14 Year Old Girl Makes Peruvian President, her Father, Toe the Line

( From New York Times story by Juan Forero, Dec. 6, 2002.)


After years of court battles 14 year old Zarai Toledo has forced the president of Peru to acknowledge he is her father. In October, the president, Alejandro Toledo, went on national television and at last admitted what nearly all Peruvians had long concluded. "Today Zarai and I open up a new chapter in our lives," he declared, "I have won an intelligent and beautiful daughter. No one has lost. Zarai and I have won."

In a Lima church, on October 17, Zaire met with Mr. Toledo, accompanied by her mother, Lucrecia Orozco, her uncle and her lawyer. He signed a contract that admitted fatherhood and promised $100,000 and a Lima apartment for Zarai to use when she visits the capital to see him. Zarai said her knees were shaking on the ride to church, but she became resolute when the encounter began, demanding that the president apologize to her mother. She said he fumbled for words and everyone gasped. "I told him, 'If you are here, it is because you are convinced that I am your daughter'" She did not call him "Mr. President," but did ask for permission to address him in the familiar "tu" form. "I treated him as an equal, he was not the president to me."

Peruvians have long expressed support for Zarai's cause -- in phone calls, letters,  and on the street. Now she is hearing from biographers who want to write her story, from talk show hosts from as far away as Spain, and has been offered a part in a popular Peruvian TV comedy. There is talk of a Zarai doll.

Zarai Toledo, with her mother, Lucrecia

Orozco, top left, and her father, Alejandro

Toledo, the president of Peru, bottom left.

President Toledo is signing

an acknowledgement of paternity.


As far as Zarai is concerned, the whole affair could have and should have been avoided. Blood tests had shown a nearly 100% certainty Toledo was her father, but he stonewalled the matter. One judge overturned another judge's order that Toledo take a DNA test, but it only postponed his fate, and brought accusations of a legal fix from the public.

"He had the solutions in his hands," said Zarai, "but he never did anything about it. He just left it there, ignored it."

Zarai was born Dec. 16, 1987, nine months after her mother met a young economist, Alejandro Toledo, in a Lima piano bar. Toledo was married to Elaine Karp, a Belgian American consultant with whom he had a daughter, but the marriage had run into trouble.

When Mr. Toledo denied being Zarai's father, Ms. Orozco went on the offensive. She gave her daughter his last name and battled in the courts, trying unsuccessfully to force Mr. Toledo to undergo a DNA test. But Toledo became more vulnerable with his rise to front-running presidential candidate.

Things began to change for Ms. Orozco and Zarai when they told their story on television, shortly before Toledo won the presidency in 2001. Some have claimed Toledo's political enemies arranged the program. Zarai denies that politics is an issue with her. "I always said that this should not be used as a political weapon," she said.

The question now is what kind of relationship, if any, Zarai will have with Mr. Toledo. So far Mr. Toledo, who reconciled with Ms. Karp and remains married to her, has placed just one phone call to Zarai, she and her mother said.