Peru’s President Sworn In, Vows New Constitution

Peru’s President-elect Pedro Castillo waves upon his arrival at the Palacio de Torre Tagle, in Lima, Peru, July 28, 2021. 

 

 

Pedro Castillo was sworn in as Peru’s fifth president in three years Wednesday on the 200th anniversary of the country’s independence, promising an end to corruption and a new constitution.

The 51-year-old rural schoolteacher, who has vowed to upend a quarter century of neo-liberal government, enters the job with a lengthy to-do list: tame the coronavirus epidemic, reactivate a flagging economy and end years of political turmoil.

“I swear by the people of Peru for a country without corruption and for a new constitution,” he declared before Congress, coming back to a campaign promise to change Peru’s free-market friendly founding law.

The existing charter is a relic of ex-president Alberto Fujimori, serving jail time for corruption and crimes against humanity, and father of Castillo’s main presidential rival, the right-wing populist Keiko Fujimori.

Insisting Peru could not “remain a prisoner” of the 1993 constitution, Castillo said he would send a bill to parliament with a view to organizing a referendum on replacing it.

Castillo’s Free Peru party does not enjoy a majority in a fragmented congress, holding 37 of the 130 seats. Fujimori’s Popular Force party has 24.

Castillo was declared the victor on July 19 for a five-year term — more than six weeks after a runoff race against Fujimori, whose allegations of voter fraud then had to be reviewed by an electoral jury.

Wednesday’s swearing-in was attended by Spanish King Felipe VI, five Latin American leaders, former Bolivian president Evo Morales and the United States education secretary, among other guests.

Some 10,000 police officers were deployed in the capital Lima, and hundreds of Castillo voters came out waving banners in a show of support.

– ‘New deal’ with investors –
“This is the first time this country will be governed by a peasant,” Castillo told guests at his inauguration, sporting his trademark, traditional white sombrero and a typical black Andean suit.

He also sought to calm fears among investors, the business community and backers of Fujimori, who had sought to portray him as a communist.

“During the election campaign it was said that we are going to expropriate (assets). It is totally false. We want the economy to have order,” the new president said, adding, however, that he would be looking for a “new deal with private investors.”

Castillo is Peru’s first president in decades with no ties to the country’s political or economic elite.

He has promised reform to ensure there are “no more poor people in a rich country,” but has softened his initial campaign talk of nationalization.

He is a devout Catholic opposed to gay marriage and abortion.

Peru has been hard hit by the coronavirus epidemic. With nearly 200,000 deaths among its 32 million population, it has the world’s highest reported mortality rate.

An extended pandemic lockdown in 2020 is blamed for the loss of millions of jobs and dumping the country into recession. GDP dropped more than 11 percent.

As his chief economic adviser, Castillo has appointed World Bank economist Pedro Francke, seen as a moderating influence on his boss.

Francke vowed, in a recent interview with AFP, that “we will not expropriate, we will not nationalize, we will not impose generalized price controls, we will not make any exchange control that prevents you from buying and selling dollars or taking dollars out of the country.”

– President of all Peruvians –
It is widely hoped Castillo will bring an end to years of political upheaval in Peru.

A series of corruption scandals culminated in three different presidents in office in a single week last November.

Seven of the country’s last 10 leaders have either been convicted or are under investigation for graft, and now that she has lost, Fujimori faces an imminent corruption trial for allegedly taking illicit campaign funding for two previous presidential bids.

The election campaign has also been deeply polarizing, with often vehement public support on both sides of the political spectrum for the final two contenders.

“Castillo must rapidly position himself as a president of all Peruvians and not as a president of half of Peruvians,” political analyst Jessica Smith told AFP.

On Monday, Castillo received congratulations in a call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who “reinforced our shared commitment to promoting inclusive economic prosperity.”

Castillo, who has vowed to renounce his presidential salary, said Wednesday he would also not govern from the official presidential residence, Pizarro Palace, which he suggested should be turned into a museum.

“I believe we have to break with the colonial symbols,” he said, adding he would return to his schoolteacher’s job at the end of his term.

Three days of ceremonies will culminate in a military parade in Lima on Friday to mark the swearing in.

