Sunday, October 10, 2010

Obras! Pan! Sugar! Spice! Everything nice!

My friend Delina making bread in a wood oven. When I arrived, she handed me a piece the size of my head and told me it was for fattening me up. Thanks, Peru.
Musho is still gorgeous, of course. And now, for some news:
"For the bread. No, the condor, no the cooking pot, no, obviously the river!!"
Is this a debate over graphics to use in a coloring book? Words to include in an English lesson? No, no, this is a possible, and likely debate discussing the political candidates and parties for the regional election, which took place today (we are anxiously awaiting to hear the results over the radio). Each party chooses a symbol to be represented by on the ballot, and, surely due to the poorly educated electorate, are usually known better by their symbol than their platform or, often, candidates.
As in the States, voting begins months before. Unlike the States, I have managed to go through the entire campaign without having developed an idea of the platform of each candidates or the differences between them. Promises center on "obras," that is, public work projects that usually improve/create infrastructure and give jobs (and, incidentally, generate a perfect climate for corruption). Every candidate promises obras, so there is no way of knowing which will deliver or not, besides some sort of wishful thinking based on character-analysis. However, this does not prevent frantic campaigning and strong biases. These might be based on experience, the advice of friends or neighbors, or how much free stuff the candidate has given you or your town.
Last Wednesday and Thursday, for instance, were the official closing of the campaigns. For this, the candidates pay drivers and their staff to head out to the distant, high land villages, drum up support, and invite (pressure, goad, force) people to take a free trip down to the district capital, put on a free t-shirt with the candidates name, listen to some blustery empty promises, and then eat a free lunch. People vote based on this shameless gifting. I even heard of a case of a current mayor gifting 100 soles each to 300 people for the promise of a vote. Hearing this I commented that the people could easily accept the 100 soles and then vote for another candidate, but my host dad assured me that people would not think to do that.
Voting is obligatory here, under penalty of fine, and there is no absentee voting, causing massive travel and confusion over the voting weekend. Voting occurs on Sunday, but our schools are canceled Friday and Monday to prepare, give teachers time to travel, and clean up after the election. Despite these allowances, the day itself seems to be completely chaotic. I spent the weekend in Huaraz, for a regional meeting and some relaxation. After lunch, Pete and I headed back to Mancos to look for colectivos to our respective sites. The stop in Mancos was flooded with people, obviously trying to make their way back to their villages after coming down to the district capital to vote. Everyone was confused, there were few cars, and I ended up waiting an hour and a half to ride up to Musho in a crowded trunk. OK, that might sound like complaining, mostly because it is. However, it´s a pretty interesting system for voting, and it works pretty different than our non-obligatory, rather apathetic election system-- especially for local elections, when even 75% voter turn-out would be a delusional expectation.
For the most part, I´ve watched this process with bemusement, curiosity and occasional frustration. It´s a different system than the states, in the midst of a different culture. Democracy in action has so many different applications; I wish I could better judge the merits of each different system. What I will say is that it is certainly a chaotic system. A week after the elections, most of the votes have been counted and decided, but it was slow going.
Next up? Local, local elections for Musho mayor. As Peace Corps volunteers we are meant to stay out of politics, but I fear it will be impossible to stay neutral when my friends and neighbors begin to form planchas (planks, the word for election teams) for the town. We´ll see.

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