Friday, April 15, 2011

Peruvian Platters & Politics

Over the past decade-plus, one of the most notable developments in Santiago’s dining scene (and to a lesser degree in the rest of Chile) has been the proliferation of Peruvian restaurants. In my opinion, Peru has the finest, most diverse cuisine on the entire South American continent, and Chileans have taken to it enthusiastically - much as North Americans have taken to Mexican food. Restaurants such as Providencia’s Astrid y Gastón and Barandiarán have set the pace for elite Peruvian dining, but there are many modest neighborhood places, such as Barrio Bellavista’s Pantaleón II, that serve outstanding food at everyday prices.

There’s another less fortunate aspect to the Peruvian presence, and that’s the fact many undocumented Peruvians have poured into Chile - just as Mexicans have into the United States - because of economic hardship in their home country and opportunities across the border. In the process, they’ve sometimes become scapegoats among those who think Peruvians are taking their jobs away - though it hasn’t approached the flagrant and sometime violent xenophobia that Mexicans have suffered in US border states such as Arizona.

Most Chileans I know welcome the Peruvian presence, though that may be skewed as they really like Peruvian food, but this year there’s an added twist because it’s a presidential election year - not in Chile, but in Peru. Last Sunday, in a result that Nobel Prize novelist and political commentator Mario Vargas Llosa has characterized as “a choice between AIDS and terminal cancer,” ultra-nationalist Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori advanced to a runoff that will take place on June 5th.

Vargas Llosa, who favored ex-president Alejandro Toledo, despises both Humala (who has ties to Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chávez) and Fujimori (who has backtracked on pledges to grant amnesty to her father Alberto Fujimori, currently imprisoned for human rights abuses during his own presidency in the 1990s). Toledo ran a lackluster campaign and finished fourth, splitting the moderate vote with third-place finisher Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, his one-time economy minister.

While Chile has refrained from interfering in its neighbor’s domestic politics, Humala has a history of vigorous criticism toward Santiago. His Peruvian supporters in Chile are making a blatantly demagogic appeal as the poster pictured here, featuring an allied congressional candidate, asserts that “Humala will protect you.” Though not overtly stated, the clear implication is that Peruvians need his protection from Chileans and their government.

In Chile, meanwhile, Humala’s forces are trying to get out the vote with promises of low prices for consular services and remittances to Peru, and even “free legal, psychological and social advice” should their candidate prove victorious. Meanwhile, every Sunday, Peruvians in downtown Santiago form long lines outside restaurants such as El Ají Seco to enjoy a taste of Lima and the Peruvian Andes - much as many Chileans do.

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