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Peru's Humala politically bruised in tough first year
LIMA, Peru (AP) ¯¯¯ A year into his presidency, Ollanta Humala has proven most popular among the Peruvians who most feared him as a candidate, and least popular with the poor he professed to champion.
His ratings are lackluster, his popularity on a downward slide.
As Humala's approval rating dropped from 59 percent five months ago to 40 percent today, much of the blame owes to his inability to resolve a conflict over Peru's largest mining project in the northern state of Cajamarca.
Local farmers fear for their water supply, and five protesters were shot and killed there earlier this month opposing a government-backed plan for the open-pit Conga gold mine.
As a candidate, Humala had told the region's farmers their access to clean water was more important than the extraction of gold. Then he showed them otherwise, twice imposing states of emergency after anti-Conga violence that suspended civil liberties.
"The betrayal of his electoral promises, I think that's the most important element in the loss of popular support he has," said historian and columnist Nelson Manrique.
Humala, a 50-year-old former army lieutenant colonel, is suffering for taking a hard line against protesters; 17 people have been killed in violent disturbances since he took office.
Most of the conflicts were related to mining, which nets Peru more than two-thirds of its export earnings.
The political left has largely abandoned Humala, and he's been widely lambasted in the press for allegedly deficient leadership. He's changed his Cabinet chief three times, his interior minister four.
Humala himself has acknowledged shortcomings.
In a recent public act, he said "We're all learning here."
"We are sure to commit errors," the president continued. "Nobody is born knowing it all. We all learn in the doing."
A former interior minister, Fernando Rospigliosi, is among Humala's harshest critics.
"I think he has no idea what to do in nearly every realm save the economy, which he has put in the hands of people who know what they're doing ," he said, claiming Humala and his wife, Nadine Heredia, "are adrift and have no idea what to do with the country."
Heredia is widely considered the person who most influences Humala. Rather than engaging in activities traditionally reserved for Peru's first lady she manages her own, often separate agenda, frequently accompanied by ministers on her missions.
"Where is my minister?" Heredia recently asked in front of TV cameras at one event, at which point the education minister dutifully appeared.
There is skepticism about Humala's economic development agenda. Fifty-two percent of Peruvians think he has no clear plan, according to a poll published last Sunday by the GfK firm with an error margin of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
Peru's poverty rate has dropped 22 percentage points in the past two decades. But 28 percent of Peruvians still live in poverty, according to government figures.
Humala defends Conga for the billions of dollars he says it will fund programs for Peru's neediest people.
He's put some money from mining royalties to work for the poor but the help they've provided so far has been modest.
A program called "Juntos" that provides $37 a month to people living in extreme poverty had 474,064 beneficiaries in 2011. The government hopes to nearly double that number this year.
Another, which gives $94 a month to the elderly poor, benefited 41,253 people last year.
Humala created a Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion to oversee and amplify such programs though its minister, Carolina Trivelli, told The Associated Press that her office is still working on ways to measure the programs' effectiveness and reach.
"The president follows closely what we do," she said.
The programs have had some effect, with 31 percent of Peruvians saying that developing social programs is something Humala has done "well" or "very well," according the GfK survey.
But that's not solving the Conga conundrum. A 30-day state of emergency there lapses next week with no end to the conflict in sight and two Roman Catholic churchmen trying to mediate.
Humala is now looked upon far more favorably, meanwhile, by Peru's political right and the wealthy, which tended to vote for his rival in last year's election, Keiko Fujimori, daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori.
A poll by the Ipsos Apoyo firm published in mid-July found 46 percent backing for Humala among Peru's upper class while its lower classes expressed 36 and 39 percent support. The poll had an error margin of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.
The business community is pleased by 6 percent growth in the past year, a laudable pace at a time that major industrialized nations remain in an economic funk.
Humberto Speziani, president of Peru's main business group CONFIEP, calls Humala pragmatic.
"He is very conscious that without private investment you can't create jobs and you can't eliminate poverty."