Peru leader seeks balance after outcry over possible Repsol bid
LIMA, April 24
LIMA, April 24 (Reuters) - President Ollanta Humala said on Wednesday he wants to strike a balance between statist and free-market economic policies, as business leaders recoil at his government's plan to possibly buy a stake in Repsol's Peru refinery.
Humala, who spoke at the World Economic Forum on Latin America, said a mix of the two models was necessary to maintain a "good and healthy" economy that grows swiftly and lifts people out of poverty, which afflicts a third of Peruvians.
Humala met unexpectedly on Monday night with Repsol Chairman Antonio Brufau at a time when state-run Petroperu is evaluating the purchase of a minority stake in the Spanish company's refinery and chain of gas stations in Peru.
Repsol officials declined to comment on Tuesday.
Repsol's Pampilla plant has capacity of 102,000 barrels a day and is one of Peru's two main refineries. Pampilla produces about half of the refined products in Peru.
The government has said it is evaluating the purchase to guarantee adequate fuel supplies in Peru, a net oil importer whose economy has grown around 6 percent a year for the last decade.
Peruvian business leaders have criticized the plan, saying it would show Humala aims to give the state a more active role in the economy. Government officials, including Prime Minister Juan Jimenez, have said they have sought to allay those fears.
"From an experience in the 1970s in which the public sector had a very active role in the economy, we went to the other extreme and reduced the state to a bare minimum (in the 1990s)," Humala said.
"Today, what we are building is a more balanced attitude, learning from both experiences," he added.
Like many Latin American countries, Peru went through a period of strong statism and then in the 1990s privatized public companies, opened the economy to trade, and sought to drive down inflation and fiscal deficits.
"To attain development, it is necessary to grow and learn how to distribute that wealth," Humala said. (Reporting by Teresa Cespedes and Marco Aquino; Editing by Terry Wade and Steve Orlofsky)