After Weeks-Long Wait, Peru’s President To Be Sworn In

Leftist school teacher Pedro Castillo speaks to supporters from the balcony of the Peru Libre party headquarters in Lima, following the official proclamation of him as Peru’s president-elect on July 19, 2021.  (Photo by Gian MASKO / AFP)

 

 

Leftist Pedro Castillo is to be sworn in as Peru’s president on Wednesday with a full inbox: tame the coronavirus epidemic, reactivate a flagging economy, and put paid to years of political turmoil.

The rural school teacher becomes Peru’s fifth president in three years, and has vowed to upend a quarter century of neo-liberal government.

He was declared the victor on July 19, more than six weeks after a runoff vote against rightwing populist rival Keiko Fujimori, whose fraud claims were then reviewed by an electoral jury.

Three days of ceremony are planned, starting with Wednesday’s swearing-in on Peru’s independence day — an event that will be attended by Spanish King Felipe VI, six Latin American leaders, former Bolivian President Evo Morales, and the United States education secretary, among other guests.

New congress president Maria del Carmen Alva, an opposition politician, is due to swear in Castillo at around midday (1700 GMT.)

Some 10,000 police officers have been deployed in the capital Lima, which will also hold a military parade on Friday.

Wearing his customary white sombrero and dressed in a typically Andean black suit, Castillo arrived at the foreign affairs ministry at around 9:00 am. From there he was due to be accompanied by legislators to congress.

Castillo, 51, becomes Peru’s first president in decades with no ties to the country’s political or economic elite.

He has promised reform to ensure there are “No more poor people in a rich country,” but has softened his initial campaign talk of nationalization.

Castillo’s Free Peru party does not enjoy a majority in a fragmented congress, holding 37 of the 130 seats. Fujimori’s Popular Force party has 24.

– ‘We will not expropriate’ –
The country has been hard hit by the coronavirus epidemic. With nearly 200,000 deaths among its 32 million population, it has the world’s highest reported mortality rate.

An extended pandemic lockdown in 2020 is blamed for the loss of millions of jobs and dumping the country into recession. GDP dropped more than 11 percent.

As his chief economic adviser, Castillo has appointed World Bank economist Pedro Francke, seen as a moderating influence on his boss, who had initially said Peru’s mining and hydrocarbon riches — a mainstay of the economy — “must be nationalized.”

Francke vowed, in an interview with AFP, that “we will not expropriate, we will not nationalize, we will not impose generalized price controls, we will not make any exchange control that prevents you from buying and selling dollars or taking dollars out of the country.”

Last month, the president-elect himself declared that “we are not communists, nobody has come to destabilize this country.”

It is widely hoped Castillo will bring an end to years of political upheaval in Peru.

A series of corruption scandals culminated in three different presidents in office in a single week last November.

Seven of the country’s last 10 leaders have either been convicted or are under investigation for graft, and Fujimori herself faces an imminent corruption trial for allegedly taking illicit campaign funding for two previous presidential bids.

– President of all Peruvians –
The election campaign has also been deeply polarizing, with often vehement public support on both sides of the political spectrum for the final two contenders.

“Castillo must rapidly position himself as a president of all Peruvians and not as a president of half of Peruvians,” political analyst Jessica Smith told AFP.

Castillo has yet to name a cabinet.

But he has the support of neighboring Chile’s right-wing president Sebastian Pinera.

“We wished President Castillo the best of luck because if Peru goes well, we all go well,” said Pinera after meeting with his Peruvian counterpart at the foreign ministry.

On Monday, the president-elect received congratulations in a call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who “reinforced our shared commitment to promoting inclusive economic prosperity.”

Pedro Castillo, Peru’s ‘First Poor President’

Leftist school teacher Pedro Castillo speaks to supporters from the balcony of the Peru Libre party headquarters in Lima, following the official proclamation of him as Peru’s president-elect on July 19, 2021. – Leftist school teacher Pedro Castillo was proclaimed Peru’s president-elect Monday, six weeks after a polarizing vote of which the results were delayed by claims of electoral fraud from his right-wing rival, Keiko Fujimori. (Photo by Gian MASKO / AFP)

 

 

Rural school teacher Pedro Castillo on Monday was declared Peru’s president-elect, making him the country’s first leader with no ties to the elites that have governed the Andean country for decades.

