May 18, 2011 / 7:47 PM / in 7 years

Peru's Humala struggles to shake Chavez shadow

LIMA (Reuters) - Left-winger Ollanta Humala’s past ties to Venezuela’s fiery President Hugo Chavez are haunting him, even though he has tried to recast himself as a moderate ahead of Peru’s presidential election run-off on June 5.

Peru's presidential candidate Ollanta Humala talks to the media after a visit to an army war fair in Lima May 12, 2011. REUTERS/Enrique Castro-Mendivil

Humala has consistently toned down his once radical views since narrowly losing the 2006 race on a platform endorsed by Chavez, but nearly half of Peruvian voters still think he would follow the statist path of his former political mentor if elected, local pollster Datum said this week.

At the same time, fewer than 10 percent of voters believe Humala would govern like the conciliatory leader he now champions as a model: Brazil’s popular former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who lifted millions out of poverty and won the trust of investors during an unprecedented period of economic growth.

Three weeks before the election, Humala is slipping in polls and being nagged by images of his radical brother on television, along with a revival of old and previously denied allegations that Chavez financed his campaign the first time around.

The El Comercio newspaper published wiretaps this week from 2006 that it said showed a Venezuelan diplomat in Lima talking about her close ties to Humala and his wife.

While there was no smoking gun to prove financial links between Chavez and Humala, the wiretaps remind voters that Chavez, a strident leftist who leads an anti-U.S. bloc in Latin America, was once Humala’s political role model.

Whenever the Chavez issue comes up, it puts Humala on the defensive.

“There is nothing to these things (alleged links to Chavez),” he said on Tuesday. “What we have said is that there are press outlets that play for the opposing team and are publishing hurtful things.”

He has said his meetings with the Venezuelan diplomat were routine as he regularly talks to diplomats from many embassies, including the United States.

SLIPPING IN POLLS

Humala, a former military officer, led a bloodless insurrection in 2000 to demand the resignation of former President Alberto Fujimori — the father of his rival in this election, Keiko Fujimori.

Humala had been the front-runner, but recent polls show he has fallen behind the 35-year-old Fujimori.

Though her father was jailed for corruption and human rights crimes stemming from a crackdown on left-wing rebels in the 1990s, he implemented early reforms that have contributed to Peru’s current boom.

The younger Fujimori is widely seen as market-friendly, having gone to business school in the United States.

Many moderate voters still worry Humala would take over private companies even though he has repeatedly said he would respect contracts, emphasize fiscal discipline, keep inflation low and maintain the central bank’s independence.

Humala has also had a hard time distancing himself from his father and brother, two well-known Peruvian radicals.

His brother, Antauro Humala, a former army major, was in court on Wednesday as he appeals a 25-year prison sentence he received for leading an uprising in 2005 to demand former President Alejandro Toledo resign.

Four police died in the clash with Antauro Humala’s group of ethnic nationalists who say Peru must turn its back on the global economy and reassert its Incan roots. Their father, Isaac Humala, was arguing the case as Antauro’s lawyer.

Reporting by Marco Aquino and Terry Wade; Editing by Kieran Murray

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