In July, Lima, the capital of Peru, becomes an asthmatic city: the humidity reaches 99% and the luminosity under the dense layer of clouds is only a dim light. It is in this scenario that, every five years, the government system changes within a representative democracy that, for two centuries, has had the tendency to represent the great economic interests. For this reason, the election and proclamation of Pedro Castillo Terrones as president of the Bicentennial raised hope in the neglected regions, in the forever ignored, among rural teachers, ronderos, peasants and indigenous peoples, among domestic workers or among the agro-industrial workers. With his straw hat and his paused speaking like the men and women of the northern highlands, he untied the knot of republican oppression.
Castillo, 51 years old, rural teacher, owner of a small “farm” where he grows geese and corn in Chugur, Cajamarca (one of the poorest areas of the country despite mining investment and economic growth), starred in a teacher strike in 2017 that managed to place the union he led, the National Federation of Education Workers –FENATE- as an alternative to the traditional Single Union of Peruvian Education Workers –SUTEP-, the teacher’s union led by the Patria Roja party, of Maoist affiliation, which has been receiving contributions from thousands of teachers for forty years. The SUTEP has been consolidated from the sector savings bank called Derrama Magisterial and today they lead one of the most important bookstores in Peru, Crisol.
The controversy between left-wing unions intensified in 2004 when a faction, SUTEP-CONARE, led by Robert Huaynalaya, took over the Municipality of El Tambo, Junín. Later it would become known that this faction is linked to remnants of the Shining Path terrorist group. What is more, FENATE is linked to a group that supports amnesty for Abimael Guzmán and others sentenced for terrorism.
Does that mean that Pedro Castillo is a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist whose affiliation is linked to terrorist organizations of the past?
Definitely not. That is what the Peruvian right and the ultra-right are trying to raise as part of a smear campaign against this more pragmatic than leftist teacher, who was active from 2003 to 2017 in the Perú Posible party of former President Alejandro Toledo, and who prays every morning before having breakfast.
THE PERUVIAN RIGHT RELOADS
The results of the second electoral round between Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Castillo were delayed for more than forty days due to the innumerable challenge actions that the most prestigious law firms in Lima put into operation to save the Fujimori candidate. The right-wing campaign was like a nuclear war: the media, including the groups El Comercio and Willax Televisión, were fully compliant with the candidate. Thousands of messages on WhatsApp fueled the fear of "communism" as if we were in the middle of the Cold War. Housewives in Lima's middle-class neighborhoods were terrified that their houses, or their cars, or their pets would be taken away. The anticommunist stupidity took a deep toll and the hysteria promoted that mercantile businessmen withdraw their currencies. The dollar soared and the streets of the Mesocratic neighborhoods were filled with demonstrations with burgundy flags with the blades of Saint Andrew and raised hands in the Nazi style. The classic fear of the myth that the Indian would rise up and surround the city was set in motion among the people of Lima.
This situation of an overloaded right was also seen at the polls: two parties, in addition to the Fujimori Popular Force, the Popular Renovation of businessman Rafael López Aliaga and Avanza País, led by the economist Hernando de Soto, campaigned using all arguments against "communism" and in favor of the status quo. The three parties add up to more than 30% of the electorate of the first round in which 17 political groups participated.
Undoubtedly, thirty years of neoliberal narratives and an exacerbated individualism that denies what is part of the structure, have permeated the construction of a "Peruvian subject". The imaginary conceives that you can only save yourself and that the poor are guilty of their poverty, and although they seem counter-factual arguments, they are common senses in my country. The Peruvian subject is fundamentally perceived as an "entrepreneur": beggars put on make-up on buses, while offering their sweets, as "sweet entrepreneurs". The taxi-driver who exploits himself by working from sunrise to sunset, 16 hours straight, is perceived as a transport entrepreneur. State workers find themselves in labor systems -happily repealed by the last congress- without any type of rights, not even stability, even if they work for years of years.
The workers of the agribusiness mobilized in December 2020 along the entire Pan-American Highway -with three young people killed by police repression- to shout against a regime of exploitation consolidated by a law of incentives for agro-exports more 24 years old and resultant of the interests of former Fujimori ministers. Together with the two young people who died in November 2020 in the mobilizations against the short-lived usurping regime of Manuel Merino, they are part of a new generation that demands changes. The pandemic and 196 thousand deaths from COVID-19 revealed that the famous system is, in fact, only a housing for health segregation, labor oppression and social injustice.
However, all the racism distilled for years in stills of segregation and contempt for the indigenous and the highland or Amazonian lost against the urgency of the Bicentennial generation and their struggles: with the outcry "no more poor in a rich country", they gave the victory to a teacher who carried a pencil as a political symbol.
THE THREE-DAY CRISIS
Castillo came to power within the Perú Libre Party, led by a politician who has been twice governor of the Junín Region, Vladimir Cerrón, and who today is sentenced for “taking advantage of his post”. For this reason, Cerrón was excluded from the presidential formula of Castillo, who is not a member of the party but a guest. This has produced different tensions between the two characters and infraternal struggles within the Peruvian left. The right-wing tried to discredit Castillo in all ways based on his link with Cerrón —who has several complaints of corruption and other crimes— which is why Castillo went so far as to say that Cerrón "would not even be a doorman in his government".
The entire heterogeneous conglomerate of the Peruvian left supported Pedro Castillo in the second electoral round, including my political group, the Committee Ana Tallada - Peruvian Left Movement. Unfortunately, due to Cerrón's own suspicion of professionals from other political spaces -whom he describes as "caviar"- there were quarrels and backs and forths that reached their most extreme crisis during the swearing-in of the first cabinet.
On Thursday, July 29, in the historic Pampa de la Quinua, Ayacucho, where Bolívar defeated the last bastion of the Spanish army, Castillo took a symbolic oath and took the opportunity to present his premier, the congressman and engineer from Cusco, Guido Bellido, with an investigation for apology to terrorism and multiple and varied homophobic and sexist comments on social networks. Various sectors have questioned the choice because Bellido does not "build bridges" but rather opens chasms. The next day, the cabinet would be sworn in at the Grand National Theater at 8 pm, but given the resignations of several candidates for ministers due to the presence of Bellido, the swearing in began at 11 pm, except for the Economy and Finance and the Justice and Human Rights portfolios. Following a statement from the Presidency of the Council of Ministers claiming positions in favor of the rights of all, on Saturday, July 30, Pedro Francke in the Ministry of Economy and Finance and Aníbal Torres in the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, were sworn in, two independents who must have set their conditions.
Meanwhile, young voices from the right such as the Fujimori congresswoman Adriana Tudela, daughter of the former chancellor of the dictatorship, have proposed on TikTok "to vacate President Castillo due to moral incapacity", the sword of Damocles of every President of Peru, and the reason why during 2020 there were three constitutional presidents. The political crisis does not end and both the liberal right and the "brute and haughty" ultra-right give no respite to the Cajamarca teacher who will have to govern with as much skill as firmness against a country deteriorated in many respects.
Rocío Silva-Santisteban is a human rights activist, writer, and professor at the Ruiz de Montoya University as well as at the Pontificia Catholic University of Perú. She is currently a congresswoman and is member of the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature.