Pedro Castillo

Navarro Culture, Blanket Garb, 1860-70.
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By FRANCISCO DOMINGUEZ*

A professor elected to dismantle neoliberalism in Peru.

Pedro Castillo, the left-wing coalition presidential candidate turkey free, won, with 50.14% of the votes, Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the infamous and disgraced corrupt dictator Alberto Fujimori. Keiko, who won 49,86% of the vote, was the party's right-wing candidate. Popular Force, a coalition supported by the country's oligarchic elite.

For many, Castillo's robust election performance in the first round, with 18% of the vote, came as a surprise. Until that point, the main candidate on the left was Veronika Mendoza, for the coalition Together for Peru, which won just under 8% of the vote. Next, we will examine the main events and developments that would culminate in this extraordinary victory for the Peruvian and Latin American left.

The long crisis of legitimacy

 As is typical of oligarchic rule in Latin America, whenever the elite encounter a serious threat to their rule they resort to authoritarian methods, including brutal repression and, if necessary, genocide. This is what the Peruvian elite did when, in the early 1990s, it encountered massive resistance to the imposition of neoliberal impoverishment; one of the most extreme manifestations of this opposition was the emergence of the guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso. State repression was substantially intensified with the election of Alberto Fujimori to the presidency in 1990.

Fujimori's dictatorial regime lasted a full decade (1990-2000), but collapsed under the weight of his own corruption, engulfed by a constitutional crisis of legitimacy caused by his disregard for democratic procedures: he closed Congress, usurped judicial authority, promulgated a neoliberal constitution and ruled brutally and autocratically. Today, he faces a 25-year prison sentence for his role in murders and kidnappings carried out by death squads during his government's military campaign against leftist guerrillas.

Fujimori's successor, Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), fared no better, even if, unlike his predecessor, he did not resort to illegal and brutal methods during his presidency. Yet he is under house arrest in San Francisco pending his extradition on charges of taking multimillion-dollar bribes.

It was then the turn of Alan Garcia, leader of the APRA, an originally progressive and populist party. Garcia succeeded Toledo in the period between 2006 and 2011 and committed suicide in 2020, while the police came to arrest him for bribery and corruption during his government.

Ollanta Humala, superficially portrayed as a kind of Peruvian Chavez – even publicly supported by the Commander himself – defeated Keiko Fujimori in the 2011 elections, thus becoming the country's president for the 2011-2016 period. However, as seems to befit Peruvian presidents, he and his wife were arrested in 2017 on charges of corruption and money laundering. Both are banned from leaving Peru and are awaiting trial.

The 2017 election crowned Pedro Pablo Kuczynski as the country's president between 2016 and 2021, but he failed to break with 'cultural tradition' and was forced to abdicate in 2018 (to avoid an impeachment process initiated in 2017) for having lied to Congress and for receiving bribes in exchange for government contracts. Kuczynski also claimed to suffer from heart problems (as did Fujimori, Toledo and Humala) in order to benefit from house arrest. Evidently, being the tenant of the House of Pizarro (the popular name of Peru's presidential palace) is a difficult task, full of exciting stimuli that can affect the cardiac system.

Kuczynski had to be replaced by his vice president, Martin Vizcarra, who launched an offensive against corruption but was removed by Congress in November 2020, accused of receiving bribes on several occasions in 2014 in exchange for public contracts. His impeachment is believed to have been prompted by his decision to shut down Congress, accusing him of obstructing corruption investigations.[I]

Vizcarra (who has yet to say he has heart problems) accepted the congressional decision and was replaced by its president, Manuel Merino, an interim leader whose cabinet was dominated by the business elite. Merino's brief 6-day government issued strong signs of disregard for popular demands for reforms in the political and judicial systems, and even considered postponing elections scheduled for 2021 under the pretext of the problems generated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The country exploded in huge mass demonstrations, met by a brutal police crackdown that ended with two dead, a few dozen injured and many more arrested. Merino was forced to abdicate on November 15, 2020, and Congress named Francisco Sagasti (who had voted against Vizcarra's impeachment) as interim president, who was entrusted with the task of organizing the April 2021 presidential elections.

Therefore, since the Peruvian elite has been subverting the rule of law and the credibility of national institutions for decades, the main positions of the State have been occupied by corrupt or corruptible members of the political class (involving all the main political parties), in a system overwhelmingly dominated by finance capital, mining interests, raw material exporters, a media monopoly and multinational corporations. These powerful groups pay virtually no taxes while taking the country's wealth for themselves, leaving the agricultural sector in a state of total neglect. This was the context of the elections that led Pedro Castillo to the presidency of Peru.

