Kuczynski arrives at his inauguration ceremony. (Photo by German Falcon/EPA)
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski became Peru's new president this Thursday amid much talk about his international business career, and technocratic background.The new 77-year-old president's cabinet is also filled with figures who, like him, were educated at elite universities in Europe and the US, and are used to sitting in the boardroom.But Kuczynski — who was elected to be president in June by a wafer thin 0.2 percentage point lead over Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of imprisoned strongman Alberto Fujimori — is not as dry as his international image suggests.
Known by his initials PPK — also used by his Partido Peruano por el Kambio party — Kuczynski has family ties to European cultural royalty, Hollywood celebrity, and US politics. He has also spent multiple spells in Peruvian cabinets that have tended to end rather badly.According to his own website, Kuczynski's father, Maxime Kuczynski, was a renowned German doctor with Polish Jewish roots who met the new president's mother in 1933.Madeleine Godard was a Swiss French literature teacher who joined the French resistance against the Nazis. She was also the first cousin of Jean Luc Godard, who would become an icon of French New Wave cinema in the 1960s.Kuczynski's website says his father persuaded Godard to marry him and settle in Peru before the Second World War started.Six years after PPK was born in the capital Lima in 1938, the family moved to Iquitos in the Amazon where Dr. Kuczynski worked in the leper colony of San Pablo. The country's new president says his father tore down the cages where sufferers had been previously kept and instituted more progressive preventative systems.Che Guevara would later write about the three weeks he spent working as a volunteer in the colony in 1952 in his memoir The Motorcycle Diaries.
Back in Lima, PPK attended exclusive schools while his father was health minister, but returned to Europe with his mother in 1948, after a military coup.
A period in a militaristic British boarding school was followed by intensive study of the piano and flute in London. But while he claims to have courted his wife with the help of Chopin and Bach, PPK has said he decided it was more prudent to opt for a career where he could make some money.With degrees from Oxford and then Princeton under his arm, Kuczynski soon got a job at the World Bank.The young PPK's first foray into Peruvian government came in the 1960s when he worked in the central bank and then the finance ministry. It ended when he fled to Ecuador — reportedly travelling in the trunk of a car — after he was accused of corruption in the wake of the 1968 military coup headed by left-wing nationalist Juan Velasco Alvarado.PPK spent most of the 1970s on Wall Street, working for companies such as the bank Credit Suisse, and aluminium mining giant Alcoa Mining.Then it was back into the Peruvian cabinet in the 1980s as energy and mining minister, and back to controversy for promoting huge tax breaks for foreign oil companies.Kuczynski returned to his career in international business during the 1990s, when Fujimori ruled supreme, meeting and marrying his second wife. An investment advisor from Wisconsin, Nancy Lange is also a cousin of the Oscar winning actress Jessica Lange. Kuczynski's first wife was Jane Dudley Case, the daughter of former Massachusetts congressman John E. Casey.
But PPK just kept going back to Peruvian politics, spending another spell in the cabinet of the former shoe shine boy turned ivy league economist Alejandro Toledo that began in 2001. During that period Kuczynski faced major protests against his plan to privatize electricity companies, as well as accusations of cronyism when he sought changes to gas laws that benefited an old employer."Many people accuse him of being a lobbyist," said Carlos Bruce, a congressman from Kuczynski's party. "But there is no way of attracting investment if you don't take measures designed to attract them."With his presidential ambitions obviously growing, Kuczynski's efforts to modify his image included founding a nonprofit in 2007 called Agua Limpia, or Clean Water, focused on expanding the country's water distribution system.
His supporters in this year's campaign have also sought to stress his softer side and his ethical credentials. This has not always been easy. His campaign gaffes included calling a journalist "an idiot" in response to a question about gas contracts, and describing the young dynamic leftist candidate Verónica Mendoza as "a red who has done nothing in her dog's life."But Kuczynski also spent the campaign promising not to privatize water.
Alberto Goachet, director of the publicity company Fahrenheit DDB that worked with Kuczynski, tells a story about how much trouble the candidate's aides had stopping him giving money to a guy in a wheelchair. They were concerned that this could be construed as buying votes and get him expelled from the race.His first public act after he was officially declared the winner of June's election was to attend mass in the town of Manchay, just southeast of Lima, where he and his wife have a long history of supporting social projects such as a kids orchestra. Manchay is a town formed by people displaced from the violence in the 1980s."We need to make the great leap to get to the modernity that Peru yearns for and a just country for everybody," Kuczynski said in his inaugural address. "I want a social revolution for my country."
Follow María Cervantes on Twitter: @mariaecervantes