Peru president's kin causes headaches for leader

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 27, 2012 1:09 PM
Peru president's kin causes headaches for leader

By Terry Wade

LIMA (Reuters) - Oh, brother!

It's apparently not enough that Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has to solve mining protests and figure out how to keep the Latin American country's economy booming. Now his own highly eccentric family is adding more trouble with their antics.

One of his brothers was recently shown on television smoking pot in prison. Another brother told the media that Humala's wife actually runs the country. And a third embarrassed him by negotiating gas deals with Russia without permission.

Not to mention, the president's dad, a retired lawyer named Isaac, founded an ethnic nationalist group that seeks to reclaim the glory of Peru's Incan past in a country conquered by the Spanish.

Humala has become the most popular Peruvian leader in decades since taking office in July but his brothers have arguably become his biggest political liability.

Their shenanigans have brought back memories of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's sibling, Billy, who cashed in on family fame by branding his own beer, and President Bill Clinton's half-brother, Roger, an actor and musician who had brushes with the law over drugs and drink.

Humala's approval rating fell 6 percentage points to 53 percent this month after his brother Antauro, who is serving a 19-year prison sentence for leading a 2005 coup attempt that killed four police officers, photographed himself cavorting with his girlfriends and using his iPhone in prison in open mockery of guards, according to pollster Ipsos.

"The loquacious Antauro could cause the president severe damage in the future," said Alfredo Torres of Ipsos.

Critics say Antauro has enjoyed privileges in Peru's notoriously corrupt prisons that have included visits from at least four girlfriends and Internet access.

Emails he wrote to his lovers from his phone, which was seized by prison officials, have been published in Peruvian newspapers. One was signed "Your Macho Man." In another, he compared himself to a great Incan emperor with the sign off "Your irresistible Blue Pachacutek."

On Monday, a day after the president tried to distance himself from his brother's hijacks, local broadcasters ran video of Antauro in his cell rolling what appeared to be marijuana cigarettes. He inhaled, deeply.

Humala's justice minister has spent weeks trying to clean up the mess, which has taken attention away from the president's efforts to roll out social programs and show voters he is working hard to extend the country's long economic boom.


Another brother, Ulises, who is a mathematics whiz, appeared to publicly humiliate the president by saying the person who really runs the Andean country is Ollanta's popular wife, Nadine, and that she could campaign for president in 2016.

Those statements followed speculation that Nadine, a skilled public speaker, has political ambitions, despite her denials in a country where leaders cannot hold two-straight terms.

"Nadine provides support on social issues, but doesn't make decisions. I'm the decision-maker," the president, a former military officer, said on local TV on Sunday. "She provides refuge for a soldier to face the challenge of running this country."

A third brother, Alexis, caused the then president-elect's first ethics scandal in July by flying to Russia only days after he was elected to drum up business with the world's largest natural gas company, state-controlled Gazprom (GAZP.MM). Alexis was promptly suspended as a director of Humala's party.

The Humala family's aging patriarch has said Antauro may be crazy - but in a good way.

"If Antauro is crazy, he has the madness of Christ," Isaac has said.

The president, a former leftist who has governed as a business-friendly centrist, has rejected his father's calls to give Antauro a presidential pardon.

"I respect my father, my mother and my family but it's one thing to be Ollanta Humala and another thing to be president of the country," he said on Sunday.

(Reporting By Terry Wade; Editing by Hugh Bronstein and Cynthia Osterman)