The consequences of the neoliberal dictatorship in Peru

In the last two decades, the country's economic performance has been impressive, receiving praise from the IMF: “Peru continues to be one of the best performing Latin American economies. With annual real GDP growth approaching 5.4% over the last fifteen years, Peru has been one of the fastest growing economies in the region, which has allowed for significant progress in reducing poverty.”[ii]

However, a closer look yields a different impression. In 1970, the poverty level in Peru was 50% and, in 2000, it increased to 54,1%;[iii] by 2006, poverty had barely dropped to 49,1%, and despite having dropped to around 20% in 2019, with the pandemic it has dropped back to 30%.[iv] In summary, half of the country's population remained in a state of poverty for nearly two generations and, in the last decade, about a third found themselves in this condition. However, this 30% is misleading, since the level of informality of work in the country's economy is a frightening 70% – people who live day after day as street vendors; they, and their families, starved during the lockdown.[v]

The two decades of macroeconomic success and social horror correlate with the rise to power of Alberto Fujimori, who defeated Mario Vargas Llosa's sweeping neoliberal privatization plan in the 1990 elections. The Fujimori government systematized the use of counterinsurgent state terror to eliminate rebellious constituencies in society, such as those in Sierra (the Peruvian mountains), inhabited by indigenous peoples. By the end of the 1980s, the departments of Ayacucho, Apurimac and Huancavelica were already under martial law.

The military campaign against the left was aided by a combination of extreme sectarianism, intense dogmatism, and insurrectionary and violent methods practiced by the Sendero Luminoso, a splinter group of the Communist Party. This group had strong support precisely in the departments of the mountainous regions and, in the early 1990s, had carried out considerable incursions into the slums of Lima, not only challenging the state, but also waging a fierce campaign against the rest of the country's left.

The government response was Fujimorazo, a self-coup carried out on April 5, 1992 in which the president dissolved Congress and dismantled the judiciary, assuming full executive and legislative powers. He also used these powers to enact harsh and repressive labor laws that destroyed what was left of an already seriously weakened labor movement. Under Fujimori, labor legislation was designed to make Peru a haven for flexible work, managers' right to fire, and casualization of employment contracts; at the same time making unionization and collective bargaining action difficult for workers.[vi]

In 1993, Fujimori had already increased the number of provinces under a state of military emergency from 52 to 66, and by 1994 nearly half the population lived in such zones – areas in which security forces cracked down on the entire left, not just the Sendero Luminoso. It is estimated that, by 1995, “insurgents, state security forces, drug traffickers, death squads and civilian paramilitaries had killed more than 27.000 Peruvians”. And, according to Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the number of fatal victims of internal conflicts between 1990 and 2000 was 69.000.[vii] Peru has become a death camp.

The brutal state counterinsurgent offensive launched in 1980 had not only stopped, but also reversed the development of a left that was becoming politically and electorally strong. In the 1980 elections, it obtained a combined electoral result of around 12-15%, even if divided among 5 candidates, but in 1985, a candidate from the unified left won an impressive 24%. However, five years later, their share has dropped to 12%, split between two candidates. The left was virtually absent from elections in 1995, 2000, 2006 and 2011; and started to recover only in 2016.

Fujimori's neoliberal structural reforms (the Fuji-shock) in 1993 included the elimination of price controls, the complete deregulation of markets, the privatization of state companies and activities, and a tight monetary policy. The privatization program attracted foreign investment (especially in the US) in natural resources and in financial and consumer markets. This resulted in an intense concentration of ownership in foreign companies, thus reducing the influence and power of national industrial capital.[viii]

Over time, the country's income distribution has deteriorated dramatically. In 2009, the top 1% and 10% received, respectively, 29,6% and 56,6% of GDP; 40% of middle-income sectors received 35,8% of GDP, while 50% of low-income sectors received only 9,4% – one of the highest inequalities in the world.[ix] The damage done by Covid-19 among the poor is not surprising, since one day lockdowns, for the 70% working in the informal sector (that is, millions of people and their families), it means a day without income. Decades of neoliberal privatizations and cuts in state spending (health, education and related), having thrown millions into precariousness and misery, made them inevitable victims of Covid-19: until June 4 [2021], Peru had the highest death rate per million in the world (188.000, with 1.998.056 confirmed cases).[X]

