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Photo of group with Alejandro Toledo

David Kliger welcomed former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo to UCSC. From left are alumnus John Rick, Rosa Rick, Kliger, Toledo, Eliane Karp (Toledo's wife), and Professor Kent Eaton.

Photo: Louise Donahue

November 27, 2006

Visiting campus, former president of Peru vows to continue fight against poverty

By Louise Donahue

Politics classes took a real-world turn November 14 when the former president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo, visited UCSC.

Toledo, whose five-year term ended in July, addressed an undergraduate politics class and spoke to a gathering of graduate students following a welcome to campus by David Kliger, campus provost and executive vice chancellor.

Appropriately, "Poverty, Inequality, and the Future of Democracy in Latin America" was Toledo's topic at the Kresge Town Hall politics class. Toledo told the students that he grew up poor, with 16 brothers and sisters, seven of whom died in their first year of life.

It was only by accident and with the help of Peace Corps volunteers that the young shoeshine boy went to high school, he said, then got a soccer scholarship to the University of San Francisco. He later earned a master's degree and Ph.D. at Stanford.

Describing himself as a humanist, Toledo called opportunity the key to democracy. "The world has a challenge," he said. "Democracy is being undermined by high levels of poverty."

Reducing poverty was Toledo's chief goal as president, he said, and one of his first decisions was to reduce military spending and redirect the money toward health and education. He also developed a system of small subsidies to help women in extreme poverty.

While Toledo's focus on the poor prompts comparisons with such populist Latin American leaders as Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Toledo does not consider himself part of that group.

Responding to a question, Toledo said he believes in giving people the right to education and services, rather than offering giveaways.

The former president said he was proud of what he had done to alleviate poverty in Peru, but was not satisfied. "I might not be president, but my fight continues."

Reflecting on his difficult time in office, Toledo said he is enjoying a life without so much scrutiny. "They did not make it easy for me. I got 20 years older in five years." Toledo, who faced criticism from much of his nation's press, took the long view of his legacy as president. "History will be a better judge than journalists," he predicted.

Politics and Latin American and Latino Studies faculty and undergraduate students were invited to the Kresge Town Hall class, and Toledo met with a group of about 15 faculty and graduate students at Merrill College. In the smaller meeting, Toledo fielded questions from graduate students who work on topics including child labor, land reform, and sexual violence during Peru's internal armed conflict between 1980 and 2000.

UCSC alumnus and Stanford anthropology professor John Rick was instrumental in bringing Toledo to UCSC. Rick, whose daughter, Sarah, is a UCSC student, got to know Toledo when working in Peru.

Toledo spoke at the politics class of professor Kent Eaton.

"I wanted to bring President Toledo to campus because he governed at a time of growing political turbulence in Latin America," Eaton said. "Specifically, within Peru he had to pick up the pieces left behind by the rather sudden collapse of the 10-year Fujimori administration. President Toledo had to deal with the three main legacies of Fujimori's administration: widespread state corruption, human rights abuses, and press censorship."

"In addition to his personal experiences as president, Toledo's own life story makes him the perfect messenger for his messenge, which was a call for investment in education and health care while maintaining responsible fiscal policies," Eaton said. "I think it was invaluable for the students to see what a change education made in the life of Alejandro Toledo."

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