LIMA, Peru _ In his failed 2006 bid for Peru_s presidency, Ollanta Humala donned red T-shirts, boasted of plans to as...
LIMA, Peru _ In his failed 2006 bid for Peru_s presidency, Ollanta Humala donned red T-shirts, boasted of plans to assert state control over energy resources and blasted opponents for warming to the United States, using elements from the playbook that was then helping propel leftist political allies of Venezuela to electoral victories in Latin America.
But in a transformation this year that points to the eclipse of Venezuela by Brazil, Mr. Humala has swapped the red shirts for dark suits, explicitly rejected talk of seizing private companies and celebrated Brazil_s market-oriented economic model, while distancing himself from Venezuela_s president, Hugo Ch__vez.
Mr. Humala, 48, made the shift after hiring Brazilian campaign advisers tied to Brazil_s governing Workers Party. Now, in a surprise to Peru_s establishment, whose candidates split the vote in the first round in April, the strategy has helped make Mr. Humala, a former army officer who led a military revolt in 2000, the front-runner in polls in a tight race with Keiko Fujimori.
_The Venezuelan model is not applicable to Peru,_ Mr. Humala said bluntly in a wide-ranging interview at his home here. If he is elected, he said, Peru will not join the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, or ALBA, the Venezuelan-led political bloc that includes Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua.
In contrast, Mr. Humala repeatedly praised Brazil and Brazilian companies, which are major investors in Peru_s mines, steel industry and hydroelectric projects, and the new Interoceanic Highway connecting western Brazil to Peru_s Pacific coast. All together, Brazilian investment here could climb above $30 billion over the next decade, according to the Brazil-Peru Chamber of Commerce and Integration.
_The Brazilian experience has delivered success and results by respecting freedom of the press, the adequate management of the macroeconomy, monetary stability,_ Mr. Humala said. _Brazil has combined economic growth with social inclusion._
Ahead of the June 5 runoff election, doubts surrounding Mr. Humala have accentuated a notable schism within Peru_s conservative elite.
Fearing a return to the authoritarianism and generalized corruption of the government of Ms. Fujimori_s father, Alberto Fujimori, who is jailed here after being convicted of human rights abuses, the Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa said he preferred Mr. Humala, _unhappily and with fear,_ over Ms. Fujimori, who has surrounded herself with her father_s old advisers. (In recent days, Ms. Fujimori has also spoken glowingly of Brazil_s economic and social policies.)
Prominent figures like Archbishop Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima have since lashed out at Mr. Vargas Llosa, Peru_s leading intellectual, for supporting Mr. Humala, and the established news media have mounted a barrage of coverage critical of his candidacy.
Undaunted by the controversy, Mr. Humala, speaking in a measured tone for more than 90 minutes in his spacious home, insisted that his transformation was genuine. But his family figures in this election, too.
Ollanta Humala has publicly disavowed the thinking of his father, Isaac Humala, a lawyer who espouses an ultranationalist ideology that calls for the supremacy of _copper-skinned_ Peruvians, and the candidate said his own ideas were merely _nationalist in the context of consolidating the Peruvian nation._
_Peru has changed, so we politicians must also change,_ he said, referring to Peru_s recent economic boom. _Politicians cannot keep seeing ghosts, keep seeing cold wars and past schemes._
Calling the United States a _brother country,_ Mr. Humala further distanced himself from Venezuela_s president by saying he wanted to _qualitatively improve_ ties with Washington, partly by engaging in a cooperative fight against drug trafficking in Peru, which is grappling with soaring cocaine production.
_We must work hand in hand,_ Mr. Humala, dressed in a white shirt and jeans, said of Peru and the United States and of plans to strengthen ties with the Drug Enforcement Administration, which Venezuela and Bolivia have expelled. _We need to improve our intelligence cooperation._
For Mr. Humala, who took 31.7 percent of the vote in the first round against 23.6 percent for Ms. Fujimori, it has been a struggle to lure middle-class voters in Lima and other cities to his side. His plan to raise taxes on mining companies to finance social programs appeals to poor voters in the mountain regions and tropical lowlands, but fears over his controversial past as a military officer, and doubts about his nationalist statements in the not-so-distant past, have many on edge.
_He isn_t what he intends to portray,_ said Claudia Carrillo, 37, a secretary here. _Even if you burn a chicken_s beak, they_ll continue pecking._
Mr. Humala still chafes at criticism of the military uprising he led in 2000, calling it an _insurgency_ instead of a _rebellion._ Another episode that haunts Mr. Humala involves claims that he disappeared and tortured civilians while stationed at the Madre M__a counterinsurgency base in 1992 during the war against the Maoists of the Shining Path.
Human rights researchers found evidence implicating Mr. Humala, who operated at the time with the nom de guerre _Capit__n Carlos,_ in three cases of torture and in five disappearances, but Peruvian judicial authorities shelved their investigation after witnesses contradicted their own testimony.
Mystery still shrouds what happened at Madre M__a, after a military official was accused of bribing a witness in the case to retract his testimony. _I defended my country with honor,_ Mr. Humala said when asked about his time as Capit__n Carlos. _Justice proved my innocence._
Mr. Humala_s family has also aroused doubts among some voters, especially over whether his recent distancing from Venezuela is merely cosmetic. He acknowledged that his wife, Nadine Heredia, had received a monthly stipend from a Venezuelan company. News media here reported that she got $4,000 a month from The Daily Journal, a now defunct Caracas newspaper.
_That_s all in the past, and the amount was no great thing,_ Mr. Humala said.
Concerns over both Mr. Humala and Ms. Fujimori, 35, have many here trying to decipher which candidate poses fewer risks for Peru_s institutions, which remain fragile a decade after the collapse of Mr. Fujimori_s government and after centuries of exclusion. (The Constitution did not grant illiterate Peruvians the right to vote until 1979.)
_From the standpoint of liberal democracy, this is a terrible place to be,_ said Steven Levitsky, a Harvard government professor who is teaching in Lima this year. Still, he said that Mr. Humala, whether wanting radical change or not, might face greater pressure from segments of society that oppose him than would Ms. Fujimori, who draws greater support from the news media and political and business sectors.
_It_s plausible that Humala won_t be like Ch__vez or Lula,_ said Mr. Levitsky, referring to Venezuela_s leader and Luiz In__cio Lula da Silva, Brazil_s former president. _He could be more similar to Fernando Lugo in Paraguay,_ another South American country where Brazil_s influence is growing, _an outsider who ended up moderating a lot._
Still, choosing between Mr. Humala and Ms. Fujimori remains a dilemma for many voters, making the race Latin America_s most closely followed election this year.
_Both are so bad that they are a total disappointment,_ said Hugo Flores, 58, a refrigerator salesman. _But if that_s what the people want, that_s what they_ll get._