By Ángel Guerra Cabrera – May 26, 2021
Pedro Castillo, one of the two winners of the first round of the presidential elections in Peru, who is leading the polls in the second round, is a school teacher from Cajamarca, almost 900 kilometers from Lima. A prominent leader of the teachers’ union, among the most important in Peru, he gained national recognition when he led it in the prolonged strike of 2017. Castillo questions neoliberalism head-on, advocates for a Constituent Assembly to draft a popular Constitution. He promises land reform and nationalization of natural resources or reaching agreements with transnationals so that more of the profit stays in the country. This has won him growing popular support but also the fierce lynching of the hegemonic media. He has not joined the fashion of attacking Venezuela and Cuba, like some “progressives.” In a highly centralized country, with great social and cultural differences between the three regions that compose it—coast, jungle and highlands—and between the capital and the interior, he is a man of the deep country because of his humble and provincial background, his close relationship with the people and his direct but well-structured language. He is a rondero, a member of a large mass structure founded in the seventies, which deals with community organization and acts as a communal agent of public order and self-defense in extensive regions, a relationship that surely brings him a good number of votes.
Castillo is a militant and presidential candidate for the Perú Libre Party, which defines itself as Marxist and Mariateguist, inspired by the legacy of the great Latin American Marxist thinker José Carlos Mariátegui. Although little known outside the country and even little recognized by the progressive sectors of Lima’s middle class, Perú Libre has been working for years in intricate areas of the country, including the Amazon, and has already governed provinces and departments. Precisely, its leader Vladimir Cerrón, elected governor of the department of Junín in 2018 had to leave office due to a fabricated accusation of corruption, which has become a systematic practice against leftist leaders in our region.
The election of Castillo to the presidency of Peru is at this moment the most probable result in the second round of the elections to be held on June 6 in the South American country. The teacher surprisingly received 18.9% of the votes in the first round in April and his rival, the ultra-liberal and currently on trial for very serious corruption offenses Keiko Fujimori got 13.4%. This is very significant in the case of Castillo, since no one thought that he could win the first round. Now, 11 days before the second round, the latest polls give Castillo a 5 to 10 point lead over his rival.
Some right-wing analysts argue that in the remaining time a mistake by one of the candidates could cost him the election, but the truth is that Castillo has maintained a steady rise and a consolidation of support while Fujimori has stagnated in the last days, except in Lima, a pro-Fujimori bastion where the candidate has so far held the lead and currently has 59.1% of the polls. But in the rest of the country, the teacher continues to be the favorite, especially in rural areas. In the last electoral simulation of a pollster, he is favored by 52.1% of the votes cast in the interior of the country. In the north, there is a virtual technical tie between the two with 44.8% for Castillo and 39.9% for his rival. But in the center and east, Castillo reaches 62.7% and 53.2% against 24.5% and 33.6% for Fujimori.
Castillo’s strategic agreement reached with Verónika Mendoza, candidate of Juntos por el Perú in the first round, to support the teacher’s candidacy in the June 6 election has had a positive effect on his campaign. This alliance brings the professor’s candidacy closer to influential middle class sectors of the left and progressives with whom he has important matching views but also differences, which will hopefully pass to the background given what is at stake.
A victory for Fujimori would mean the deepening of neoliberal policies, the aggravation of the very serious ravages of covid, rampant corruption, the return of the most authoritarian right wing and the total disrespect for human rights. While a victory of the professor would place him in tune with what is going on in Bolivia, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Cuba, countries that—from the streets or from the government—seek an independent political path away from neoliberalism.
Featured image: Pedro Castillo, Peru’s left-wing presidential candidate, at an electoral campaign. Photo: Erin Sánchez