The 51-year-old far-left trade unionist was largely unknown until he led a national strike four years ago that forced the then-government to agree to pay rise demands.

He was born to peasants in the tiny village of Puna in the historic Cajamarca region where he has worked as a teacher for 24 years.

He grew up helping his parents with farm work, and as a child, he walked several kilometers to school.

Today, he is rarely without the trademark white, wide-brimmed hat of his beloved Cajamarca, where the last Inca emperor Atahualpa was assassinated on the main square in 1533 by Spanish conquistadores.

Castillo likes to don a poncho and shoes made of recycled tires, and traveled on horseback for much of his presidential campaign as he vocalized the frustration of struggling Peruvians and cast himself as a man of the people.

“No more poor people in a rich country,” he said as he campaigned for the Peru Libre (Free Peru) party.

He has said he would renounce his presidential salary and continue living on his teacher earnings, and described himself as “a man of work, a man of faith, a man of hope.”

Castillo, said analyst Hugo Otero, is “the first poor president of Peru.”

– Surprise victory –
In April, Castillo surprised many by taking the lead in the race to become Peru’s fifth president in three years, edging out 17 other candidates.

He then faced off against rightwing candidate Keiko Fujimori in the runoff, promising radical change to improve the lot of Peruvians contending with a recession worsened by the pandemic, rising unemployment and poverty.

One thing unlikely to change under a Castillo presidency is the Peruvian state’s socially conservative character: he is Catholic and vehemently opposed to gay marriage, elective abortion and euthanasia.

He frequently quotes from the Bible to drive home his points, and at his two-story brick home in the hamlet of Chugur in Cajamarca hangs a picture of Jesus surrounded by sheep and a caption, in English, “Jehovah is my shepherd.”

– Respect for private property –
Castillo has targeted creating a million jobs in a year, and said Peru’s mining and hydrocarbon riches “must be nationalized.”

Peru is a large producer of copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc, and mining brings in 10 percent of national GDP and a fifth of company taxes.

He has promised public investment to reactivate the economy through infrastructure projects, public procurement from small businesses, and to “curb imports that affect the national industry and peasantry.”

But he has also sought to dispel fears that “we are going to take your wine farm, that we are going to take your house, your property.”

Among his more controversial campaign promises, Castillo has vowed to expel illegal foreigners who commit crimes in Peru, giving them “72 hours… to leave the country.”

The comment was perceived as a warning to undocumented Venezuelan migrants who have arrived in their hundreds of thousands since 2017.

Free Peru is one of few left-wing Peruvian parties to defend the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 re-election is not recognized by dozens of countries.

To combat crime, Castillo has proposed withdrawing Peru from the American Convention on Human Rights, or San Jose pact, to allow it to reintroduce the death penalty.

He has also mooted replacing Peru’s free-market-friendly constitution — a relic of his rival’s father, ex-president Alberto Fujimori, serving jail time for corruption and crimes against humanity.

– A ‘humble man’ –
Castillo burst onto the national scene four years ago when he led thousands of teachers on a near 80-day strike to demand a pay rise.

It left 3.5 million public school pupils without classes to attend, and compelled then-president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who initially refused to negotiate, to relent.

In a bid to delegitimize the protest, then-interior minister Carlos Basombrio claimed its leaders were linked to Movadef, the political wing of the defeated Shining Path Maoist guerrilla group dubbed a “terrorist” organization by Lima.

Castillo, who had participated in armed “peasant patrols” or ronderos that resisted Shining Path incursions at the height of Peru’s internal conflict from 1980 to 2000, vehemently rejected these allegations.

Today, his home is guarded by ronderos brandishing canes and leather whips.

Next to his house, Castillo has a one-hectare farm where he grows corn and sweet potatoes and raises chickens and cows.

“We are proud that my brother has made it this far, being a humble man,” his younger sister, Amelia, told AFP.

Rural School Teacher, Pedro Castillo Declared Peru’s Next President

Leftist school teacher Pedro Castillo raises his arms from the balcony of the Peru Libre party headquarters in Lima, following the official proclamation of him as Peru’s president-elect on July 19, 2021. PHOTO: GIAN MASKO / AFP

 

A rural schoolteacher turned politician Pedro Castillo was proclaimed Peru’s president-elect Monday, six weeks after a polarizing vote of which the results were delayed by claims of electoral fraud from his right-wing rival, Keiko Fujimori.

