Thursday, October 28

The 30 hours in which the Government of Castillo faltered | International

The day before had been his official inauguration as president. The pomp of Congress. The military solemnity. Marble as a witness of the moment. Now, however, Pedro Castillo was observing the infinite horizon of the Andes. It was in the Ayacucho region surrounded by mountains and birds that flew over an extensive plain. He wore the presidential sash and the palm hat he was born with. At that moment he approached a table perched on a red tablecloth. Above, a small crucifix and a Bible. Then Castillo swallowed his voice.

—Mr. Guido Bellido Ugarte, do you swear by God and these holy gospels to loyally and faithfully carry out the position of president of the council of ministers that I trust in you?

“Yes, I swear!” Summed up a man in a navy blue suit.

“If you do so, may God and the country reward you.” And if not, that the country demands it.

People applauded. Castillo had not accidentally chosen that setting to make his first big decision as president. In that plain the local insurgents defeated the troops of the Spanish monarchy and sealed the independence of Peru two centuries ago. The school teacher saw his decision as an extension of the past.

However, in Lima, the capital, they rubbed their eyes. Castillo had just elected as the strong man of his government a semi-unknown politician, Marxist and Castro, from the harshest and most radical wing of the Peru Libre party, under whose acronym he had stood in the elections. The restraint with which he had approached the second round of the elections, where he relied on more focused and measured politicians, had vanished. Then began 30 hours of uncertainty that made his cabinet shake even before it was formed.

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The most surprised were those closest to Castillo. Among them two characters who were called to be key figures in his government. Pedro Francke, a renowned economist, and Aníbal Torres, a prestigious lawyer. One was to be his Minister for the Economy, the other for Justice. Both felt the appointment of Bellido as a betrayal. It meant giving power to Vladimir Cerrón, the leader of Peru Libre. Bellido acts as a decorative figure, he is there to be Cerrón’s eyes. He is a Marxist-Leninist stuck in Castroism, as if the world were anchored in the sixties of the last century.

With the ceremony over in Ayacucho shortly after noon, Castillo flew back to Lima. The Presidency issued a statement informing that in a matter of hours the name of the ministers would be made public. What the new president did not expect was to find a rebellion. Francke and Torres resigned to take possession of their ministries. The moderates, who represent the more centered left, felt insulted to see a radical, people from Cerrón, in the most powerful position. The gap left by those who refused to join the Government had to be covered in a matter of a few hours. According to the Peruvian press, Castillo’s environment tested a dozen alternative candidates. They came across a wall. Few wanted to enter such circumstances.

Peru, meanwhile, entered a depressed state. The local media have never been kind to Castillo. Upside down. The electoral mission of the European Union supervised the elections and at the end wrote a report that said the following: “It has been a clearly biased coverage of most of the private media that favored FP (the party of Keiko Fujimori, the rival de Castillo) and undermined the right of voters to receive balanced information. However, the grief at that time was general. The dialoguing government, of majorities, that the people expected after elections that had fractured the country no longer seemed possible. Only Cerrón celebrated what was happening on Twitter.

In those hours everyone wants to know who Bellido, the new prime minister, really was. It is discovered that he has never held relevant positions of responsibility. Classic half frame of a match. His university record does not shine, he was one of those eternal university students. In debates, he has denied that Cuba is a dictatorship and that the Shining Path has anything to do with terrorism. The latter has earned him an investigation for exaltation. In social networks his profile is not pleasant at all.

In a Facebook post he transcribes some words by Fidel Castro, from 1963, in which he says that the “new man” cannot be “a fag.” One of his contacts warns him that this is reactionary thinking from 60 years ago. He responds in a confusing sentence, without periods, or commas, or questions, but he comes to say this: What is the difference? The 1960s fag ate his paws. The current one is the same ”. On another occasion he refers to a Peruvian businessman and former minister in these terms: “Gay pig.” Later, he asks himself in relation to a news item: “Why do they want to queer Peruvians at any price?” Cerrón likes that post. On the suicide of a man who said that he could not see his children because of his mother’s handicap, he wrote: “The woman is so destructive and ruthless when it comes to mixing her grudges and selfishness. I don’t see any lesbian or gay organizing a mobilization ”.

