Pedro Castillo, leftist teacher and new to politics, is Peru's elected president

Pedro Castillo, leftist teacher and new to politics, is Peru’s elected president

LIMA, Peru – A teacher from one of the poorest communities in the Andes who had never held office is now president-elect of Peru after officials in that South American country declared him the winner of a second round of elections held last month.

Leftist Pedro Castillo rose from unknown to president-elect with the support of the country’s poor and rural citizens, many of whom identify with the struggles the teacher faced. Castillo was officially declared the winner on Monday after the country’s electoral tally became the longest in 40 years as his opponents battled the results.

Castillo received 44,000 more votes than right-wing politician Keiko Fujimori in the June 6 run-off. This is the third presidential defeat for the daughter of the imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori.

“Let’s not put obstacles in the way of moving this country forward,” Castillo asked his opponent in his opening remarks in front of hundreds of followers in Lima.

Wielding a pencil the size of a cane, the symbol of his Peru Free party, Castillo popularized the expression “No more poor in a rich country”. Peru’s economy, the world’s second largest producer of copper, has been crushed by the coronavirus pandemic, increasing the level of poverty to nearly a third of the population and wiping out a decade’s gains.

The inadequacies of Peru’s public health services contributed to the country’s poor pandemic performance, leaving it with the highest per capita death rate in the world. Castillo has pledged to use revenues from the mining sector to improve public services, including education and health, whose shortcomings have been highlighted by the pandemic.

“Those who don’t have a car should have at least one bicycle,” Castillo, 51, told The Associated Press in mid-April in his adobe house in Anguía, the third poorest district in the country. Peru.

Since surprising Peruvians and observers by qualifying for the second round of the presidential election, Castillo has relaxed his early proposals on the nationalization of multinational mining and gas companies. Instead, his campaign said he was considering raising taxes on profits because of high copper prices, which exceed $ 10,000 a tonne.

Historians say he is the first peasant to become president of Peru, where until now indigenous peoples have almost always received the worst of deficient public services, even though the nation boasted of being the economic star of the Latin America during the first two decades of the century.

“There is no case of anyone unrelated to professional, military or economic elites who takes the presidency,” Cecilia Méndez, Peruvian historian and professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara, told the radio.

Hundreds of Peruvians from various regions camped for more than a month in front of the Electoral Tribunal in Lima, the capital of Peru, awaiting the proclamation of Castillo. Many do not belong to Castillo’s party, but they trust the professor because “he will not be like other politicians who broke their promises and do not stand up for the poor,” said Maruja Inquilla, an environmental activist. arrival from a town near Titicaca, the mythical lake of the Incas.

Castillo’s meteoric rise from unknown to elected president has deeply divided the Andean nation.

Author Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of a Nobel Prize for Literature, said Castillo “represents the disappearance of democracy and freedom in Peru”. Meanwhile, retired soldiers sent a letter to the commander of the armed forces asking him not to respect Castillo’s victory.

Fujimori, who came forward with the support of business elites, said on Monday she would accept Castillo’s victory, after accusing him for a month of electoral fraud without providing any evidence. The prosecution delayed her appointment as president-elect because she called on electoral authorities to overturn thousands of votes, many of them in indigenous and poor communities in the Andes.

The United States, the European Union and 14 election missions determined the vote was fair. The United States has called the elections a “model of democracy” for the region.

Steven Levitsky, a political scientist at Harvard University, told a radio station that Castillo came to the presidency “very weak”, and in a certain sense in a position “very similar” to Salvador Allende when he came to power. power in Chile in 1970 and in Joao Goulart, who became president of Brazil in 1962.

“He has almost the entire Lima establishment against him,” said Levitsky, an expert on Latin American politics.

He added that if Castillo attempted to modify Peru’s constitution – promulgated in 1993 under the mandate of Alberto Fujimori – “without reaching a consensus, (without) alliances with the center games, it would be very dangerous because it would justify a stroke.”

The president-elect has worked as a primary school teacher for the past 25 years in his hometown of San Luis de Puna, a remote village in Cajamarca, a northern region. He campaigned wearing rubber sandals and a wide-brimmed hat, like the peasants in his community, where 40% of children suffer from chronic malnutrition.

In 2017, he led the biggest teachers’ strike in 30 years in search of better pay and, although he did not make substantial improvements, he spoke with ministers, lawmakers and bureaucrats.

Over the past two decades, Peruvians have found that the previous political experience and university degrees of their five former presidents did not help in the fight against corruption. All of the former Peruvian presidents who have ruled since 1985 have been trapped in corruption allegations, some jailed or arrested in their homes. One of them committed suicide before the police could arrest him. The South American country had three presidents last November.

Castillo recalled that the first turning point in his life came on a child’s night when his teacher persuaded his father to allow him to complete his primary education at a school two hours from his home. This happened while the two adults were chewing coca leaves, an Andean custom to reduce fatigue.

“He suffered a lot as a child,” his wife, teacher Lilia Paredes, told AP as she washed the dishes at home. The couple have two children.

He got used to long walks. He arrived in class with his peasant sandals, a woolen satchel over his shoulder, a notebook and his lunch of sweet potatoes or tamales which cooled with the hours.

Castillo said his life was marked by the work he did as a child with his eight siblings, but also by remembering the treatment his illiterate parents received from the owner of the land. where they lived. He cried as he remembered that if the rent was not paid, the landlord kept the best crops.

“You kept looking at what you had sown, you were squeezing your stomach, and I won’t forget it, I won’t forgive it either,” he said.

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