Pedro Castillo Is Declared President-Elect of Peru
LIMA, Peru – His parents were peasants who had never learned to read. As a child, he walked for hours to school, before becoming a teacher himself. Then, two months ago, he burst onto the Peruvian national political scene as a dissenting candidate with a captivating call to the polls: “No more poor in a rich country.
And on Monday evening, more than a month after the second round of the presidential election, officials declared Pedro Castillo, 51, Peru’s next president. In a very close vote, he defeated Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of a former right-wing president and herself a dominant symbol of the Peruvian elite.
Mr. Castillo’s victory, narrow as it is, has been the country’s clearest establishment repudiation for 30 years. It was also the third straight loss for Ms Fujimori.
Mr. Castillo, a socialist, would become Peru’s first left-wing president in more than a generation, and the first to have lived most of his life as a “campesino” – or peasant – in a poor Andean region.
In a victory speech from a balcony in downtown Lima, as his supporters chanted “yes, we could” in the streets below, Castillo pledged to work for all Peruvians.
“I call for the greater unity of the Peruvian people,” said Mr. Castillo. “Together, we will share this struggle and this effort to make a more just, more dignified and more united Peru.”
Addressing Ms. Fujimori, he added, “Let us not add more obstacles to move this country forward.
The announcement of his victory came after Ms. Fujimori’s effort of more than a month to secure around 200,000 votes in areas where Mr. Castillo won by a landslide, an action that allegedly deprived them of their rights. many poor and indigenous Peruvians.
Shortly before authorities declared Mr. Castillo president-elect, Ms. Fujimori said in a televised speech Monday evening that she would recognize the results out of respect for the law, but called her pending proclamation of president-elect ” illegitimate “and again insisted that his party had stolen thousands of votes from him.
She called on her supporters to enter “a new phase” in which they remained politically active to “defend the Constitution and not let communism destroy it in order to take power definitively”. She added: “We have the right to mobilize as we have done and we must continue to do so – but peacefully and within the law. “
Ms Fujimori accused Mr Castillo’s supporters of tampering with score sheets across the country. But in the weeks following the vote, no one came forward to corroborate his central claim: that the identities of hundreds of election workers had been stolen and their signatures forged.
The dispute has brought thousands of supporters of the two candidates to the streets of Lima in a duel of protests since the elections. Many of Mr. Castillo’s supporters in rural areas spent weeks camping while awaiting the official proclamation of his victory.
Ultimately, election officials rejected all demands by Ms. Fujimori’s party to reduce the ballots in an official tally that gave Mr. Castillo 44,263 votes ahead, with a total of 8,836,380. votes against 8,792,117 for Ms. Fujimori.
“The votes from the highest mountain and the farthest corner of the country are worth the same as the votes from San Isidro and Miraflores,” Castillo told a crowd of supporters last month, referring to two neighborhoods chic of Lima.
“No need to make fun of workers, peasant leaders or teachers anymore,” Castillo said. “Today we must teach young people, children, that we are all equal before the law.”
Many supporters of Mr Castillo said they voted for him in the hope that he would reform the neoliberal economic system put in place by Ms Fujimori’s father, Alberto Fujimori. This system, they said, allowed steady economic growth and brought inflation under control, but ultimately failed to help millions of poor people.
The painful disparity became even more glaring when the coronavirus struck. The virus has ravaged Peru, which has the highest documented number of per capita deaths from Covid-19 in the world. Almost 10 percent of its population fell into poverty last year.
“Thirty years of growing great businessmen – and in Peru we have more poverty,” said Manuel Santiago, 64, a store owner who voted for Mr. Castillo. “We are tired of the same.”
But Mr. Castillo now faces huge challenges.
Corruption and political vendettas have rocked the nation in recent years, and the country has had four presidents and two congresses in the past five years.
Perhaps more critically, Mr. Castillo, who has never held a post, lacks the political experience and popularity that has supported other left-wing leaders who have come to power in South America.
“As a political figure, he has a lot of problems that lead to instability,” said Mauricio Zavaleta, a Peruvian political scientist.
In Bolivia, in 2005, Evo Morales, who became the country’s first indigenous president, won the first round with more than 50% of the vote, he said. In Venezuela in 1998, Hugo Chávez “was an electoral storm”. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in Brazil in 2002, and Rafael Correa, in Ecuador in 2006, were established personalities first elected president by wide margins.
“Castillo is not one of these phenomena,” Zavaleta said.
Moreover, he said, Mr. Castillo is unlikely to have the support of Congress, the military, the media, the elite or a major political movement. “He just does not have the muscle to carry out the ambitious reforms he has proposed,” Zavaleta said.
Mr. Castillo pledged to overhaul the political and economic system to fight poverty and inequality, and replace the current Constitution with one that would increase the role of the state in the economy. He campaigned wearing a traditional farmer’s hat and occasionally appeared on horseback or dancing with voters.
“He is someone who does not need to go to a village to be in contact with people and know their problems, because he comes from a village,” said Cynthia Cienfuegos, political affairs specialist at the within the Peruvian civil society group Transparencia.
“Her triumph reflects a demand for change that has long been postponed,” she said.
Mr. Castillo grew up in the highlands of northern Peru and, as a youth, cleaned hotel rooms in Lima. After attending university in a town in northern Peru, he chose to return to the same highland province where he grew up to run a school with no running water or sewage system.
After becoming a teachers’ union activist, Mr. Castillo helped organize a strike in 2017 to demand better wages.
Then he largely disappeared from public view – until this year, when he teamed up with a Marxist-Leninist party to run for president and became the surprise leader, albeit narrowly, in the first lap of the race.
As a candidate, Mr. Castillo has crisscrossed the country to hear from voters, often carrying a giant pencil under his arm to remind them of his promise to ensure equal access to quality education.
He could hardly be more different from Ms Fujimori, who grew up in privilege, becoming Peru’s first lady at 19, after her parents separated.
Like Mr. Castillo, his father took office as a foreigner at one of the most difficult times in the country’s history. While Mr. Fujimori was initially credited with repelling violent leftist insurgencies in the 1990s, he is now looked down upon by many as having been a corrupt autocrat.
Mr. Fujimori has been convicted in a series of trials on corruption and other charges, including leading the activities of a death squad. He has been in prison, with a brief hiatus, since 2007.
His daughter, too, is now facing prosecution, accused of leading a criminal organization that trafficked illegal donations during an election campaign during a previous presidential candidacy. She denies the charges. If found guilty, she could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Mr. Castillo, who will take office on July 28, the day of the 200th anniversary of Peru’s independence from Spain, presented himself as a good start for a country with a long history of cronyism and of corruption.
“Let us end this bicentenary, which has seen many problems along the way, and open the door for the next bicentenary to be full of hope, with a future and a vision for a country in which we all appreciate and eat bread. the country, “Castillo said in a plaza full of supporters last month.” Let’s take Peru back for the Peruvians.
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