Peru President Tells AJC Luncheon: No Place For Ambiguity in Fight Against Terrorism

Peru President Tells AJC Luncheon: No Place For Ambiguity in Fight Against Terrorism

Peru President Tells AJC Luncheon: No Place For Ambiguity in Fight Against Terrorism


Alejandro Toledo, President of Peru Speaking at AJC


Alejandro Toledo, President of Peru
American Jewish Committee
February 1, 2002
New York City

 

 

It is indeed a great pleasure to be here. I imagine you have heard something about Peru. We are situated on the west coast of South America, and we go back a long time ago. I'm part of a culture of which I feel very proud - the Inca empire. I know that it probably seems unusual to have an Inca descendant married to a Jew talking to the Jewish community of New York as a president of Peru.

We are about 26 million Peruvians and we have an income per capital of around $2,000. But don't take that literally, because per capita income as the average always hides more than it reveals. One third of our labor force has decent employment. A substantial proportion is unemployed or underemployed. Fifty-four percent of Peruvians live below the poverty line and 16 percent live below an extreme, extreme poverty line.

Almost all children go to school, but very few finish. I have a commitment from my life, and I talk to my daughter every day about it: I'm crazy about education; not only from an analytical standpoint, not only because I have had the pleasure of being a professor in universities in the United States and around the world, not only because I have written books about it, but because I'm absolutely convinced that this is the only way to win the battle against poverty. And if we win the battle against poverty, we will make substantial progress against terrorism and violence. I'm not making a direct connection, but I'm saying that if we win the battle against poverty, we will make substantial progress in the world.

When I was born, as soon as I opened my eyes I met extreme poverty. I know how it looks. It's not nice - extreme, extreme poverty. I was born into a family of 16 brothers and sisters. And as is typical of extreme poverty, seven or eight of them died in the first year of life. I was lucky. I survived. More than that, I am now president of my country in a very unusual way. I went to school. I did my undergraduate study at a nice, clean-cut Jesuit university in San Francisco. I did my two masters degrees, and my Ph.D. at Stanford, I worked in the United Nations and the World Bank in Washington. I was a visiting professor at Harvard. I did the whole shmear.

I'm the walking evidence of what education can do. Yes, my case, why I'm here in front of you as president and the path that I followed, having been born 4,000 meters above sea level in the Andes, and now being here at the World Economic Forum - my case is a statistical error. Now, as president, I have the responsibility to Peruvians who live below the poverty line to make sure they have the freedom to choose to live a decent life through education.

I am committed to that. I know that this is a medium and long-term investment. I know that I will not benefit politically from it because it will take a long time. I have made a decision that I don't want to make government choices based on the next election. I want to make a statement and decision for the next generation.

Let me talk to you a little bit about the Jewish community in Peru. The Jewish community in Peru is small - 2500 - small, but a very vibrant part of our intellectual and business leadership. Over the years, they have made a significant contribution to the economic and social development.

In Peru, we have been working hard to try to construct strong democratic institutions after a dictatorship. It is not easy in a world in which the economy is shrinking - in Japan, Europe, and the United States - before September 11 and after September 11. We need to grow as a democracy with full respect to human rights. We are trying to grow economically. We grew at 2 percent last year. We need to grow more than that. We need to grow slowly so that we can sustain rates of economic growth for the next 10 or 15 years. I know that the world economy is going to grow in the best of scenarios, at 1 percent this year and that this rate has a negative impact on international trade and in the flow of capital to Latin America and into Peru. Most of the flow of capital - 40 percent - is going to one single country, China. Moreover, the prices of our raw materials that we export are dropping in the international market.

So, it's not a rosy picture for me to govern, but I love challenges. I'm going to do my best. I'm stubborn. I'm stubborn, I said, but I'm not meshugenah. My friends, we have an enormous task, and we hope that we can strengthen the relationship with the United States and with Israel. I have a great friend, a great, great friend in Israel - Shimon Peres, and I'm going to see him tomorrow.

I can say this with great pride: Peru is one of the leading countries who signed the resolution of the United Nations in 1947 for the creation of the State of Israel. I know what persecution and discrimination mean. I know what it means to live in crisis. I will announce for the first time that I am making a decision to pass a law immediately creating conditions to attract Argentinean Jews who are now leaving their country. I hope they will come to Peru. We have opened our arms to them, if they choose. We are creating some stimulus for investment. Many of them are academics and intellectuals. It will be a great pleasure to receive them, if they wish.

My friends, for Peru to obtain a growth rate of 4 to 5 percent, we need to increase production, particularly in the sectors in which we have enormous competitive advantage - agro-industry, agro-industry, agro-business, and tourism, and we need to convert those to greater competitive advantage. Tourists go to Machu Picchu. You have heard about Cuzco and Machu Picchu. But we have much more than that. Forty percent of the tourism comes just from the United States, but after September 11, it has dropped significantly. If you people come, I will put you on the presidential plane and I will go with you to Machu Picchu and Cuzco. But I am also going to show you all parts of Peru, with its beautiful tourist attractions.

The other sector is, I repeat, agro-industry. And to develop that, we need to confront head on the issue of narco-trafficking associated with terrorism. To promote agro-industry in our culture, we need the U.S. Congress to approve the Andean Preferential Trade Act. I am asking your help. It was supposed to be approved in the previous session of Congress, but some internal conflict prevented it from being approved - internal conflict within U.S. politics, I mean. President Bush has made a commitment to this act, but the Congress needs to approve it; that will be a great help because it will enable us to substitute for the cultivation of cocoa leaves the cultivation of cotton, coffee, and other substitute crops. That will be the most effective way of eliminating thousands and thousands of hectares of cocoa leaves, because it will generate jobs. We need the U.S. Congress to approve this Andean Preferential Trade Act.

Let me finish these remarks, by sharing with you some reflections about terrorism and peace. Peru has experienced for 25 years the adverse, criminal impact of terrorism. We lost 25,000 lives and we paid over $30 billion for it. We had Shining Path. That was miserable. In my government, we will make no concession whatsoever to terrorism, not only in Peru, but also in the world - whatever the form of terrorism. There is no space for ambiguity about our position on this issue.

It's not only the United States that suffers from terrorism. We took a strong stand on September 11 through a message to the nation. It's around the world. I have a daughter that I love. I want her to go to Israel to see her mother's roots without being scared. She deserves the right to visit her family in peace! I said to the United Nations a few months ago, "There is no space for ambiguity on the position against terrorism!"

Peace: Peace is vital. Peace is also associated with the health of the economies of the world. Terrorism scares away investment and therefore prevents the generation of jobs. Peace can lead us to understand each other, to find our common goals and to identify the diversities of our respective nations. A strong element of the United States, is its diversity, as is true in Israel. Terrorism prevents societies, particularly in the developing world, from growing and, therefore, having financial resources to invest in the social area. I say I'm a fanatic about education, but I need funds for it. If there is no investment, then there is no growth. If there is no growth, there are no jobs. If there are no jobs, poverty increases, and the government has fewer resources to invest in the social area.

Friends, we need to understand that each one of us has a place in the world. I want to liberate my country. I want my country to have freedom. There is no freedom when a kid goes to sleep without knowing if tomorrow he has something to eat. That's poverty, and poverty is associated with terrorism, and terrorism is associated with narco-trafficking in Peru.

My friends, I'm extremely privileged to have shared these informal thoughts with you and to express my sympathy and say you've been very generous. Shabbat shalom.

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