Catholic bishops speak out at eleventh hour in Peru's election
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(Editor's note: As of Monday, June 6, 2011, Ollanta Humala holds a thin majority over Keiko Fujimori, 50.7% to 49.3%, with 84% of the votes counted.)
A SECOND ROUND OF VOTING ON SUNDAY will resolve Peru's presidential election, and leading candidates Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala are making every effort to capture the 7 per cent of voters that are still undecided. <
Earlier this week, polls showed that Fujimori and Humala were in a virtual tie. As a result, media outlets that have taken sides in the election have begun highlighting controversial values-based issues in an effort to push the undecideds toward one or another of the candidates.
The most recent theme to appear is the question of forced sterliizations of women, a program that Alberto Fujimori, Keiko's father and an extraordinarily polarizing president from 1990-2000, implemented in the 1980s. This is a highly sensitive issue for Peruvians because some 200,000 women were sterlized without their consent under that policy.
Re-opening the issue of forced sterilization has also brought into direct conflict two of Peru's most prominent Catholic leaders.
One one side is the Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, a supporter of the conservative right and an open supporter of "Fujimorismo", the name given to the collection of hard-line policies Keiko's father implemented to combat poverty and the Maoist insurgency of Shining Path.
And on the other side is the Archbishop of Trujillo and president of the Episcopal Conference, Miguel Cabrejos. Cabrejos dramatically reminded the public of Fujimori's goal, which in Cabrejos' words was "to end poverty by ensuring that poor women would be unable to bring children into the world."
Cipriani quickly moved to the Keiko Fujimori's defense.
"I'm a witness that none of the two candidates has forced sterlizations in their family-planning policies. Critics have tried to confuse the electorate by resurrecting an old issue that is no longer of any concern."
When asked about Cipriani's explicit support of Keiko Fujimori, Cardinal Cabrejos commented, "He doesn't represent the Catholic Church of Peru. Certainly, as a person, he has all the right to his own opinion, but as a pastor, he should worry about the faithful."
It remains to be seen on Sunday if skeletons in the elder Fujimori's closet - and the Catholic Church's political split on their relevance - will be the deciding factor in the closest election since 1962.