Leftist professor, political novice, elected president of Peru

Leftist professor, political novice, elected president of Peru

“Let’s not put the obstacles to move this country forward,” Castillo asked his opponent in his first remarks in front of hundreds of followers in Lima. Wielding a pencil the size of a cane, symbol of his Peru Libre party, Castillo popularized the phrase “No more poor in a rich country.” The economy of Peru, the world’s second-largest copper producer, has been crushed by the coronavirus pandemic, increasing the poverty level to almost one-third of the population and eliminating the gains of a decade.

Leftist Pedro Castillo catapulted from unknown to president-elect with the support of the country’s poor and rural citizens, many of whom identify with the struggles the teacher has faced. Castillo was officially declared winner Monday after the country’s electoral count became the longest in 40 years as his opponents fought the results. Castillo received 44,000 more votes than right-wing politician Keiko Fujimori in the June 6 runoff. This is the third presidential election defeat for the daughter of imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori. The shortfalls of Peru’s public health services have contributed to the country’s poor pandemic outcomes, leaving it with the highest global per capita death rate. Castillo has promised to use the revenues from the mining sector to improve public services, including education and health, whose inadequacies were highlighted by the pandemic.

“Those who do not have a car should have at least one bicycle,” Castillo, 51, told The Associated Press in mid-April at his adobe house in Anguía, Peru’s third poorest district. Since surprising Peruvians and observers by advancing to the presidential runoff election, Castillo has softened his first proposals on nationalizing multinational mining and natural gas companies. Instead, his campaign has said he is considering raising taxes on profits due to high copper prices, which exceed $10,000 per ton.

Historians say he is the first peasant to become president of Peru, where until now, Indigenous people almost always have received the worst of the deficient public services even though the nation boasted of being the economic star of Latin America in the first two decades of the century. “There are no cases of a person unrelated to the professional, military or economic elites who reaches the presidency,” Cecilia Méndez, a Peruvian historian and professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara, told a radio station. Hundreds of Peruvians from various regions camped out for more than a month in front of the Electoral Tribunal in Lima, Peru’s capital, to await Castillo’s proclamation. Many do not belong to Castillo’s party, but they trust the professor because “he will not be like the other politicians who have not kept their promises and do not defend the poor,” said Maruja Inquilla, an environmental activist who arrived from a town near Titicaca, the mythical lake of the Incas.

Castillo’s meteoric rise from unknown to president elect has divided the Andean nation deeply. Author Mario Vargas Llosa, a holder of a Nobel Prize for literature, has said Castillo “represents the disappearance of democracy and freedom in Peru.” Meanwhile, retired soldiers sent a letter to the commander of the armed forces asking him not to respect Castillo’s victory. Fujimori, who ran with the support of the business elites, said Monday that she will accept Castillo’s victory, after accusing him for a month of electoral fraud without offering any evidence. The accusation delayed his appointment as president-elect as she asked electoral authorities to annul thousands of votes, many in Indigenous and poor communities in the Andes.

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