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For Peru's Toledo, return of Peace Corps is personal

On Saturday, the US signed an agreement to reintroduce the program after 27 years.

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Amid heightened security following last week's explosion outside the US Embassy here, President Bush's arrival Saturday marked the first visit to Peru by a sitting US president. The trip was billed as part of Mr. Bush's commitment to Latin America that has been sidelined since Sept. 11.

And while the war on terror, drug trafficking, and free trade were the dominant themes of Mr. Bush's 17-hour stop, it was a much smaller announcement that held particular significance to Peru's President Alejandro Toledo: the return of the Peace Corps to Peru following a 27-year absence.

As a young boy in Chimbote – a fishing town on Peru's central coast – a meeting with two Peace Corps volunteers changed Mr. Toledo's life. "My close tie to the Peace Corps is no secret," Toledo said earlier this year. "The volunteers helped me understand the world."

Last month, Bush announced a plan to double the number of Peace Corps volunteers overseas. Beginning in August, the organization expects to send up to 150 volunteers to Peru in the coming 15 months.

The corps sent 2,046 volunteers during the 13-year stint between 1962 and 1975. They were asked to leave by the military government in 1975 during an anti-US backlash.

For Toledo, the return of the Peace Corps is a concrete example of the US government's commitment to the country during its democratic transition. It also reflects the Toledo administration's commitment to eradicating poverty.

In power since last July, Toledo is busy rebuilding democratic institutions gutted during the 10-year authoritarian rule of Alberto Fujimori, who was impeached by Congress in November 2000.

Bush echoed the sentiment of his Peruvian counterpart Saturday, saying the Peace Corps' return is "a symbol of the strong ties between our people and the stronger relationship between our countries."

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