The Long March of Castillo

It was reported that when it was announced that a teacher had won the first round of elections, the CCN (Cable Canal de Notícias) staff had to rush to obtain information about, and get a photo of, Pedro Castillo, as there was no not even an image of him in their database. Like Pedro Castillo and the free turkey managed to win the presidency, albeit by a thread? Castillo's manifesto makes the answer even more difficult, since the key principles of his government program include a frontal attack on neoliberalism; propose the election of a Constituent Assembly to draft and enact a new constitution to replace the dominant neoliberal economic model; an agrarian reform, the nationalization of the country's natural resources, in order to guarantee that most of the wealth generated by them stays in Peru to eradicate poverty; increased state spending on social services (health and education); and the implementation of income redistribution.[xi] Worse (or better) still, Castillo declares himself a Marxist and a mariateguist (follower of the Peruvian intellectual José Carlos Mariátegui, possibly one of the most original and influential Marxist thinkers in Latin America).[xii]

O Peru Libre National Party (PNPL) gives political emphasis to the specific demands of the Peruvian peasantry: agrarian reform, social rights, education and health, thus expressing the demands and aspirations of rural and indigenous Peru. Mariátegui, writing in the 1920s, asserted that there would not be a bourgeois revolution in Peru because there was no social class interested in carrying it out. Therefore, the only concrete possibility of a structural transformation of society would come from a socialist revolution, whose assumption was to bring the indigenous people as a fundamental agent of this change.

This general picture is still basically correct in Peru in 2021. Keiko Fujimori had strong support in major cities (for example, Lima and Callao, with 65% and 67% respectively), but Castillo won a landslide in the Andean provinces ( indigenous), such as Puno (89%), Huancavelica (85%), Cusco (83%), Ayacucho (82%), Apurimac (81%), Moquegua (73%), Cajamarca (71%), Huánuco (68 %) and Pasco (66%). It's about a win[xiii] that is not identical with a victory of rural versus urban Peru, as some in the media have described Castillo's achievement. After all, 73% of the population lives in cities, while only 27% live in rural areas, that is, the Marxist professor could not have won without substantial support in urban centers. The validity of the PNPL's central principle of refounding the nation as a Plurinational State along the lines of Ecuador and Bolivia is therefore undeniable: across the country, there are 4 indigenous languages ​​in the Andean region (Quechua, Aymara, Cauqui and Jaqaru) and 43 more in the Amazon region, 500 years after the Spanish Conquest.

The implementation of brutal neoliberal policies, associated with a 'war on drugs' inspired by the American DEA, mainly in the Amazon region (La Selva), starting in the 1990s, meant that Amazonian communities suffered the heaviest part of the 'dirty war' against Sendero Luminoso and the fight, led by the army, against drug trafficking. Meanwhile, in the Andes, indigenous communities have been further marginalized by aggressive mining operated by multinational companies. The racism that supplemented these aggressions led to organized resistance and, therefore, to the emergence of popular, community and indigenous leaders.

As a result, for example, the election of some of these emerging leaders to the governments of Puno, Junín and Moquegua. Many were also elected to head provinces and municipalities, with teachers assuming an important role (Castillo himself was mayor of his town, Anguía, in Cajamarca).[xiv] Thus, as a result of a decades-long political development, the PNPL is a well-organized militant political ensemble with strong territorial support in important areas, with solid associations and collaborations with peasant and indigenous communities and organizations (such as the ronderos[xv]), and unions, especially (but not exclusively) of teachers. Castillo himself led the 2017 teachers' strike in defense of wages and demanding budget increases for education.

In short, the PNPL had access to local resources, had an institutional presence in local, provincial and regional governments and, as 60% of Peruvians do not have access to the internet, in its electoral campaign it relied on community radios, individual visits to cities small and cultural events. Thus, in the context of the 2021 elections (in the first and second rounds), Castillo was not only the outsider; it was a breath of fresh air that, in the midst of a criminally managed pandemic and a deep institutional crisis, brought hope and voice to the rural and urban oppressed.[xvi]

The next tasks

The election result was incredibly tight: 8.883.185 votes for Castillo against 8.783.765 for Keiko Fujimori. Furthermore, the PNPL obtained a minority of 37 seats which, added to the 5 obtained by the Together for Peru, will leave 42 of the 130 under Castillo's command in Congress. Meanwhile, the Popular Force Fujimori and the other right-wing electoral coalitions achieved a combined parliamentary strength of at least 80 seats. The latter, with all the complicity and support of the national media, carried out a toxic election campaign based on fear, accusing Castillo of being a sympathizer of the Sendero Luminoso, a “terruco” – pejorative slang meaning 'terrorist', used by the Peruvian establishment to stigmatize the left.

