LIMA, Peru — Peru’s populist presidential front-runner Yonhy Lescano plans to renegotiate a fairer distribution of mining wealth if elected to lead the world’s No. 2 copper producer and also allow imports of cheaper natural gas, he told Reuters less than a month before the vote.
Lescano, 62, a former lawmaker and leader of the Popular Action party, has emerged as the favorite in polls heading toward the April 11 first-round vote. He will very likely face a second round run-off in June.
In an interview at his home in Surco, a quiet residential district of the capital, Lima, the lawyer said the contrast between the Andean country’s booming mining sector and relatively poor populace was “a terrible contradiction.”
“That wealth is not even reaching the inhabitants who are next to the mining sites, something is wrong here, we must correct that,” Lescano said.
Copper, silver and gold mined from Peru’s highlands and lowland Amazon represent 60 percent of its exports and are vital to the economy. But protests are mounting as citizens demand greater benefits and tighter controls to ensure environmental and social sustainability.
Mineral-rich Peru boasts a $56 billion waiting list of new mine projects at a time of soaring prices for copper and other metals. Lescano said this leaves room for negotiation to ensure more profits stay in Peru.
“We are not going to make order by supreme decree or by law, but rather we will sit at a table and renegotiate,” he said.
Lescano, a populist who has risen quickly through the polls in the past month, is a father of three originally from Puno, an Andean city on the shores of the high-altitude Lake Titicaca.
He is favored in southern Peru, a region that historically leans left, but also by older, more conservative Peruvians.
Several of his policies are aimed at lowering costs for the country’s poor and middle class citizens, who have been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus crisis.
Lescano told Reuters he hopes to lower the cost of natural gas - which accounts for nearly half of country’s energy supply - by ratcheting up competition and allowing gas imports. He said he would support the construction of a gas pipeline between Bolivia and Peru.
“If you allow Bolivian gas (into Peru), prices will fall, because Bolivia has much cheaper gas,” he said.
The candidate said he would also improve access to credit by forcing private banks to reduce “abusive” interest rates and that he could encourage Peru’s state Banco de la Nacion to enter the market and compete with private lenders.
Lescano holds conservative views on some social issues, including being opposed to abortion, same-sex marriage and education in schools around gender identity.
He said he would tackle rampant corruption that has seen five former presidents probed or prosecuted for corruption in just over two decades, by banning officials who accept bribes to ever work for the state, a punishment he called “civil death.”
Lescano explained that his political ideology was governed by three rules inherited from the Inca Empire that dominated the country prior to the arrival of Europeans: “Ama sua,” “Ama Llulla” and “Ama Quella” — Quechua phrases that mean “don’t be a thief,” “don’t be a liar” and “don’t be lazy.”