream vendors with matching yellow carts head out to line the entrances to voting centers. Democracy never tasted so cold and creamy. But without politics and a drink life here can get a little dull. I can´t wait for Monday when politicians start talking crazy talk and drinking again. My favorite campaign moment happened the other evening while driving through the Barranco neighborhood. Right next to a main square a female candidate for mayor had set up a stage and was putting on a show. Cars were passing during rush hour but nobody was paying any attention to what was a spectacular sight. 7 chicas in yellow jumpsuits with the candidates name and party symbol dancing in unison while what can only be described as a Peruvian Rod Stewart, complete with long puffy hair and a gut stuffed into a tight tracksuit, belted out songs extolling the candidate’s virtues. She clapped along and tried to dance her way into the hearts and minds of the locals.
My favorite two politicians so far are the current mayor of the local district Pachacamac, who in being interviewed by two of my students explained that she wasn’t running for re-election because she didn’t really like her constituents, that they don’t pay their taxes and they don’t care, so, essentially, screw them. I don’t know if she actually expressed as much because she didn’t think my students would get their story on the air, which they did, or because it was time to be honest. My second favorite politician is running for mayor of a district, Los Olivos, that has recently watched as a mega mall was constructed across the street from its district line. You can cross a bridge from the decidedly chaotic Peruvian Los Olivos side to the decidedly sterile gringo looking megamall in the Independencia district, complete with a 20 person deep line at the ATM machine.
This candidate is running on a platform of convincing voters not to shop across the street, “buy local” he says. Something tells me the lady who just passed me with a cheeseburger and a new stereo isn’t listening. I will take the initiative to dedicate this woman’s vote to the late Milton Friedman.
Farewell sweet prince.