Days before the second round, Keiko mobilized the arch-reactionary Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa and the right-wing Venezuelan coup-plotter Leopoldo Lopez to support his electoral campaign and defeat Castillo's “communism”. Keiko, without any evidence, persisted in the accusation of electoral fraud by the PNPL, demanding the annulment of votes from more than 800 polling stations in the interior of the country. She then mobilized 22 right-wing former Latin American and Spanish presidents (with Aznar and Uribe being prominent) who released a statement with similar allegations, demanding that Castillo not be proclaimed the winner. In desperation, she then organized marches towards military barracks and the Ministry of Defense (June 9, 2021) to call for army action to prevent the “victory of communism”. However, a few hours later, Castillo proclaimed himself the winner, and the Ministry of Defense issued a note confirming the political neutrality of the Armed Forces and demanding respect for the election results.

These threats were met by widespread demonstrations in Lima and the rest of the country, with ronderos promising to march through the capital if, through electoral fraud, Castillo's victory was stolen. On May 22, 2021, the National Confederation of Army, Navy, Air Force and Police Reservists – CONAFAP – issued a strong statement warning against any possible fraud in the second round, supporting Pedro Castillo. Although the strength of support that Castillo has in the Armed Forces is not clear, there is a historic left-wing nationalist influence that originates from the Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces, led by General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968-1975);[xvii] many of the PNPL's proposals resemble those of Velasco.

With his clean victory, Castillo and his program of progressive structural changes are being noticed by millions of the poor in major urban centers, especially in Lima (where they number 10 million out of a population of 32 million). The more your government engages, mobilizes and commits itself to the poor, supporting the implementation of its policies, the greater the chances that they will be adopted by them as their own socio-political objectives. This will allow him to prepare the ground for a referendum by a Constituent Assembly that will write an anti-neoliberal constitution that would serve as a basis for the creation of a Plurinational State, the foundation of a socioeconomic transformation mariateguist in Peru.

Contrary to media misrepresentation, the PNLP program also includes, among many other interesting policies, the decriminalization of abortion; a strong attack on human trafficking – especially women –; the elimination of patriarchy and machismo in the State and society, respect for and promotion of reproductive rights; and the appreciation of women's self-organization in any instance.[xviii] This is in clear contrast with Keiko's defense of her father's legacy, which, among other stigmas, had a eugenics plan that led to the forced sterilization of around 350.000 women, mostly peasants and indigenous people, carried out to deal with the "indigenous problem" of nation (higher birth rates among indigenous peoples than among Peruvians of European descent).[xx]

Castillo's immediate concern is to ensure a smooth transition of presidential power to guarantee the country's governability, avoid a currency devaluation, prevent financial panic, violent protests and destabilization plans, among other reactions that characterized many of the electoral victories of candidates from left in Latin America. Of greater concern is the “Trumpian inertia” of the Biden administration, which leaves largely unchanged US aggression against leftist governments in the region of its predecessor, despite its promise to, for example, restore Obama's constructive policies in relation to Cuba.

On the other hand, the future government of Peru Libre benefits and will continue to benefit from a regional relationship of forces that changes for the better, with robust victories of the left in its neighbors: Argentina, Chile and, especially, Bolivia. Castillo has already received support from Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba and mass parties of the Latin American left, organized in São Paulo forum and in the group Puebla – the latter two having issued strong statements of support, demanding respect for the will of the Peruvian people. Castillo also has in his favor the visible deterioration of the US regional intervention machine, with Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), in massive disrepute after his shameful and criminal complicity in the coup d'état that removed Evo Morales from the power in 2019, facing a criminal indictment from Bolivia at the International Criminal Court. He has been openly and publicly repudiated by the governments of Argentina and Mexico. Furthermore, the US-inspired Lima group (established to overthrow Venezuela's Bolivarian government and led by Almagro) recently lost the city to a party whose program includes Peru's exit from the OAS and return to UNASUR. To top it off, the PNLP program includes strong support for Cuba and Venezuela.

