Former Peru President Sees Potential In U.S. Politics

This story was written by Mohammad Ali, The Stanford Daily
The former president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo, Ph.D. 93, says he understands Barack Obamas unique appeal to voters.

On the Stanford campus this year as a lecturer in the Freeman Spogli Institute, Toledo has compared himself to the presumptive Democratic nominee from Illinois.

Its [as if] I look to see myself in the mirror with Mr. Barack Obama, he said in an interview last week, though he stopped short of endorsing the Senator. There are enormous similarities [between us]. Barack Obama has appeared in todays political scenario by a destiny, because one does not choose that. Our similarity is the unlikeliness [of our political careers].

The first democratically elected president of indigenous descent in Latin America in 500 years, Toledo spent his early years in the mountains of Peru. As a child, he earned money shining shoes and selling newspapers and lottery tickets. He met Peace Corps volunteers who guided him in obtaining a scholarship to America, where he made ends meet pumping gas. He went on to serve as a consultant for several international organizations and as a visiting scholar at Harvard.

In Peru for 500 years, someone with my ethnic background was never accepted to even be a candidate, he continued in comparing himself to Obama. I was a political intruder in the establishment of politics in Latin America and in Peru.

Toledo, who served as president from 2001 to 2006, described the historic opportunity for America to regain its role as a leader in the upcoming election.

Ive been following politics of the United States for 40 years, he said. For the first time in my life, after John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. [and] Bobby Kennedy, I foresee the potential for a huge stepping stone and the possibility for the United States, perhaps without knowing it, to send a clear message to the world by having a woman or a non-white man as president.

Toledo also spoke about Obamas ability to inspire others when speaking.

Ive met a lot of students who told me they get goosebumps listening to this guy, he said. Ive listened to every speech by him.

The former president also gave his strongest indication yet that he will be returning to Peru to run for office again in 2011.

I find enormous similarities with [Obama] on the basis of a dream that we can do together, he said. Let me put it this way: there is a possibility that we might govern together at the same time.

Toledo further addressed the criticism of Obama that he is too inexperienced, citing his own tenure as president.

My experience was on-the-job training, he said.

Before assuming presidency, Toledo had never run for public office before. But he emphasized that this was not necessarily a handicap.

Ive said this publicly thank God I did not have a previous experience before I decided to run for president, because I didnt know what was behind the curtains. So dont be afraid to vote for someone that doesnt have experience.

Asked how America can better engage with the world once a new president is elected, Toledo said America should pay attention to a broader area of the world.

I hope that the next president has a view of the world that has a much wider spectrum, and I hope that the next president will not be so obsessed only with the Middle East or the Arab countries, he said. There are other parts of the world. Watch them. Russia. We need to pay attention to China. We need to pay attention to India. We need to pay attention to Latin America.

Toledo was especially concerned with the United States taking Latin American countries for granted, paying attention to them only when an Americannational interest was at stake.

I hope the next president will have a wider view of the world, he said. I hope he will have the courage and the intelligence and the humbleness to consult and talk to world leaders before making a decision. I hope the next president will respect the U.N. as a charter of the world.

Toledo suggested Americas power does not give it a right to act without respecting others.

You may have your tanks, your planes, your ships, your technology, but that doesnt make you the owner of the world, he said. There are issues that the leaders of the world today need to confront that require the convergence and the opinions of other people.

No one is powerful enough to ignore the rest of the world, he added.

If Toledo reenters politics, giving a voice to Latin America will not be his only drive. To him, inspiring others has been a motivating force behind his career.

To walk in the streets and to be pulled by the poor, poor ladies and to hear their dreams about their children thats incredible, he said. To me, thats the most powerful accomplishment.