With a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University, the 35-year-old was appointed to the cabinet of president Martin Vizcarra last October.
From New Zealand and Germany to Iceland, Finland and Taiwan, female leaders around the world have been praised for being more effective than their male counterparts at managing the Covid-19 pandemic.
None, however, has achieved the rock-star status of Peruvian finance minister Maria Antonieta Alva. With a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University, the 35-year-old was appointed to the cabinet of president Martin Vizcarra last October. Toni, as everyone calls her, wasted no time when the crisis broke out, launching Latin America’s most ambitious mitigation program: a stimulus plan worth around 12% of the GDP, aimed at supporting the country’s most vulnerable households and businesses. Now, many would like to see her elected as Vizcarra’s successor in the general election next year.
“She is able to explain her office’s approach and policies in a clear manner. Politicians in Peru tend to communicate in an excessively complicated or grandiose manner, highlighting economic growth and underrating shortcomings,” says Zoila Ponce de Leon, a professor of politics at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. “In the current context, Peruvians—like people everywhere else—want honest messages that present clear solutions.” Alva did not minimize the need to speed up implementation of certain policies or the nation’s enormous inequality in access to healthcare, Ponce de Leon adds, yet maintained fiscal prudence. Amid the pandemic, she has managed to build consensus for a wide array of measures, including cash handouts, wage subsidies and government-backed business loans.
Alva witnessed extreme poverty as a child while accompanying her father, a civil engineer, to worksites around the country. Since then, she says, she has wanted to bring about positive change.
Critics warn that Alva’s popularity could be short-lived. The IMF forecast a decline in GDP of more than 4.5% this year, with a number of economists predicting a drop at least twice that, along with mass unemployment. It is, Ponce de Leon argues, perhaps too early to judge the success of measures introduced by the young minister. “Like many other policies in the past, they might suffer at the hands of institutional precariousness.”