LIMA, March 16 (Reuters) - 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 an April ballot.
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% 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
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 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."
(Reporting by Marco Aquino, writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing
by Adam Jourdan and David Gregorio)