LIMA (Reuters) - Ultranationalist Ollanta Humala, who rattled investors in Peru’s last presidential election, says he would tax the “windfall profits” of mining companies but not take them over if he wins the presidency in April.
In an interview with Reuters, the former army officer, who nearly won the 2006 race but is now trailing a distant fourth in this campaign, said he would “respect (private) property” and follow “prudent” macroeconomic policies.
Humala has tried to reinvent himself as a moderate leftist over the last couple of years to broaden his base of support, but polls show Peruvians will likely elect one of three front-runners with established pro-business credentials.
Though Peru’s economy has surged over the last decade, its poverty rate is still a high 35 percent and Humala said companies in the country’s vast mining sector must do more to spread the wealth.
“In Peru people know there has been economic growth but at the same time that it hasn’t necessarily reached them,” Humala said on Tuesday.
“We think a tax must be created for windfall profits when they arise. Why can’t the state take a cut? It has to,” he said.
Major global mining companies plan to invest about $35 billion in Peru over the next decade to feed growing demand from Asia for minerals. Executives say higher taxes could scare away or discourage investment in the Andean country.
Five years ago, Humala promised to nationalize key industries and roll back policies favored by investors. Now he says his Nationalist Party backs economic policies similar to mainstream ones currently in place.
“We propose a macroeconomic policy that is prudent and to a certain point conservative with a manageable fiscal deficit,” he said.
Since narrowly losing the presidency, he has further distanced himself from his communist father and his brother Antauro Humala, who was jailed for leading an uprising in 2005 to demand former President Alejandro Toledo resign.
Humala also denies having any affiliation with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, his former political guru.
“The theme of president Chavez was used by our adversaries to trick the people into believing that if we won the presidency Chavez would govern Peru,” Humala told Reuters. “Peru would be governed by Peruvians under my watch.”
Humala’s efforts to strike a moderate tone mirror what Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva did to win Brazil’s presidency in 2002 after losing three times as a strident leftist.
Lula’s promises to keep orthodox economic policies in place were so persuasive that he won an endorsement from Roberto Setubal, chief executive of Itau Unibanco, one of Brazil’s biggest banks.
But Humala has not secured support from any prominent players in Peru’s thriving business community and survey firm Ipsos Apoyo’s latest poll says he has 10 percent of the vote.
Humala dismisses polls showing him lagging behind Toledo, the architect of Peru’s free-trade pact with the United States, former Lima Mayor Luis Castaneda, and lawmaker Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of jailed former President Alberto Fujimori.
“There’s a great nationalist vote hidden in Peru,” Humala said.
Editing by Terry Wade and Cynthia Osterman