Peru's dynamic first lady has presidential aura

Wed Feb 20, 2013 1:05am EST
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By Terry Wade and Patricia Velez

LIMA (Reuters) - Humble crowds adore her populist gestures. Fans and critics alike call her the co-president. Her husband, a rebellious army officer turned moderate leader, says people who think his wife is too influential are sexist.

Peru's first lady, Nadine Heredia, is a potent political force. A telegenic 36-year-old mother of three who started the Nationalist Party along with President Ollanta Humala, she weighs in on a range of policy issues behind the scenes and, in public, often serves as the government's messenger.

Her prominent role has made her more popular than Humala - so popular that she is widely viewed as a potential successor to the 50-year-old president.

She is arguably her party's only viable candidate after Humala and could become Peru's first female president if an anti-nepotism law is struck down to allow her to run in 2016.

Though Heredia insists she has no such plans, she has a remarkable knack for headlining events that feel like campaign rallies, often touching on her parents' roots in Ayacucho, a poor province in the Andes.

"Many of you might be migrants who have come to the capital looking for opportunities," she recently told cheering fans in Puente Piedra, a hardscrabble neighborhood on the outskirts of Lima where she led a workshop on preventing dengue fever. "We have to help each other because I'm the daughter of migrants and know the obstacles one has to overcome!"

After the speech, Heredia was whisked away in a dinky motorcycle taxi, one of the three-wheeled put-puts common in the developing world. It was festooned with balloons.

Minutes later, bodyguards ushered her into her real ride: an imposing SUV.   Continued...

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala's wife Nadine Heredia (L) speaks with Japanese Emperor Akihito before a luncheon at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo May 9, 2012, in this handout photo released by the Imperial Household Agency of Japan. REUTERS/Imperial Household Agency of Japan/Handout