President Pedro Castillo

Image: Cajamarca, Peru.


Despite all the exclusions and humiliations of the past, the humble and hard-working people of Peru have regained, with the election of Pedro Castillo, the hope of continuing to be the guarantor of the struggle for a more just society.

The international context of the third decade of the century has been marked by the serious decline of democratic coexistence, already congenitally weak and selective. This decline has two faces. On the one hand, the aggressive predominance of the more conservative right-wing political forces. On the Latin American continent, this aggressiveness is manifested in the renewed presence of the extreme right, which asserts itself in multiple ways: racial and sexual hate speech on social networks, which sometimes lodges itself with impunity in official political discourse (the most harmful legacy of Donald Trump); the ideological inculcation of imagined dangers (communism, extremism, or the chip inserted in vaccines) or denialism in the face of real dangers (the severity of the pandemic); the use of the anti-democratic coup narrative to restore an order supposedly threatened by an imminent subversion that, in fact, is meticulously planned by those who claim to be the only option to stop it; the reemergence of illegal armed groups that act with the complicity of the State.

The other face of democratic decline lies in the disorientation of leftist political forces. This, too, manifests itself in multiple ways: disarming loss of contact with the needs, aspirations and indignation narratives of the popular classes whose interests they claim to defend; exclusive concentration on short-term electoral strategies when it is increasingly uncertain that elections will take place or that elections will be free and fair; the emergence of the new sectarianism and dogmatism, either in the name of the priority of extractive development, or in the name of the priority of racial or sexual identity guidelines. This sectarianism stems from the inability to identify what, despite everything, unites the different forces of the left and to pragmatically affect these points of union in order to offer a credible political alternative (the most recent victim of this sectarianism was the Ecuadorian left after the first round of the 2021 elections).

The toxic convergence of these two faces of democratic decline is making populations made vulnerable by increasingly savage capitalism, eternal colonialism and the no less eternal patriarchy seek one of three paths depending on the context: succumb to despair and resign themselves through the path of crime or for salvation in the other world, meekly sheltering like lambs under the protection of the transcendental wolves of religious capital; revolt outside institutions, giving rise to social explosions that may include occupations of city areas (India and Colombia), looting of stores and supermarkets (South Africa) or destruction of statues of slaveholders and murderers of the vanquished in history ( South Africa, USA, Colombia, and, more recently, Brazil); organize to guarantee the transformation of the political and social system, using electoral processes to elect candidates who promise such transformation. Only this last path guarantees the rescue of democratic coexistence and that is why I focus on it, without, however, failing to insist that it takes place in the context in which other paths are or may be followed in parallel or sequentially.

The path of political transformation today has three main faces on the continent: the rescue through the election of popular candidates known after the cruel experience with right-wing governments (Mexico, with Lopez Obrador, Argentina, with Alberto Fernandez, Bolivia, with Luis Arce) ; redemption through the transformation of the political system through the convening of constituent assemblies (Chile); redemption through the election of hitherto unknown candidates, but whose origin and trajectory legitimizes the risk of an almost blank political check (Peru). All these paths offer some hope (at least, that of breathing for a while, which is no small thing in times of pandemic and pandemonium, as Paulo Galo would say, to whom I express all my solidarity) and all involve risks . I focus on the case of Peru due to its timeliness and complexity.

On July 28, Pedro Castillo assumed the presidency of Peru. Until a few months ago, he was a political unknown. Born in Tacabamba, almost a thousand kilometers from Lima, the political center of Peru, humble peasant, primary school teacher, rondero, (campesinian rounds are community defense patrols elected by peasant communities and today legally recognized by the State), union leader, Pedro Castillo concentrates in himself the characteristics of populations that have always been economically, socially and politically excluded for class, racist or sexist reasons. The process that culminated on July 28 is as illustrative of democratic decline as it is of the possibility that it will be rescued.

Let's look at the decline first. Right-wing forces did everything to prevent Pedro Castillo from taking office. They invoked electoral fraud, resorted to procedural delays in electoral instances, promoted the demonization of Castillo in the national and international media (in which the pathetic Vargas Llosa participated), mobilized the Armed Forces and the churches to stop the “subversion”. The situation was complicated because Pedro Castillo had won the elections by a small margin. It is now clear in the Americas (including the US) that whoever sets out to rescue democratic normality has to win by a large margin in order not to be subject to the torment of manipulated suspicion of electoral fraud. López Obrador had already shown it before, who had been robbed of several elections before the one he won by a difference of many millions of votes.

This time, the right-wing forces did not achieve their objectives because they were faced with an important rescue factor. It's just that Castillo identified with those excluded from the history of Peru. One in four people identifies as a member of one of the many Andean and Amazonian indigenous peoples who have been victims of mining and extractive projects and which they have opposed at the risk of their lives. According to official data, which are always wrong, between 2001 and 2021, 200 human rights defenders involved in the defense of territories were murdered. No wonder that Castillo obtained more than 70% of the votes in the provinces where the populations suffer most from the large mining projects (Espinar, Chumbivilcas, Cotabambas, Celedín, Islay, Pasco, Ayabaca, Cañaris). Faced with the danger of being robbed of the election, thousands of indigenous peoples and peasants, ronderos, used to prowling around their communities to guarantee the safety of their neighbors, converged on Lima, coming from deep Peru, this time to watch over and guarantee the safety of something very good. more ethereal, the result of elections, democracy itself. Therefore, it is also not surprising that, while in the governments of the last twenty years, ministers were predominantly born in Lima – between 62% in the government of Martin Viscarra and 87% in the government of Alejandro Toledo –, in the government of Pedro Castillo, now sworn in, only 29 % was born in Lima.

This move did not come out of nowhere. It had precedents in the movement of urban youth who, in November 2020, revolted against an illegitimate government and occupied the streets of Lima in defense of democracy, two of whom were murdered. They were violently repressed and that's why they became the new generation of heroes, the heroes of the bicentennial. This conjunction announced the possibility of new alliances between generations and between town and country, an alliance that, at the moment, seems to have new and particular importance in other countries (for example, in the social explosion that Colombia is going through at the moment).

But the difficulties in the election of Pedro Castillo and in the composition of his government also reveal the other face of the democratic decline that I mentioned above, the disorientation and fragmentation of the left forces. The necessary alliances revealed the existence of important fractures among the left. The fractures are complex and in them converge the old tactical and strategic rivalries that have always dominated the traditional left and the new rivalries over the nature and priority of the new struggles against racial and sexual discrimination. Contrary to what happened in Ecuador, the division does not seem to be so much about the priority of the struggle against mining extractivism and the social inequality it causes.

It focuses mainly on the division between progressive lefts in terms of socioeconomic equality and conservatives in terms of customs and identities (gender equality and defense of LGBTIQ causes) on the one hand, and progressive lefts in both plans and even, eventually, prioritizing the second plan, for another. This division was sometimes concealed by accusations of extremism that even involved the memory of guerrilla subversion (Sendero Luminoso), a danger now definitively buried in Peru, the same cannot be said of extreme right-wing counter-revolutionary subversion, in the nefarious tradition of Fujimorism.

These divisions were evident in the constitution of the Congress' board of directors and the disastrous result could turn out to be fatal for the leftist government. They were also evident in the government's constitution process, but here it was possible to overcome them and common sense prevailed. For now, at least. None of this is certain, except that the right-wing and extreme right-wing forces will be attentive and will not miss any of the opportunities that this left-wing government gives them to defeat a proposal of hope that is now lighting up the continent from Peru. In his inauguration speech, President Pedro Castillo used the Quechua expression Kachkaniraqmi which means “I continue to be”.

Despite all the exclusions and humiliations of the past, the humble and hard-working people of Peru regain, with the election of Pedro Castillo, the hope of continuing to be the guarantor of the fight for a more just society. This hope is very eloquently present in the words of one of the most important ministers of the new government, Pedro Frankle, Minister of Economy: “For a sustained advance towards Good Living, for equal opportunities, without distinction of gender, ethnic identity or sexual orientation. Por la Democracia y la concertación Nacional, I swear!”.

*Boaventura de Sousa Santos is full professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra. Author, among other books, of The end of the cognitive empire (Authentic).

Originally published on the website Other words.



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