June 20, 2021

President Pedro Castillo of Peru and The Attempt to Undermine Him

José Carlos Llerena Robles/ Vijay Prashad

PEDRO Castillo of the Perú Libre party has already begun to receive congratulations from around the world. It is beyond doubt that he won the June 6 presidential election. The Peruvian Electoral Authority – ONPE – announced the final results: Castillo won 50.137 per cent of the vote (8.83 million votes), while his opponent in the second round Keiko Fujimori of Fuerza Popular won 49.893 per cent (8.78 million votes). This is with 100 per cent of the votes.

A school teacher, Pedro Castillo led his party to victory not only in the presidential elections, but also in the legislative elections. In the Congress, Peru Libre – a new political formation – will have the largest bloc of seats. The polarisation in the country is along class, ethnic, and regional lines. In the departments of Ayacucho, Cusco, and Puno, both with large indigenous and rural populations, Pedro Castillo won more than 80 per cent of the vote. He is a man of the countryside, a child of the marginal regions of Peru. Castillo is only the second man to win the presidency from outside the orbit of Lima. No more poor people in a rich country (No más pobres en un país rico) is his powerful slogan. Speaking for the interior of Peru is sufficient. It is what galvanised so many millions behind his ticket, surprising the media pundits of Lima and even the urban Left who had written him off in the first round as a marginal candidate.

Pedro Castillo belongs to Peru Libre, led by the Cuban-trained doctor Vladimir Cerrón. Little doubt about Peru Libre’s political orientation, which is firmly Marxist and committed to an anti-imperialist line. Castillo spoke in the language of popular nationalism, pledging to use the nation’s resources for the nation’s peoples. In this regard, there is a straight line that links Pedro Castillo with Evo Morales, another leader of the interior of his country who drove a fourteen-year agenda of resource socialism. Cerrón and Castillo belong to a political current that is firmly on the left, but this is a current that is pragmatic enough to know that Peru has been weakened by decades of neoliberal policies; great damage has been inflicted upon the people, with the basic infrastructure of the country designed for the benefit of the oligarchy and their external allies.

Pedro Castillo spoke with feeling about the need to nationalise large section of the country’s economy, including the highly productive mining sector. He spoke about land concentration, about which he knows a great deal since he was a school teacher in the agrarian north of the country in Cajamarca; land reforms are a key part of the agenda of Pedro Castillo. To enable a more democratic structure to Peru’s economy would require far more than legislative action. A bill here and there is no sufficient. That is why Castillo has called for the revision of Peru’s 1993 Constitution, a document written during the dictatorship of Keiko Fujimori’s father Alberto who is in prison for bribery. The writing of the constitution is at heart a class struggle, a struggle between different classes to define the values of the nation and how these should be enacted by the legislature and the executive. Would such a constitution put barriers on land ownership and would it demand a certain relationship between the State and the major resources of the country (such as the country’s mining industry)? Over the past thirty years, Peru’s right-wing governments have privatised mine after mine, undermined the various state-owned companies and allowed foreign companies to profit beyond belief. Pedro Castillo has said he will reverse this dynamic, which means that he will need the constitutional process to be defined by the interests of the working-class and the peasantry. It is therefore correct for the fear-mongers to tie Pedro Castillo to Hugo Chávez and to Evo Morales, two leaders of the South American left who pushed for the rewriting of the constitution to protect the electoral gains they made through the dynamism of their social and political movements.

There is a struggle within the Peru Libre team to define the character and pace of the reforms that the new administration will undertake. Vladimir Cerrón, more firmly to the left, is keen to move fast toward nationalisation and land reforms, and to build on the momentum of these popular policies to go into the elections for a constitutional assembly. Pedro Castillo’s team includes Pedro Francke, a former World Bank economist whose commitment to the overall project is not in doubt, but whose path forward is slightly different. He prefers a cautious approach, higher taxation of the wealthy, renegotiated mining contracts, higher taxes on mining, the use of these taxes and concessions to build up the country’s social wages (particularly in education and health) and to build the country’s basic infrastructure. Debate over capital controls and the independence of the national bank remain heated within the circles around Pedro Castillo. No-one is against the general socialist orientation. The argument is about how to proceed with an agenda that wins the widest support.

The problem for the right is that it is deeply fragmented. Alberto Fujimori’s old coalition is now fragmented and there is no clear leader for the right. His daughter, Keiko, relied upon a party apparatus that was centred in greater Lima, which houses about 40 per cent of Peru’s citizens. Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular party has developed deep clientelist relationships with various social classes, and it was these relationships that were called upon to elect her to office. This is her second failed attempt to reach the presidency.