The 51-year-old trade unionist’s victory leaves Fujimori facing an imminent corruption trial.

“On behalf of my family I would like to salute the electoral authorities… and also to salute the political parties that have taken part in this democratic celebration,” Castillo told supporters gathered at the headquarters of his Peru Libre (Free Peru) party in Lima.

“Dear compatriots, I bring here an open heart for each and every one of you,” he declared from the balcony after Jorge Luis Salas, head of the JNE elections jury, announced his victory in a brief virtual ceremony.

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In a gesture to Fujimori, 46, the president-elect urged her to help “take the country forward” and said he held “no resentment” despite the many attacks he had fielded in recent weeks.

A crowd of hundreds that had spent weeks outside the JNE headquarters to support Castillo broke out in celebration at the news.

“Finally, we have a president,” said Rosa Huaman, a 27-year-old Castillo supporter among the chanting crowd.

The JNE validated the vote count by the ONPE elections body, which had given Castillo 50.12 percent of the ballots cast, some 44,000 more than Fujimori — most of whose objections the jury dismissed.

Fujimori had pledged earlier Monday to recognize the result “because it is required by the law and the constitution that I have sworn to defend.”

She had claimed fraud despite observers from the Organization of American States, the United States and European Union declaring the vote free and fair, and her backers had called for fresh elections.

 

– Nationalization, crime –

The US embassy in Lima congratulated Peruvians on successful elections.

“We value our deep ties and hope to strengthen them with the president-elect Pedro Castillo after his inauguration,” it said on Twitter.

The government of Venezuela’s leftist President Nicolas Maduro — whose 2018 reelection the United States and others do not recognize — congratulated Castillo in a statement.

Maduro, it said, wished Castillo “much wisdom” in his new role and looked forward “to work hand in hand with the new government in Peru.”

This was Fujimori’s third unsuccessful stab at the presidency, with failed bids in 2011 and 2016 giving rise to charges she took money from scandal-tainted Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

Prosecutors have said they would seek a 30-year jail term for Fujimori.

Under Peruvian law, the case against her would have been suspended if she had become president until after her term.

The new president is due to be sworn in on July 28.

Castillo in April surprised many by taking the lead in the race to become Peru’s fifth president in three years, edging out 17 other candidates.

He faced Fujimori in the runoff with promises to improve the fate of Peruvians contending with a recession worsened by the pandemic, rising unemployment and poverty.

Castillo has targeted creating a million jobs in a year, and said Peru’s mining and hydrocarbon riches “must be nationalized.”

Peru is a major producer of copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc, and mining brings in 10 percent of national GDP and a fifth of company taxes.

Castillo has also promised public investment to reactivate the economy through infrastructure projects and public procurement from small businesses, and to “curb imports that affect the national industry and peasantry.”

 

– Fifth president in three years –

Among his more controversial campaign promises, Castillo has vowed to expel illegal foreigners who commit crimes in Peru, giving them “72 hours… to leave the country.”

The comment was perceived as a warning to undocumented Venezuelan migrants who have arrived in the hundreds of thousands since 2017.

The far-left trade unionist was largely unknown until he led a national strike four years ago that forced the then-government to agree to pay rise demands.

He is Catholic and vehemently opposed to gay marriage, elective abortion and euthanasia.

To combat crime, Castillo has proposed withdrawing Peru from the American Convention on Human Rights, or San Jose pact, to allow it to reintroduce the death penalty.

He has also mooted replacing Peru’s free-market-friendly constitution — a relic of his rival’s father, ex-president Alberto Fujimori, who is serving jail time for corruption and crimes against humanity.

Peruvians voted for their fifth president in three years after a series of crises and corruption scandals saw three different leaders in office in a single week last November.

Seven of the country’s last 10 leaders have either been convicted or are under investigation for graft.

Peru has been hard hit by the coronavirus epidemic. With nearly 200,000 deaths, it is the country in the world with the highest mortality rate.

AFP