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Now, an erotic theme park?

When Peruvian officials set out to spread the wealth, they probably didn't mean mayors should build extravagant town halls and heated swimming pools.

india Updated: Dec 08, 2006 19:45 IST

When Peruvian officials set out to spread the wealth, they probably didn't mean mayors should build extravagant town halls and heated swimming pools.

And they almost certainly didn't expect this frigid, wind-swept hamlet high on the Andean plateau to spend its windfall on an erotic sculpture park.

The sexually explicit creations in this isolated village 170 kilometers (105 miles) northeast of the capital have become the focus of a furor over public spending that is dominating Sunday's nationwide local election and posing a political headache for President Alan Garcia just four months after he was elected in a stunning comeback.

The original idea was to increase revenue-sharing from surging prices for gold, copper, zinc and other minerals, and indeed, municipalities in the mountains and jungles have seen their income from taxes on mining rise more than 1,000 percent during recent years, to nearly US$1 billion (euro780 million) this year. But the extravagances prompted by the cash bonanza have prompted fears of a voter backlash that will elect a more radical brand of leadership from outside the established political system. People in Huayre are bemused by the uproar. National rulers, they figure, have been squandering their riches for centuries, so what's the big deal if Mayor Wenceslao Alderete hoped to attract tourists by gracing the village's central plaza with outsized images of genitalia and of the maca root, a tuber traditionally consumed as an aphrodisiac?

The federal government had hoped for more attention to priorities in towns like Huayre, which still lacks paved streets or a sewage system _ typical among Andean towns in a country where half the population lives on less than $2 (euro1.80) a day. Alderete, an independent who is not running for re-election, said he is aware that his US$158,000 (euro124,000) park is being skewered in the media as typical of towns that are misspending their money. But he says it's the job of the regional government, not the mayor's office, to build infrastructure such as sewer systems so that people don't have to rely on outdoor toilets. "It pains me to watch my fellow villagers having to take care of their bodily needs that way," he said.

Long governed by strong central regimes, Peru moved to create autonomous regional governments and give them more revenue following the 2001 ouster of Alberto Fujimori's corruption-ridden administration.

But many local officials have yet to learn how to handle the newfound power and cash, said Eduardo Ballon, a senior analyst at Peru's Desco think tank.

"There is a wealth of deep-seated problems that cannot be hidden, one of which has to do with the lack of training at the local government level and the limitations for fulfilling functions and duties," he said.

Garcia's center-left Aprista party was the big winner in 2002 regional elections, taking about half of the 24 regional governments. But analysts predict his party will lose much of that ground Sunday, particularly in the isolated, often lawless, southern and central Andean highlands.

Garcia himself triumphed in June, shaking off the legacy of his chaotic, inflation-ravaged first administration in 1985-90 to win a second term as president.

Now he stands to lose ground in the provinces because independents with no direct ties to any national party are expected to become the new caudillos, or strongmen.

"Without a doubt that poses an even greater danger," said Juan Carlos Cortes, director of Citizens Up to Date, a watchdog group in Lima that has tracked spending by local governments. "New caudillos are appearing," Cortes said. "The principal issue is, how do we provide sufficient information to the citizens themselves so they can demand certain standards from these new mayors or new regional presidents?"

In Huayre, meanwhile, the citizenry seems to be taking its unusual park in stride, still dreaming of a tourist influx pouring down .

"Sincerely, to me this is the best park in the zone along the highway," said Jesus Rupay, 38. "There was even an American couple who came riding through on a bicycle."

First Published: Nov 18, 2006 16:05 IST