12, September, 2014 the results fell: in the public eye the most powerful person in Peru is not president Ollanta Humala, but his wife, Nadine Heredia. Despite a very short gap in the percentage between the spouse, the one who was supposed to be in the shadow eclipsed the person constitutionally charged to embody national power.
Some days later, the First Lady of Peru commented the results of the poll organized by Datum, explaining that those high scores of both the President and herself should be seen as a sign of social recognition of the work they do together as a couple and a family, her husband as president and herself as his companion in the public life. Humala himself explained that those results seemed positive to him and that “it should be applauded that Peru has a First Lady who has been active on the public stage for many years”.
Notwithstanding, many peruvian did not analyze the results under such as optimistic angle. They rather saw there a representation of a peculiar situation in which the presidential spouse had been progressively taking a place that did not belong to her and weakened the presidential status.
Who is Nadine Heredia?
On her twitter account, she describes herself as follow: “A mum. First lady of Peru. Special Ambassador of FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). Cofounder of Partido Nacionalista”. Heredia despite her young age (she is only 38 years old) has already a rich political experience. Since 2006 (the date of creation of Partido Nacionalista) until the end of 2013, she was responsible for the international relations of the party and led the party’s youth. In 2014 she replaced her husband in the office of the leader of the party.
However, her impressive CV has two dark points. In the first place, Heredia has never occupied an elective office and her participation in various elections was limited to support her husband. Secondly, she was criticized of being a political radical because of for her romance with the marxism in the youth. Moreover, some badly documented rumors claim that around 2006 she worked closely with Hugo Chavez writing for him some articles. Although, the said articles have never been discovered, the story echoes the sympathy Nadine Heredia and her husband felt for the Venezuelan president.
Powerful? Yes. Loved? Not so much.
The truth should be faced – just like every First Lady who tries to embrace power, Nadine Heredia strongly polarizes the Peruvian society. In March, 2014 the Star published an article about her with started with a strong accusation : “Peruvians are much too obsessed with hating first lady Nadine Heredia”. Indeed, the First Lady does not enjoy a positive press coverage in Peru. Often called “co-president“, she is presented by her foes as an embodiment of power-avid Lady Macbeth. Following “La Tercera de Chile”, a wikileaks rapport from 2011 would quote an opinion of the US Ambassador to Chile, Peter Michael McKinley saying that Heredia was “a radical mind behind Humala” and that the real power was in reality in her hands.
The behavior of the Peruvian First Lady can indeed provoke this kind of analysis. Although Heredia claims she does not control her husband, many political experts speak about her critical role in the fall of the two last governments. Moreover, several times she has showed that she would not hesitate to release information about national affairs without consulting the government and the president or comment various matters when her husband has decided to keep his silence. A very symbolic moment was the ceremony of swearing in of Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile since March 2014. Nadine Heredia walked down a red carpet reserved exclusively for heads of state, provoking angry reactions of Peruvian media.
This stepping over the power makes believe to the Peruvians that Heredia would present herself in 2016. The current First Lady denies she would do so and actually, she would not be able to start in the next elections as the Constitution of Peru does not allow spouses of presidents to present their candidatures for the presidential office immediately after their companion’s end of the term. Nevertheless nothing would stop her from running in 2021 elections. She’ll be then only 44 years old and the most surely a heavyweight candidate.
At the moment though the public opinion looks with a critical eye on the over-presence of Heredia on the public stage. Various polls realized in 2013 and 2014 illustrate a critical fall in popularity of the presidential couple. The First Lady seems to be the principal reason as she is blamed for overshadowing ministries and awakening her own husband. Results of a poll realized by Pulso Peru in March 2014 seem to be very significative in this matter: while 62% of respondents believed that Heredia was the one who actually was running the country, 69% of them disliked her. This result seems to be a confirmation of the Peruvians’ reaction in the past. In 2006 Humala presented himself for the first time in the presidential elections. Heredia was strongly involved and her husband lost. Five years later she was less present in the media and during official meetings and Humala won elections.
It should be noticed however that Nadine Heredia is not the only problem of Humala. Isaac Humala, president’s father does not stops to criticize his son and his wife in the media accusing him of being to weak and her avid of power. In addition, in 2012 a president’s brother was charged for corruption.