In the imperialist North, our task is to tell the truth about Castillo's progressive and anti-neoliberal program, aimed at reversing decades of neoliberal policies, with the aim of helping his nation and his people, thus combating inevitable media misrepresentations. mainstream; it is also our task to remain vigilant and denounce and reject any external or domestic attempt to undermine the victory of the Peruvian people by obscene means (violence, coup d'état, lawfare, economic blockade, extraterritorial legislation, sanctions, typical European Union tricks and the like). Ultimately, it falls to us to help build the broader solidarity movement in their support.

*Francisco Dominguez is professor of political science at the University of Middlesex (England).

Translation: Daniel Pavan.

Notes


[I] Milan Sime Martinic, The curious case of Peru's persistent president-to-prison politics, The Week, November 17, 2020.

[ii] Peru, IMF Country Report No. 20/3. January 10, 2020.

[iii] Carlos Parodi Trece, “Perú: Poverty and social policies of the 90s”, Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. VI, No. 3, Sep-Dec. 2001, p.385

[iv] Covid-19 and its impact on Poverty in Peru, Project Peru, January 10, 2021.

[v] Whitney Eulich, “We're invisible”: Peru's moment of reckoning on informal workers, The Christian Science Monitor, June 30, 2020.

[vi] Bart-Jaap Verbeek, “Globalization and Exploitation in Peru: Strategic Selectivities and the Defeat of Labor in the US-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement”, Global Labor Journal, Vol. 5, May 31, 2014, p.223-4.

[vii] Eduardo Silva, Challenging Neoliberalism in Latin America, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2009, pp.236-245

[viii] Bart-Jaap Verbeeck, op.cit., p.221

[ix] Income Inequality, Peru, 1980-2019, World Inequality Database, https://wid.world/country/peru/

[X] Situation in Peru remains critical as world's worst-hit COVID-19 country, Medecins Sans Frontiers, June 4, 2021. https://www.msf.org/peru-covid-situation-remains-critical-worst-hit-country

[xi] Plan de Gobierno de 100 dias de Peru Libre: Los siete ejes de la propuesta, Management, May 16, 2021, https://gestion.pe/peru/politica/plan-de-gobierno-de-100-dias-de-peru-libre-los-siete-ejes-de-la-propuesta-noticia /

[xii] For an analysis of Mariátegui's importance in Latin America, see Francisco Dominguez, “Marxism and the Peculiarities of Indo-American Socialism”, in Mary Davis (ed.), MARX200 The Significance of Marxism in the 21st Century, Praxis Press, 2019, pp.49-58

[xiii] Gilberto Calil, Mariátegui and the election of Pedro Castillo in Peru, Rebellion, June 9, 2021, https://rebelion.org/mariategui-y-la-eleccion-de-pedro-castillo-en-peru/

[xiv] The Aymara ecologist, Walter Aduviri Calisaya, was elected governor of Puno and the general secretary of the PNPL, Vladimir Cerrón, its main Marxist intellectual, was elected governor of Junín. But the elite, resorting to lawfare, succeeded in arresting Aduviri, who served 8 years, and Cerrón was suspended as governor and banned from running for president.

[xv] The peasant, indigenous and community self-defense organization present in the country has grown exponentially in the last 10 years; it is claimed that it can mobilize 2,5 million people; Castillo was an active member

[xvi] Lautaro Rivara and Gonzalo Armúa, “Pedro Castillo y el Perú: Lo nuevo viene de lejos”, All Los Puentes, April 15, 2021. https://todoslospuentes.com/2021/04/15/pedro-castillo-y-el-peru-lo-nuevo-viene-de-lejos/

[xvii] See the interesting analyzes in Carlos Aguirre & Paulo Drinot (eds.), The Peculiar Revolution, Rethinking The Peruvian Experiment Under Military Rule, University of Texas Press, 2017.

[xviii] See (in Spanish) especially Chapter XVI, The Socialist Woman, https://perulibre.pe/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/ideario-peru-libre.pdf, in an interview, Castillo said that he, personally, was against abortion, but that he was about to bring the issue to the Constituent Assembly.

[xx] Anastaia Moloney, Haunted by forced sterilizations, Peruvian women pin hopes on court hearing, Reuters, 8 January 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/peru-women-sterilizations-idUSL8N2JH4WB

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