Peru: populist president prevails amid polarization

castillo

Proclaiming that “change is coming,” Pedro Castillo, a left-populist political outsider and former school teacher, was sworn in as Peru’s new president on July 28—the bicentennial of the country’s independence from Spain. The following day, a second symbolic inauguration ceremony was held at the Battlefield of Ayacucho, site of the 1824 battle that secured Peru’s independence and put an end of Spanish colonialism in South America. (TeleSur, Reuters)

Hailed as Peru’s “first poor president” because of his campesino roots, Castillo overcame weeks of voter fraud allegations (with little to no evidence) lodged by losing far-right opponent Keiko Fujimori. He has pledged to redraft the constitution and raise taxes on mines—but also expel migrants to “tidy up the house.”

Castillo assumes office amid a profound political crisis and growing social polarization—not to mention by far the highest COVID-19 death rate in the world. Price gouging and other corruption in the healthcare sector has made the pandemic even worse in Peru, where one in 100 children has been orphaned by the coronavirus, according to a Lancet study. Poverty—defined as earnings of less than $100 a month–is up 10%  since 2020, and now affects nearly a third of the population. (The New Humanitarian)

Castillo named as his cabinet chief, or prime minister, Guido Bellido, a newly elected lawmaker from Cuzco who is on the more hard-left wing of Castillo’s Perú Libre party. The anti-terrorist arm of the Fiscalía, Peru’s chief prosecutor, opened an investigation into him earlier this year over comments he made in an interview that appeared to defend Sendero Luminoso. However, upon being sworn in as a member of Congress and chief of the cabinet, he has immunity from prosecution. (Perú21, DW)

Bolivia’s President Luis Arce, who attended the symbolic inauguration in Ayacucho together with ex-president Evo Morales, has announced that a “Binational Cabinet” will be installed jointly with Castillo’s government to address matters of importance to both countries, and in which social movements will participate. Moves toward establishing a Peru-Bolivia Binational Cabinet had been undertaken by Morales before he was removed in a coup d’etat in 2019. (Kawsachun News, TeleSur, Andina)

However, Vladimir Cerrón, the former governor of Junín region who founded Perú Libre in 2008, tweeted his speculation about a “caviar conspiracy” on the part of Peru’s elite political class to co-opt Castillo, stating “We have to assure the change that the Fatherland needs!” Two days before the inauguration, he mobilized supporters to rally outside Castillo’s Lima home. They chanted: “If Castillo goes wrong, the party will straighten him out!” Cerrón, while still a powerful figure on the left wing of Perú Libre, is under restricted movement as the Fiscalía investigates corruption charges against him, related to the clean-up of the heavily polluted La Oroya industrial site. (El Comercio, Gestión, Libertad DigitalLAT)

Castillo is certain to face obstruction from Congress, where an opposition-led alliance won a vote for the body’s leadership two days before the inauguration. The new president of Congress is to be María del Carmen Alva of the centrist Acción Popular party. A more hard-right contender, retired military general Jorge Montoya of Renovación Popular, was defeated. Alva has pledged to seek an “equilibrium of powers” in Congress, and says she considers herself anti-fujimorista. But Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular bloc supported Alva, seemly angling for broader support to block Castillo’s agenda. Fujimori promised that her party will be a “wall of contention” to Castillo’s plans for a new constitution. (La República, Reuters, Gestión, Latin America News, Canal N)

Photo: Diario Uno

  1. Peru’s chancellor resigns over comments on Sendero Luminoso

    Héctor Béjar, a veteran leader of the ELN guerillas, stepped down as Peru’s foreign minister just weeks after his appointment amid outrage over comments he made last year in which he suggested the Shining Path was a creation of the armed forces and CIA. (BBC News, France24)

  2. Peru: ousted chancellor warns of ‘soft coup’

    Peru’s ousted foreign minister Héctor Béjar, in an interview with Argentina’s Página12, said his removal marks “the start of a soft coup d’etat. The ultra groups in Congress want the dismissal of the president. The right in parliament can sack Castillo; it’s another thing whether Peru will accept it.” 

  3. Peru PM threatens to dissolve Congress over Sendero fracas

    Peru’s Prime Minister Guido Bellido said at a press conference Sept. 29 that the government would consider activating a constitutional mechanism known as “vote of confidence,” which could eventually lead to new elections for Congress.

