It's about 90 minutes flying time from Lima to this jungle metropolis of 400,000. But daily life here is light years away from what it is in the Peruvian capital.
After almost two decades of gradual reforms by the central government, Lima is today home to first-world services, globally competitive businesses, shopping malls and an emerging middle class. But here in the hub of the Peruvian Amazon, living standards are all too similar to what they were 30 years ago.
The differences between the two cities illustrate one of the biggest challenges for the government of President Alan García, who was once a renowned socialist but now says he embraces democratic capitalism.
Peru has been experiencing fast growth – better than 6% annually – for almost seven years, and it has largely occurred on the coast and in the capital city. But the mountain and jungle regions of the country have not kept up. They remain vulnerable to the siren song of left-wing populism.
This is what makes Peru ground zero in the continental struggle between modernity and atavistic socialism. Hugo Chávez is circling like a vulture in the poorer parts of the county, hoping to pick off a prized Andean nation to add to his collection of revolutionary allies in South America. Meanwhile, reformers are trying to push ahead with deeper liberalization.
The good news is that the white hats have the momentum. If it is true that remote locations like this city are vulnerable to ideological incursions from the authoritarian left, it is also true that much of the rest of the country is beginning to think and act more like Chilean entrepreneurs than Cuban apparatchiks. Understanding why is critical to further progress. ...