The stage for the swearing in of the ministers was set. The televisions broadcast from the place. The problem is that there were no names for all the wallets. The ceremony was delayed for two and a half hours. The country was in suspense. Francke left the venue, crestfallen. He was not going to join the cabinet, he refused. He, who had met with businessmen and ambassadors to assure them that in this government there would be no expropriations or interventions of the currency, as Castillo had once suggested in his rallies. His mere presence had calmed the markets. Francke has influence and recognition in Lima, where the great business decisions of the country are made. Without him, confidence in the government was in doubt.

But the composition of Castillo’s team had to continue. Two and a half hours late, the president appeared on stage and swore in more than a dozen ministers. Only two women. The key portfolios, Economy and Justice, were left vacant. Castillo finally went to rest in the apartment where he has lived for a few months. It had been a long day. It began with euphoria in Ayacucho and ended with disappointment in Lima. Dark clouds stalked the president.

At dawn, however, Francke appeared at the apartment. When everything seemed to be over. Cameras record him entering after midnight and leaving two hours later. He did not say a word.

The next morning the pessimism was absolute. The front pages of newspapers and editorials were devastating. Without nuances. Political analysts of all stripes looked puzzled. Criticism fell on Castillo from all sides, even from his allies. The improvisation and some lurching that the school teacher had given in the field had raised doubts about his way of making decisions, but no one expected such a scenario 48 hours after taking office. The market suffered. The stock market fell 6%. The dollar reached its all-time high in Peru. The exchange houses placed a price so far never seen: “Four soles per dollar.”

Castillo, left, takes the oath of Pedro Francke as finance minister on Friday night.
Castillo, left, takes the oath of Pedro Francke as finance minister on Friday night.PERUVIAN PRESIDENCY HANDOUT / EFE

Cerrón celebrated “the brand new cabinet.” But Castillo had to straighten out. The opposition parties had already warned him that Bellido will not pass the vote in Congress next Thursday. The chamber has to approve the new team in a simple majority that right now the president and his allies do not have by themselves. Castillo, then, approached positions with Francke, who asked for conditions to return. First, that Cerrón does not attend any of the Executive meetings. Second, that Bellido’s hateful comments stop. Aníbal Torres demanded similar conditions. They did not seem easy to grant, he supposed that Cerrón and his people would recant. They were hours of negotiation and uncertainty. The moderates demanded a public and forceful gesture from the radicals. And it came, by surprise.

Bellido wrote a tweet in clear support for the university professor: “Pedro Francke has our full support for the application of the economic policy of stability.” Later he signed a statement in which he signed as president of the council of ministers. There he ratified his commitment to democracy, governance and human rights, all of which had been in doubt by reviewing his record. He added: “I categorically reject all forms of violence and terrorism in all its extremes.” There it is understood that he is detached from the doubts about the Shining Path, the communist-inspired terrorist group that caused the panic in the 1990s. Its mere mention in Peru generates discomfort. The word path has been banished from common language even to name a path.

But let’s go back to Bellido’s statement, because there is more. There he said that he is the son of Quechua peasants who has experienced discrimination firsthand, and surely he is right. In the rejection of Castillo and his government there are also quite a few doses of racism. The population of Los Andes has often been viewed and treated as second-rate. A radicalized sector at the other extreme believes that the command corresponds by natural mandate to the wealthy classes of Lima. That was the bottom tide that polarized the election between Castillo and Fujimori. Bellido, as Francke demanded, also rectified his comments on social networks: “Together we will overcome racism, classism, machismo and homophobia that are deeply rooted in society.”

The first step was given. The moderates were satisfied. The radicals had scored the first goal by placing a prime minister on their rope, but they had to rectify in public. On Friday night, Francke and Torres were sworn in as ministers. It was a way of closing the crisis. It has been a day and a half of tension, of a schism that even put the government of Pedro Castillo in question. The professor experienced the turmoil of power in his early days.

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