Don’t cry for me, Peru
She volunteered on a kibbutz, was a senior manager at Bank Leumi, and first and foremost, she was the admired wife of Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo. But then cracks began to appear in Eliane Karp-Toledo’s perfect life, and woman who had been a goddess to Peruvian masses got involved in corruption scandals, turned into enemy
Her husband Alejandro Toledo was Peru’s first indigenous Amerindian president, and she campaigned with him endlessly. They said she was the most intelligent woman ever to set foot in Peru, that she’d been sent by the Inca gods to save Peruvians from poverty. It’s been only five years since Eliane Karp-Toledo, a former Israeli, became First Lady of Peru, but in that time period her life has changed completely.
Today she is wanted for questioning about wild spending sprees abroad and buying hundreds of designer dresses using government funds. She is being investigated for allegedly transferring USD five million to friends and relatives of her husband that was intended for the Commission for Andean and Amazonian Peoples, a commission which she established.
Every day brings new revelations and additional allegations. Peru’s media claim the Toledos had a profligate lifestyle that included trips and expensive clothing. Police are checking how valuable historic items disappeared from the president’s residence. Karp-Toledo is also being investigated for depositing in her personal account a USD 10,000 check she received at a fundraiser for victims of the 2001 earthquake.
A survey taken in Peru showed that she is seen as ambitious, power-hungry, a money-lover, arrogant, haughty, patronizing, vulgar, exploitative, domineering, a spendthrift, immoral, and ungrateful, and that’s only a partial list. Comparisons to Evita Peron seem especially appropriate.
Karp-Toledo has disappeared, leaving Peru on July 18, shortly before her husband’s term as president ended. She has not returned, and apparently is not planning to. Currently she is in Palo Alto, California, where she is scheduled to give a lecture on Peruvian Indians and how to rule in Latin America.
Peru’s new government, led by Alan Garcia, has closed her office, which drew no less than USD three million from public funds. In Peru it is believed that authorities will try to locate her through Interpol. Spokesmen for Toledo’s party call it a witchhunt.
It all seemed so promising in the beginning. In June 2001, Toledo became the first indigenous Amerindian president of Peru after ten years of corrupt rule by President Alberto Fujimori and intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos. The new presidential couple was seen as a harbinger of political change for the impoverished nation.
The first lady, a dynamic, strong-minded woman with the energy of a revolutionary flower child, gave new hope to the oppressed masses. After all, when she led the mass march in Lima against Fujimori’s regime they saw her demonstrating with fervor, banner in hand, fighting the police who came to arrest her. She was viewed as a speaker for women’s rights, an opponent of the country’s elite who didn’t want an Amerindian president.
Her first misstep came quickly. A year after Toledo’s election, an opposition paper revealed that he had received a USD 10,000 monthly salary from one of Peru’s large banks, which was suspected of involvement in helping Fujimori and Montesinos smuggle money out of the country.
Karp-Toledo was suspected of using 35 employees of her office for private work. Even the couple’s most ardent supporters had trouble with the story. This was tremendously disappointing for Peruvians, who had really believed that the days of corruption were behind them.
Karp-Toledo’s associates claimed that everything done was legal, that she had given detailed reports on her income to the tax authorities. But this was only the beginning.
Eliane Karp was born in Paris to a Belgian mother and a Polish father. While in high school she was a member of the left-wing Zionist movement Hashomer Hatza’ir, and her leftist-humanist worldview was formed at this time. Every summer she would volunteer with the others from her group on a different kibbutz, and in 1971 she moved to Israel, where she studied for her BA at Hebrew University.
Her MA in anthropology is from Stanford, and it is there that she met Toledo, one of 16 children from a Peruvian Amerindian family, who worked as a shoeshine boy and sold lottery tickets as a child. In 1979 they married, and they have one daughter, Chantal.
Karp-Toledo completed her doctorate in anthropology, and Toledo did two MAs and a doctorate in economics, which landed him a string of important positions including economist with the World Bank in Washington, advisor to the governor of Peru’s central bank and the Minister of Labor, and lecturer at a business school.
In Peru he joined a group of intellectuals fighting the corrupt regime, and his wife conducted research on jungle inhabitants and learned to speak their language.
At a certain point the relationship foundered. Toledo lodged a complaint with the police that his wife had left home, which is the accepted practice in South America. She in turn lodged a complaint saying that he beat her. They decided to divorce, and she left her daughter with her husband in Peru and returned to Belgium to work for the European Investment Bank.
In 1988 Karp-Toledo returned to Israel, and for six years she worked at Bank Leumi, and was in charge of developing relationships with foreign banks. Then her ex came to visit her in Tel Aviv, they decided to join force once again, and they remarried in their home in Peru and went out to conquer the presidency.
The word in Peru was that this was not a love story. Rumor had it that Toledo, aware of his wife’s charisma and enthusiasm, paid her USD one million to come back to Peru and to help with his campaign.
Karp-Toledo did not make many friends in Peru. She made sure to maintain hostile relations with the local Jewish community, and the feeling was reciprocated.
In a 2001 interview with Yedioth Ahronoth she accused the Jewish community of “lending a hand to the corrupt regime of the dictators.” She added: “It’s hard for me to accept that Jews bend to the will of such a regime. They surely don’t love me because I married a gentile.”
The Peruvian elite didn’t like her either. “From this sector I’ve actually heard those who say that the president’s wife should be beautiful and keep her mouth shut, wear pink suits, and hold tea parties for women,” said Karp-Toledo.
“I’m not like that. I’m an educated woman, independent, with a career. I have something to say and I say it. This isn’t their image of the First Lady. There are those who call me a Belgian princess behind my back, but I know that the masses love me.”
The masses are apparently no longer so in love with the Belgian princess. Now Peruvians are saying she’s an ingrate. They gave her citizenship, they gave her power, and mostly they gave her their trust. In return, she gave them the merchandise they know so well: disappointment.
Nehama Dueck and Daniel Batini helped prepare this article