    Bellido’s threat was a response to an attempt by opposition lawmakers to force Labor Minister Iber Maraví Olarte to step down over alleged links to Sendero Luminoso in the 1980s. Newspaper La República released testimony from Sendero militant Juan Alarcón Gutiérrez after his arrest in Huamanga, Ayacucho, in August 1981, which appears to name Maraví as guerilla operative. (Bloomberg)

  4. Cabinet purge in Peru?

    Peru’s Prime Minister Guido Bellido resigned at the request of President Pedro Castillo just two months into his tenure, the country’s President Pedro Castillo announced on Wednesday, citing “instability” in the country. “i have decided to take some decisions on favor of governability,” Castillo said in announcing the move. Under Peruvian law, the prime minister’s resignation automatically triggers that of the entire cabinet, although Castillo may bring back the same cabinet without Bellido.

    Both Castillo and Bellido are from the populist Perú Libre party, but Bellido had adopted more hard-left stances and had faced opposition for suggesting the hydrocarbon sector should be nationalized. Last month, his cabinet delivered a letter to Argentina’s Pluspetrol, the most significant natural gas exploiter in Peru, calling for renegotiation of the firm’s contract to pay higher taxes. (Al Jazeera, EFE)

  5. Peru political fracas gets uglier

    Peru’s outgoing prime minister Guido Bellido was ordered by a court to undergo psychological counseling after he allegedly told Patricia Chirinos, deputy with the opposition Avanza País, that “you just need to be raped” at a joint meeting of lawmakers and cabinet members. Protection orders have also been placed on Chirinos. (InfoBae, InfoBae)

    The new prime minister has been named as Mirtha Esther Vásquez Chuquilín of the left-wing Frente Amplio. (Andina) Vásquez is a veteran opponent of the Conga mine project in Cajamarca, and has received threats for her legal work on behalf of local campesinos in land conflicts with the mining company. She was elected to Congress and briefly served as vice president last year. 

    Meanwhile, the centrist Acción Popular bloc in Congress protested a statement from the Perú Libre bloc accussing AP congressional president María del Carmen Alva of planning a “parliamentary coup.” (RPP)

  6. DBA vs IBA in Peru

    Journalist Juan Carlos Tafur coined the phrase “Derecha Bruta y Achorada” (Ugly & Stale Right, DBA) to refer to the fujimorista bloc in Congress. President Castillo’s new labor minister, Betssy Chávez, took it up with the epithet “Izquierda Bruta y Achorada” (Ugly & Stale Left, IBA) to refer to the hardline flank of her own Perú Libre party. (La Republica)

  7. Peru: Congress reins in Castillo

    In an extraordinary plenary session of Congress on Oct. 19, Peru’s Congress passed a controversial law that significantly restricts the so-called “vote of confidence” mechanism that authorizes the executive branch to dissolve Congress. The president can dissolve Congress if lawmakers twice deny him such vote. Former President Martin Vizcarra dismissed Congress in 2019 using that mechanism. Under the new law, the president can only ask lawmakers for a vote of confidence on government policies, and no longer on constitutional reforms.

    At the same time, lawmakers ignored a bill presented by the government that would restrict their ability to impeach the president. Congress can still impeach the president on grounds of “moral incapacity,” a broad definition that has resulted in the ouster or resignation of three presidents over the past four years. (Rio Times, Bloomberg)

  8. Peru: Castillo instates populist (symbolic?) measures

    Peru’s presidential plane will be put on the market, with the proceeds to be spent on health and education President Pedro Castillo announced at a rally held in the main square of Huamanga, capital of Ayacucho region, marking his first 100 days in power. Earlier, the president had announced a bill to prohibit government officials from traveling first class. (Today in 24) He also marked his first 100 days by announcing a “Second Agrarian Reform,” tweeting: “The State cannot turn its back on deep Peru. The Second Agrarian Reform does not mean expropriation or confiscation, they are concrete actions in favor of agriculture.” (Market Research Telecast)

  9. Peru: motion to void presidency of Pedro Castillo

    Opposition lawmaker Patricia Chirinos announced that she has prepared a motion to delcare “the vacancy of the presidency,” removing Pedro Castillo due to “moral incapacity.” (InfoBae)