The arrival to power of Pedro Castillo in Peru is shrouded in mystery. During the first round he campaigned in the squares of the towns furthest from the center of power, in Lima. The elite radar did not detect the man of average height, baggy tergal pants and palm hat. When they wanted to give an account, the rural teacher led the polls for the presidency. His left-wing populist discourse, against the establishment and in favor of historically forgotten classes, is littered with ultra-conservative proposals, such as a strong hand against criminals, immigration or the rejection of gender equality. In the key proposals to change the face of the State, it has not been entirely clear or has fallen short. His idea of country is still somewhat abstract.
Castillo has beaten conservative Keiko Fujimori by just three tenths of a difference. She has requested the nullity of 800 polling stations that could overturn the result, which has delayed the presidential election for two weeks. The experts consulted consider it highly unlikely that fraud has been committed in an electoral system as transparent and guaranteed as Peru’s. Pending that resolution, Castillo is the one with the most ballots to don the presidential sash of a country that has had four presidents in five years. The chair in the Government Palace looks more like a torture rack. Castillo assures that shortly after sitting down, he will focus on drafting a new Constitution “made by the people.” “Through a Constituent Assembly, we have to rescue health as a universal right,” he said in the first presidential debate.
His critics were alarmed when they understood that he intended to carry out a maneuver like that of Chavismo in Venezuela to cut freedoms. The people of Castillo clarified that that assembly would be called through a referendum and that its inspiration is the Chilean model, where 155 members elected at the polls will draft a new text. This has been one of the main flanks by which they have attacked him during the campaign. Anyway, it is difficult for me to carry out something like this. He needs two-thirds of Congress, and his party has only 37 of the 130 seats. Later, he assured that he would accept a defeat in that consultation: “If the people say that the Constitution should not be touched, we do not have to be disobedient. We are respectful of the popular mandate ”.
Born 51 years ago in a tiny village in the Sierra de Cajamarca, in the Andes, Castillo came to politics after starring in a teachers ‘union strike that made him popular in 2017. He tried to form his own teachers’ party, but could not collect signatures coinciding with the start of the pandemic. He ended up assigned, more for convenience than conviction, to Peru Libre, a regional formation, the first that can reach the presidency from the periphery. The head of that party is Vladimir Cerrón, a dogmatic and populist leftist politician. Cerrón’s influence on Castillo’s cabinet is another arcane. The professor has denied him in public several times, knowing that Cerrón is very unpopular in the more centered and urban left. This is where many of the Fujimori attacks have reached him. For example, the fear that it is not respectful of the institutions.
On March 19, at a rally in the Plaza de Chumbivilcas, in Espinar, a province heavily affected by social conflicts between peasants and a Chinese and a Swiss mining company, Castillo said:
—And the worst, we must deactivate the Ombudsman’s Office. You know, has the Ombudsman’s Office defended Espinar?
The crowd responded. “Nooo!”
“But how long does it take!” Castillo questioned, referring to the supposedly high salaries of his officials.
One of his followers shouted: “What about transnational companies?”
He replied: “The transnational companies are with their hours counted.”
Castillo had finished with a stroke of the pen with the defense and with foreign companies in Peru. There was a stir. The idea that “a dangerous communist” would come to power, as Fujimorism attacked him, spread. He fell back in the polls that predicted a comfortable victory. The campaign of the traditional powers against him was brutal. Castillo barely existed on national television and radio. It survived on the margins. When on May 5 he received the support of the moderate left, represented by Verónika Mendoza, he softened his position. He was already talking about strengthening, not finishing. He explained: “For this country that I dream of for my children and students to come true, it will be necessary to strengthen democracy, guarantee freedoms and consolidate institutions. The Constitutional Court, the Ombudsman and the regulatory bodies of the State will be strengthened so that they fulfill their true objective: to serve the people ”.
His relationship with the multinationals, which he had mercilessly attacked at their rallies, was still up in the air. He was not going to end them, no, he clarified. He was going to try to get them to pay more taxes and benefit the communities that live near the deposits more. It is a reality that some of the poorest communities in Peru live around gold mines. He said in a face-to-face debate with Fujimori: ”Foreign private companies are welcome with clear rules. What you have to do is review the contracts with transnational companies ”.
At the beginning Castillo showed a very retrograde face in social aspects. He claims he is Catholic, although his wife and daughters profess evangelism. He said he would not support gay marriage, but would raise it in a new constitution. When he signed the agreement with Mendoza, he clarified this position in a paragraph: “Re-found the State, deepening democracy, guaranteeing the exercise of rights for all, in full equality and without any type of discrimination.” The night before the day of reflection, Castillo met with a handful of LGTBI activists at the place where he dispatches in downtown Lima. Mendoza assures that Castillo is open to dialogue on issues like this.
With him, political campaigns have gone back ten years, when the importance of social networks was less. Castillo has filled squares, something that seemed something of the past. He came to a town, contacted its social leaders and a few hours later had an audience at his feet. If in televised debates he has been seen rigid and shrunken, live, on the street, it is pure energy. He advertised himself as someone who came from deep Peru. Like those who listened to him attentively. There he presented himself as a teacher, a peasant, a worker – it is true that he built his house with his hands – and a patrolman. The latter is important.
The ronderos are members of the rondas, an autonomous organization created in the 1970s to combat rural crime. They ensure that thieves do not steal livestock. They do not receive a salary, they wear a poncho and carry a whip. They chew coca leaves to stay awake and drink brandy to endure the cold. In theory they have to hand over the detainees to justice, but first they are punished with their whip and subjected to humiliation.
Castillo has said he will use them to combat security concerns. “We will move the rural and urban rounds to the neighborhoods. We call on the graduates of the armed forces, the reservists and the national police to consolidate a single force ”. It has gone further. In the first debate in which he participated, he said: “The peasant rondas are given a budget, they are not only there to take care of the cows. They have to contribute to the tranquility of the country and the supervision of its authorities ”. In certain circles, it has generated uneasiness that this kind of parapolice corps runs freely.
The rural teacher also proposed to tear down the pension system administered by private companies. The fear of running out of savings spread among the workers. Later Castillo pointed out that he only wants to improve the system. Whoever wants to keep it in private hands can do so. That has been a constant on his way to the presidency, first showing the mallet and then placing the plaster. The thick explanation and later the nuance. Their postures may be on one side or the other, or perhaps in the middle. The Peru that Pedro Castillo Terrones has in mind is about to take shape.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.