The challenges of President Pedro Castillo

Gabriela Pinilla, Arenga, Mural Painting. 2 x 2 meter diorama, 2020, Museo de arte Moderna, Medellín, Colombia.
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By MARIANA ÁLVAREZ ORELLANA*

Peru's president-elect will inherit a deeply divided country

Pedro Castillo, son of an agricultural worker from the Cajamarca region, beneficiary of the 1969 Agrarian Reform, under the government of Juan Velasco Alvarado, is the new president of Peru. The plot of land obtained radically changed his family's life and Pedro was able to attend school, became a teacher and today holds the highest position in the republic, after defeating the ultra-right candidate Keiko Fujimori.

Keiko was the most unpopular of the 18 presidential candidates taking part in the 2021 election, with over half of voters declaring they would never vote for her. But her name recognition helped her again, and she managed to run in the second round with Pedro Castillo, who had never held public office and was scorned by many observers and analysts for his status as a farmer and rural teacher.

It was a surprise? A small majority of the poorest sectors imposed themselves on the powerful Peruvian elite when it was foreseeable that those who hold the resources of power in their hands would ensure its continuity, at least through elections. But the ruling class has not been able to control the political scene: ordinary Peruvians, terrucos [leftists], fed up with the model that favors inequality, racism, hatred, exclusion, discrimination, said enough is enough.

The neoliberal model had been in decline for some time. A series of presidents ended up being accused of corruption, arrested, fled or committed suicide. Health care and education became a lucrative business, but disproportionately at the expense of the “disinherited of the earth”, desperate with the absolute inability of a subsidiary State of the interests of the elites.

And so was born a government of the poor, which now has the task of proving that it is also for the poor. The government of the socialist rural teacher raised great expectations among the people, and concerns among the elites in the face of the emergence of a progressive, patriotic, democratic, autonomous and anti-imperialist, nationalist and popular government (at least on paper), not attached to ideologies or dogma.

And the promise of a new Constitution that shapes the new Peru. For the dream to come true, it is necessary to consolidate the unity of the progressive forces, to act with serenity and caution, banishing sectarianism, caudillismo and hegemonism. The right tries to introduce molds that separate Pedro Castillo from Vladimir Cerrón, the Free Peru do Together for Peru and the independent forces of the left parties. The objective is to crack (and if possible destroy) the mosaic that guaranteed popular triumph.

During the campaign, Castillo established a close alliance with Verónika Mendoza of the progressive party Together for Peru, a two-time presidential candidate, and is looking to build a working coalition with other centrist parties such as We are Peru, or with your own party on key human rights issues, including LGBT+ rights, women's rights and the death penalty.

Today, unity is not enough, we need the organization of the social front for change that is starting, in which workers, peasants, women, technicians, students and specialists, victims of the neoliberal model that should end the celebration of the Bicentennial, join in the defense militant of a popular government and part of a participative democracy, the guarantee of the irreversibility of the changes. Today, in Latin America, the left is the street.

The right has already developed its harassment policy. The prolonged trial caused by Keiko Fujimori's big lie about electoral fraud has contributed to undermining confidence in Peru's electoral institutions and the legitimacy of Pedro Castillo's presidency.

His fraud narrative, which was mixed with racist speeches and McCarthyists, also contributed to the radicalization of Fujimori supporters, who resorted to harassment and harassment by election officials, street protests and violent attacks against journalists and two ministers of state.

Their only objective is to unseat the new president or, at the very least, make his government unsustainable. He did so between 2016 and 2021, when his obstructionist tactics resulted in the removal of two presidents and the appointment of another, which resulted in mass protests against him, leading to the appointment of the current president, Francisco Sagasti.

Keiko's tactic is similar to that of former US President Donald Trump, who refused to acknowledge his defeat by Joe Biden, sought to pressure electoral authorities to "find" votes to change the results, and sustained himself in an ecosystem of conservative news willing – in a golden episode of media terrorism – spreading this “big lie” of electoral fraud.

Keiko's “big lie”, repeated by the mainstream media, risks undermining confidence in elections and democratic institutions. It tries to impose the collective imagination that a supposed injustice was committed, but it also represents an existential threat to the future of the country, because feeding fears and hatred can establish a political climate that will be used to justify the need for extreme measures: a dismissal by Congress or a military coup.

Keiko is unwilling to accept defeat for a third time, and has adopted the same scorched earth tactics evident during her recent role as leader of the opposition.

Her father's master manipulator (the dictator Alberto Fujimori), Vladimiro Montesinos, intervened from the military prison he is in, advising Keiko on how to debate with Castillo and how to subvert the election results, including fundraising for this initiative.

Some of his closest allies, like the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, openly justified a coup d'état: "Anything that is done to stop this obscure operation against legality, against democracy, is perfectly justified," he said.

Today, the possibility of a military coup seems remote. But one possible scenario is that the various right-wing parties in Congress unite to force Castillo out of office, using the Constitution's "moral incapacity" clause, which requires only 87 of 130 congressional votes.

It is the first time in Peru's history that someone like Pedro Castillo, the son of illiterate peasants, has won the presidency, and who has withstood the avalanche of attacks McCarthyists, racial slurs, and efforts to steal elections.

But on July 28, he will become president of a country that is deeply divided and especially hard hit by the pandemic. Castillo lacks a majority in Congress, with just 37 of 130 seats, and will face a hostile bloc of right-wing parties that seek to thwart his political agenda and could try to remove him.

There is no doubt that the establishment will continue – just like the hegemonic media – with its hostile stance towards his government, pushing to bring Peru to the breaking point. Castillo will have to develop his ability to build a solid front and move towards participatory democracy, weathering the storms and turmoil that form in the corrupt web of institutions.

*Mariana Álvarez Orellana, anthropologist and professor, she is a researcher at the Latin American Center for Strategic Analysis (CLAE).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Originally published on the Latin American Center for Strategic Analysis.

 

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