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Sunday, 8 April, 2001, 00:36 GMT 01:36 UK
Toledo: Shoeshine boy turned economist

Alejandro Toledo is in touch with his Andean heritage
Alejandro Toledo emerged as the favourite to succeed disgraced former leader Alberto Fujimori in presidential elections.

His ethnic-Andean origins reflect those of the vast majority of Peruvians of indigenous or mixed race descent, who have traditionally been excluded from the political mainstream.

Destiny has put me on the front line of the battle to recover democracy and freedom

Alejandro Toledo
In the final months of Mr Fujimori's rule, Mr Toledo repeatedly pressed him to leave office immediately, blaming him for political instability which he said threatened to undermine democracy in the country.

But his stated aims of forming a government of reconciliation and national unity have been constantly jeopardised by fractious relations with fellow opposition figures.

A series of scandals involving allegations that he fathered a daughter he refuses to recognise, and that he tested positive for cocaine in 1998 have also threatened his popularity.

Fairytale rise

Mr Toledo was born in a poor Andean Indian village as one of 16 brothers and sisters, seven of whom died.

Mr Toledo hugs his wife, Eliane Karp
Mr Toledo's wife, Eliane Karp, has been compared to Hillary Clinton
When his parents migrated to the coastal city of Chimbote in search of a better life, he began work as a shoeshine boy, aged seven.

But a scholarship to secondary school led to a university place in the United States. He went on to take a doctorate at Stanford University and establish himself as a respected economist.

His repeated expressions of pride in his indigenous Andean roots have struck a chord with millions of Andean migrants who have moved to the cities in the last few decades, to find themselves considered second-class citizens on the basis of their ethnicity.

Even his marriage - to the fair-haired, Belgian-born Eliane Karp - exemplifies Peruvian dreams of upward social mobility.

His supporters refer to him affectionately as "El Cholo", a usually derogatory term applied to urbanised Indians.

With his dark skin and Andean appearance, Mr Toledo looks more like the average Peruvian than any previous president. And his fairytale rise from shoeshine boy to successful economist embodies the aspirations of many poor Peruvians.

Even his marriage - to the fair-haired, Belgian-born Eliane Karp - exemplifies Peruvian dreams of upward social mobility.

Frequently compared to Hillary Clinton, she has proved to be an electoral asset in her own right, delivering strident campaign speeches in the main Indian language, Quechua.

'Capitalism with a human face'

Mr Toledo's political programme is by no means radical. He has promised capitalism with a human face rather than any reversal of the radical free-market economic reforms implemented by Mr Fujimori.

But he has placed great emphasis on creating new jobs, rather than maintaining the food aid programmes with which Mr Fujimori has sought to alleviate the harsh social impact of his economic programme.

And he has also stressed his support for decentralisation, a key issue in provincial Peru, where the political and economic dominance of the capital, Lima, is deeply resented.

Tables turned on Fujimori

Mr Fujimori votes
Mr Fujimori himself rose to power from relative obscurity
Ironically, Mr Toledo's appeal reflects that which first brought Alberto Fujimori to power 10 years ago, when he won a surprise victory over the author Mario Vargas Llosa.

As the son of Japanese immigrants, Mr Fujimori appeared to have far more in common with the average Peruvian than Mr Vargas Llosa, who was seen as the embodiment of the fair-skinned European elite which had governed Peru with little success for centuries.

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08 Apr 01 | Americas
Peruvians vote in key poll
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