By Will Norton-Mosher
Alejandro Toledo came from a family of 16 children, went to college in San Francisco in 1965, and until he left office with an approval rating of 10 percent amid national scandals on July 28, was the president of Peru. Recently he’s been teaching at Stanford, delivering speeches, and on Tuesday, Nov. 14, he visited UC Santa Cruz and gave one to students.
The speech, titled "Poverty, Inequality, and the Future of Democracy in Latin America," covered his life and politics.
"Poverty and inequality are subjects very close to my heart," he began his speech, which described his youth in Peru, the death of six of his siblings, and how he supported his family by shining shoes and selling lottery tickets in Peru. After graduating high school, Toledo was able to attend San Francisco State University by getting a soccer scholarship and pumping gas.
"I am the result of a statistical error," he said, reflecting on the difficult circumstances he overcame before his election.
Toledo hopes to battle poverty and promote economic growth in Latin America. "Economic growth is indispensable to fighting poverty," Toledo said. "Democracy is being undermined by high levels of poverty."
Toledo also spoke about the problems that face modern Peru, tying them to his own experiences. During his speech he said that he hoped free trade would help eradicate poverty, spread democracy, and create jobs-a stance that surprised some students.
"He’s kind of right wing so it’s kind of surprising that so many left wing people are here," said attendee Roberto Arcos.
Toledo received a standing ovation at the end of his speech. He concluded by addressing questions from the audience.One of the attendees asked if Latin America was heading to the left. "No," Toledo said. He called extreme liberal leaders in South America irresponsible, and called economic growth a dignified solution to poverty.
The event was organized after a student in Kent Eaton’s Latin American Politics class invited Toledo to speak. According to Eaton, Toledo was going to speak to his class only, but the event was moved to Kresge Town Hall to accommodate others who were interested.
"He’s living proof that if you give people access to health and education they can contribute so much," Eaton said. "Another messenger would not have been as efficient for this message."
The speech was followed by a more intimate discussion session between Toledo and a handful of staff at the Charles E. Merrill lounge.