Spanish-Speaking RPCVs Assist Expatriate Peruvian Voting
By Erica Burman on Wednesday, May 18th, 2011
Serving in the Peace Corps often means leaving a piece of your heart with your host country. That can lead to lending support in conventional ways — cheering them on in the World Cup, raising funds for projects, seeking out those special dishes at ethnic eateries — as well as the not-so-conventional. For example, helping out with an election.
Recruited by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Mike Wolfson (Peru 64-66) and Gloria Levin (Peru 66-68), 15 RPCVs assisted the Peruvian Consulate in carrying out the April 10th election for the Presidency, 130 seats in the Congress, and 5 seats in the Andean Parliament. About 15,000 Peruvian nationals traveled from as far away as Kentucky, West Virginia, and Delaware to cast their ballots at Washington D.C.’s regional polling place in nearby West Falls Church, Va.
“It was really great meeting Peruvians again,” said Tino Calabia (Peru 63-65). “So many drove long distances to reach the polling place, got stalled in traffic by multiple fender-benders around West Falls Church, and then had to stand in long lines to cast their ballots. But afterwards some came to me and other Volunteers and, full of smiles, thanked us for helping. And yet it really wasn’t hard work at all.”
Because the campaign for the presidency was hotly contested by 10 candidates, none succeeded in securing the majority required to avoid a run-off. The top two finalists, Ollanta Humala, a former army colonel, and Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, will face each other in the run-off election on June 5th.
Spanish-speaking RPCV Volunteers needed for June run-off
In an early May interview at the Peruvian Consulate in Washington, D.C., Deputy Consul General Maria Eugenia Chiozza de Zela met with Calabia and Sarah Stewart (Guatemala 04-6, Honduras 06-7, PC Response/Panama 09-10) to discuss the need for additional help from RPCVs. Stewart is the coordinator for the 39-member RPCV group at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Calabia is with the Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Office at HUD.
Ms. Chiozza explained that 27 Organization of American States (OAS) interns who also assisted on April 10th have now returned to their home countries. Thus, she is hoping that more Spanish-speaking RPCVs could work in West Falls Church for the June run-off. She noted that several of Peru’s other consulates throughout the U.S. are also seeking help. Her New York City counterpart, Deputy Consul General Fortunato Quesada, later told Calabia, “The Consulate in New York City would deeply appreciate assistance from Spanish-speaking Peace Corps Volunteers. My office looks forward to hearing from them at 646-735-3901.” RPCVs elsewhere can offer their help by calling the phone number of the Peruvian consulate nearest to them as listed on the Internet.
Complicated by Peru’s version of preferential voting, last month’s election was also cumbersome, due to the hundreds of candidates vying for seats in the Congress and the Andean Parliament. On June 5th, however, Peruvian nationals will vote solely for the Presidency. Nonetheless, turnout should remain high because Peru does not offer absentee ballots and voting is compulsory under penalty of fines. More importantly, the contest between Humala and Fujimori is extremely polarized.
Many view Humala as the anti-establishment candidate promising to redistribute Peru’s wealth. (A full-page ad in the May 15, 2011 New York Times Magazine described Peru’s economy as reaching 8.8 percent GDP growth in 2010, second only to China’s.) Meanwhile, many others view Fujimori as mainly seeking to release her father, former President Fujimori, from prison where he sits convicted for human rights abuses.
For RPCVs, it is interesting to note that Ms. Chiozza served as General Director of North American Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under then-President Alejandro Toledo. As a youth, Toledo was mentored by Peace Corps Volunteers and helped to enter college in California. In 2001, Ms. Chiozza assisted Toledo in reopening Peru to the Peace Corps, thereby enabling new Volunteers to come to her country as PCVs. Now she is offering RPCVs an opportunity to help Peruvians again, this time here in the U.S.