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Embattled Peruvian President receives GW award

Before giving the inauguration speech at the National Museum of the American Indian, the president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo, came to GW Tuesday to accept the Presidential Award.

Toledo was recognized for exemplary leadership four years after he ascended from what GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg called a “struggle against adversity” and poverty as a shoe shine boy to become the first freely elected indigenous president of Peru.

A packed audience attended the 9:30 a.m. ceremony in the Dorothy Betts Theatre in the Marvin Center.

The award is the highest honor awarded by the University president. Trachtenberg said Toledo has emerged from a “nasty presidential campaign that makes watching the U.S presidential election seem fun” to combat corruption and poverty in a country still recovering from a dictatorship and hyperinflation.

In introducing Toledo, political science professor Cynthia McClintock applauded his many “firsts.” She said that for the first time, Peru can realize a sustained economic growth under Toledo’s leadership.

“Change is often not popular,” said McClintock, who is an expert on Peruvian politics. “But the record shows President Toledo is leading Peru in a positive direction.”

While boasting about persistent economic growth in his three years as president, Toledo was honest about social unrest that has brought his popularity down to the single digits.

“My popularity is 15 to 17 percent. But I came from 7 percent,” he said. “That’s the high political price when one wants to realize dreams.”

The audience laughed when he admitted his popularity was very low and that it had in fact grown by 100 percent.

“People say to me, ‘You helped to give us freedom, now I want a job,'” he said. “People are impatient and justifiably so.”

Toledo and Trachtenberg sat side by side at the beginning of the program and witnessed the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the GW Center for Latin American Issues and Embassy of Peru.

The memorandum will start talks on study abroad programs, cultural events, conferences and lectures on Peru that Toledo said will permit policy-makers to understand his country better.

Toledo is the third Latin American official to receive the GW Presidential Award. Former Uruguayan President Luis Alberto Lacalle received the award in 1994 and former President of Costa Rica Miguel Rodriguez was awarded in 1998.

Laura Bridge, a senior in the Elliott School studying Latin America, said she could understand Peruvians’ frustration after she visited Peru this year.

“I think he was a little bit overzealous to explain his unpopularity,” Bridge said. “He was not tackling the issues. He recognized problems and pushed trade issues that I don’t think will affect the 54 percent living below the poverty line. There should be less talk and more action.”

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