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Op-Ed Columnist

Can God Save Peru?

Lima

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Last week's events in Peru were unique, although we may not know for years or even decades what their final meaning is. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Peru's history. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the citizens themselves. The media seems too caught up in worrying about their own skins to pay attention to the important effects on daily life. Just call it missing the battle for the bullets.

When thinking about the ongoing turmoil, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like lemmings, so attempts to treat them as such are a waste of time. Lemmings never suddenly blow themselves up. Two, Peru has spent decades as a dictatorship closed to the world, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If corruption is Peru's ironing board, then capitalism is certainly its alarm clock.

When I was in Peru last month, I was amazed by the people's basic desire for a stable life, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Peru have no shortage of potential entrepreneurs, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Peru are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Peru? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not let seemingly endless frustrations cause the people of Peru to doubt their chance at progress. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture these first inklings of a moderate, modern society. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to moderation is so strewn with obstacles that Peru will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Lima needs to feel like it is part of the process.

Speaking with a young student from the small Catholic community here, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, reiaya-li-kona, which is a local saying that means roughly, "It is in vain to cast your net where there is no fish."

I don't know what Peru will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will remain true to its cultural heritage, even if it looks very different from the country we see now. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.