Despite all evidence of the victory of Pedro Castillo, Fujimori refused to concede. Even if she will eventually be forced to accept a Castillo presidency, it is well-worth looking at her obstinacy to understand the way the right will operate to undermine Castillo’s time in power. Fujimori hired the very best of Peru’s legal minds to challenge the election results. Within hours of the election tallies being available, Fujimori’s team filed 134 challenges within the window of opportunity; they have another 811 challenges in hand. Anyone who knows the Peruvian legal fraternity will realise that some of the most important names are on the Fujimori roster: Echecopar; Gersi; Miranda & Amado; Payet, Rey, Cauvi, Pérez; Rodrigo, Elías & Medrano; Rubio Leguía Normand; Rebaza, Alcázar & De las Casas. In Lima alone the team had over thirty lawyers at work. The Fujimori team had assembled these lawyers before the vote, anticipating the possibility of a Castillo victory and the need to tie him up in the courts. The white-collar legal army put in place a racist lawfare strategy; their entire game has been to invalidate the votes that are at the core of Castillo’s support base, namely the indigeous communities of Peru.

The United States appointed a new ambassador to Peru. Her name is Lisa Kenna, a former advisor to US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, a nine-year veteran at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and a US secretary of state official in Iraq. Just before the election, Ambassador Kenna released a video, in which she spoke of the close ties between the US and Peru and of the need for a peaceful transition from one president to another. The “presidential transition sets an example for the whole region,” she said, as if anticipating a serious challenge. If anyone would know about interference in the electoral process in Latin America, it would be the United States.

It would also be key members inside the team of Keiko Fujimori, such as Fernando Rospigliosi. Rospigliosi, a former interior minister under President Alejandro Toledo, joined the Fujimori team for just this kind of contest (for years, Rospigliosi had been very critical of the crimes committed by Fujimori’s father, President Alberto Fujimori, who is now serving a prison sentence). Working with the US embassy is on the resume of Rospigliosi. In 2005, the former left-leaning military officer Ollanta Humala was set to enter the presidential race in April 2006. Every indication suggested that Humala, who had attempted a coup against Keiko Fujimori’s father President Alberto Fujimori in 2000, has mass support. Some even thought that Humala would follow both Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales to draw Peru leftwards. In that period, Rospigliosi went to the US embassy to seek support in preventing a Humala victory in 2006.

On November 18, 2005, Rospigliosi and ex-director of National Defence Ruben Vargas came for lunch to the embassy. They offered their “concern over prospects that ultranationalist Ollanta Humala is establishing himself as a political force to be reckoned with.” Rospigliosi and Vargos both worked for an NGO called Capital Humano y Social (CHS), which was under contract with the US government’s Law Enforcement and Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS). Both Rospigliosi and Vargas asked the US embassy to urge their communications contractor Nexum to “monitor coverage of Humala and promote anti-Humala news and commentary in the coca regions.” They wanted the US embassy to use its considerable resources to undermine Humala. This is old fashioned dirty tricks.

The US was worried about Humala, about his statements against the US military presence in Peru and his ties to Hugo Chávez. What Rospigliosi and Vargas said to the US embassy pleased them. Humala lost the election in 2006. He would win in 2011, beating Keiko Fujimori; but by 2011, Humala had established himself as a candidate of the neoliberals, someone that the US saw as harmless and useful. On May 19, 2011, Humala signed a text that yoked him to the neoliberal agenda (“Compromiso en Defensa de la Democracia”). At the gathering, he was blessed by Peru’s right-wing godfather, the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa.

Vargas Llosa is a key figure here, using the prestige of his 2010 Nobel Prize for literature as weight. As results came in that Pedro Castillo has swept rural Peru, Vargas Llosa disparaged voters in the rural areas; he warned that Peru would become like Venezuela and that it would be a catastrophe for Peru. Marinated in the bile of racism, Vargas Llosa joined other intellectuals of the extreme right to belittle the Peruvian working-class and peasantry, hoping that such remarks would give sufficient cover to the coup process underway inside the ONPE. Castillo, Vargas Llosa said, ‘represents dictatorship and backwardness’.

Everything was prepared: the US ambassador with CIA credentials, a dirty tricks man with a habit of going to the embassy for help and with a record of asking the US to malign the left, a grand old man with an allergy to his own people, and a candidate whose father was backed by the oligarchy when he conducted a self-coup in 1992.

Pedro Castillo continues to hold the streets. The crowds have gathered. They do not want their election to be stolen. But there is fear in Peru. Darker forces swirl about. Even if they allow Castillo to take the presidency, will they suffocate his term before he can move even the modest parts of his agenda?