BAccording to the law, any president of Peru must be born on Peruvian soil. But few of the country’s past leaders know that soil as the main candidate in the current electoral contest, the son of Andean peasants, who grew up in poverty.
On a recent morning, Pedro Castillo wore a wool poncho, sandals made from old tires, and a traditional wide-brimmed straw hat while tending his cows on his farm in Chugur, a small village a seven-hour drive from the city of Cajamarca. .
“When you see that your children wear the same clothes, sleep in the same clothes, wake up and go back to school in the same clothes, you realize that the political class has been using you,” he told The Guardian, in a homely language. This is consistent with rural Peruvians who feel abandoned by the two decades of economic growth in the country.
That gap between rural and urban Peru has only been widened by the brutal outbreak of Covid-19 in the country that has left 1.8 million officially confirmed cases, more than 61,000 deaths and a healthcare system on its knees. Rising death rates have recently forced a return to the restrictions that left millions destitute when the pandemic broke out.
“If there is anything to be learned from this pandemic, it is that it has exposed the precariousness of an old and corrupt state,” Castillo said.
The 51-year-old teacher and union leader defied polls when he emerged first in a crowded field of 18 candidates in the first round last month, albeit with less than 20% of the total votes.
The result gives Castillo a spot in the June runoff against three-time presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, an established far-right opposition leader and the heir to the country’s longest-running political dynasty. Recent polls show that Castillo leading Fujimori by almost 10 points.
Runoff has been issued as a battle between two extremists: the ideological heir of a communist left linked – incorrectly – to the bloody Shining Path rebels against the literal heir of the iron-fisted autocrat who crushed that insurrection.
“This is a battle between rich and poor, the fight between … master and slave,” Castillo told journalists in northern Peru in comments broadcast on local television.
Amid the confusion on both sides, Castillo has been labeled a “terrorist”, but responds that the “real terrorists are hunger, misery, abandonment, inequality, injustice.”
And while Castillo’s political experience is largely limited to leading a national teachers’ strike in 2017, many Peruvians identify with a life experience that reflects many of the harsh realities they also face.
“People don’t know that there are thousands of children living in poverty and now, because of the pandemic, in extreme poverty,” said Castillo, who has taught for more than 25 years in rural schools.
Castillo’s Peru Libre has the support of the country’s half a million public school teachers, but its appeal extends to rural voters in peasant communities in poor Andean regions.
A few steps from Castillo’s home, Juan Cabrera, 57, took a break from plowing a field with a wooden plow drawn by two oxen. “It was an emotional moment for us to have a son of the people leading the vote,” he said.
“We trust that he will be the one to rule us. We have been the ones forgotten by all governments in the past. “
The reputation of Peru’s political class has been hit by its handling of the pandemic and a series of corruption scandals: Last year, a roller-coaster week saw three presidents come and go, and the country is still feeling the aftermath of the biggest corruption scandal on the continent. in which four former presidents were accused of accepting bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.
Castillo’s opponent, Keiko Fujimori, 45, has spent most of the past two years in pretrial detention, charged with money laundering and running a criminal organization, which she denies. His father, Alberto Fujimori, ruled Peru in the 1990s and was convicted of murder by death squads and rampant corruption.
Fujimori has attacked Castillo as a dangerous radical. “He talks about class struggle, he talks about dividing Peruvians between rich and poor,” he said. “That kind of division does a lot of damage to our country.”
To the alarm of the Peruvian business sector, Castillo promised to hold a referendum to rewrite a 1993 constitution in favor of the market.
His party’s manifesto describes his policy as “socialist, Marxist, Leninist and Mariateguist,” in honor of the founder of the Peruvian communist party José Carlos Mariátegui, and has raised plans to expropriate foreign mining projects.
But on social issues, Castillo, who describes himself as a “teacher, peasant … and a man of faith,” differs little from his far-right opponents: he opposes sex education, legal abortion, and interpersonal marriage. same-sex, and says LGBTQ + rights “are not a priority.”
Still, fears that Castillo and his party’s founder, Vladimir Cerrón, a doctor trained in Cuba, could turn Peru into another Venezuela, have led one of the most prominent critics of the Fujimori dynasty to ask his compatriots to vote for Fujimori.
Peruvian Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa, who backed Fujimori’s opponents in the 2011 and 2016 elections, has backed her this time because “it represents the lesser of two evils.”
But Castillo’s support in Cajamarca, where the last Inca Atahualpa was executed by the conqueror Francisco Pizarro, is based not only on the recent crisis but on what he calls “500 years of pillage, exploitation and abandonment.”
As the country marks the bicentennial of its independence from Spain, Castillo says his presidential candidacy is driven by “the disgust we feel at being called third or fourth class citizens.”
“They have made us believe that this is a true democracy,” he adds. “But is not.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism