Peru’s presidential elections – between reaction and hope of social transformation

Ballot paper for the second round of the Peruvian presidential election between Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori (Image: Cheep/Creative Commons)

Since this article was written, the left candidate in the presidential elections in Peru, Pedro Castillo, has edged ahead in the election, winning 50.277% of the vote. The narrowness of the result and bitter opposition to Castillo by the ruling class makes it likely this result will be challenged and open a turbulent period of struggle – legally and on the streets. The need for a socialist programme and strategy to take this movement forward to defeat the right-wing reaction and capitalism is going to be posed very sharply. This article gives some background to the upheavals rocking Peru. The CWI will analyse these developments as they unfold in Peru and other developments throughout Latin America in further articles.

An opinion article by Jonathan Castro, published in the Washington Post on June 1, 2021, points out, “Fujimori has received the support of business leaders, most of the political parties, politicians without parties, former opponents, the writer Vargas Llosa, all defenders of the current economic model. None of them have demanded that Fujimori desists from her intention to pardon her father, former President Alberto Fujimori, sentenced to prison for corruption and for being the perpetrator of murder in the La Cantuta and Barrios Altos massacres. ”

They try to present the story that the clash is between “Communism” and “Democracy”. They fail to understand the deep crisis of legitimacy of the politicians and the significance of the practical disappearance of all the traditional parties which have been punished by the population.  People are not convinced by the story of the supposed democracy that Fujimori would defend or the “Communist” threat that they say Castillo represents.

What has driven people in this election is social exclusion, lack of employment, desperate need and hunger, and the inability of the authorities to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Peru is at the forefront of countries with the highest death toll per head of population due to Covid-19. In Peru, what is questioned now are the political regime and the capitalist social and economic model which exists and the high economic concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a small minority and foreign multinationals. At the same time, the vast majority of the population lives in poverty and social vulnerability.

On April 11, presidential and congressional elections were held in Peru. On June 6, the second round of the presidential elections took place between the first two candidates Pedro Castillo, who won 18.92%, and Keiko Fujimori with 13.41% in the first round.

These presidential elections were held in the midst of the worst political and economic crisis for in years and with the Covid-19 pandemic rampant. Ten candidates participated in the elections, most of whom obtained similar percentages of votes.

The surprise of these elections was that the support won by Pedro Castillo, a rural teacher and leader of the teachers’ union. He had led two strong national strike movements of Peruvian teachers in recent years. He is a person who is regarded as honest, a man of the people, and a self-sacrificing teacher of poor children. He is the exact opposite of the rich personalities of the political caste detested by the majority. Hence the high vote of a population fed up with politicians who have the stamp of corruption all over them and who are unable to solve the serious social problems of Peru.

Professor Castillo was presented as a presidential candidate by the Peru Libre party, a relatively small national political party, based in the backward regions of the interior of the country. The party declares itself socialist, Marxist, Leninist, and ‘Mariateguist’ – after the historic leader of the Peruvian communist and workers’ movement. The leader and founder of Peru Libre, Vladimir Cerrón, is a renowned neurosurgeon doctor who was trained in Cuba and was elected as governor in an inland province of Peru previously. Although he had been the natural aspirant of the Peru Libre party to the presidency, he could not be a candidate because he was accused of corruption and spent time in prison. Although the charges were extremely dubious and in a country where the political caste is very corrupt, Cerrón was muddied with the accusations and in prison when he finally proved his innocence. By these actions, the ruling elite believed that they had blocked his way to the national political leadership. But Peru Libre put forward Professor Pedro Castillo as a candidate, who was a better choice in view of the situation.

In the electoral campaign, Peru Libre grew as a new party of the workers and the Peruvian people, on a national scale. The map of political representation will not be the same again. The elite are confused and shocked by developments, while those below are showing support for Castillo because they are battered by sickness and need.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit Peru badly. According to official data, which downplays the situation, Peru has the sixth-highest number of infections in the world. In addition, measures to stop the pandemic and the disease have exacerbated informal labour conditions and economic precariousness.

Even before the virus, the informal sector made up 73% of workers’ conditions, and now is likely to be bordering 90%. The massive informal sector makes any measures to restrict movement and oblige people to stay at home impossible. The first task of any government of workers is to take measures to control the pandemic; an emergency health and food programme that will take control of the large food production and distribution companies, as well as the hospital and health system, accompanied by a massive and urgent vaccination drive.

The situation in Peru is dramatic due to extreme poverty and deaths from Coronavirus. Poverty, and extreme poverty, affect almost a third of the population, who cannot meet their basic needs. These are the official figure from the Institute of Statistics and Information (INEI) of the Peruvian State. Due to the pandemic, the number of poor people has increased by 10 additional points.

Tens of thousands left the cities to return to the countryside where they did not have to pay rent and it was easier for them to get some food. This marked the end of the dream that led their parents and grandparents to settle in the new neighbourhoods – the belt of misery that surrounds the cities. Today there are 10 million poor people in the Andean country, according to the official information of the INEI. For its part, Macroconsult estimates that currently 24% of the population is immersed in poverty and 33% is in a vulnerable situation. In other words, a total of 57% of Peruvians are in a precarious condition this year.

In order to eat, the people responded with the formation of thousands of “Common Pots” – communal feeding kitchens generally organized by women in poor neighbourhoods. The Common Pot organizations seek donations from individuals and municipalities, collect all the food that the participants get, and thus collectively feed themselves and their children.

Lima was the most affected city; it is estimated that in the city there are more than 2,000 common pots that feed 220,000 people. These pots have saved thousands of people from starvation. They are also organizations that have built an important social fabric, a potential base for popular power from below. The government, in an additional example of ineffectiveness and lack of will, belatedly recognized the common pots but the aid it sends to them through the municipalities has been insufficient and irregular. The organizers of the common pots have stated that, in some cases, they have received help for only two months and then never again.

Deaths from the pandemic

The Peruvian hospital system has not been able to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. Since the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori, the public health system has been systematically attacked and underfunded. They have even lacked oxygen for seriously ill patients. Family members themselves must provide it, in the midst of household shortages and lack of money. If the pandemic has shown anything, it is the absolute need to maintain a robust national public health system and the total failure of the prioritization of private health care.

The Peruvian government admitted that they had given false information about the number of deaths from the pandemic. The true number is 1.5 times higher than what had been previously announced. The new official death toll is more than 180,000, in a country of fewer than 33 million inhabitants.  They were hiding information.  The figures show that in terms of population, Peru is probably the country with the most deaths from Coronavirus on the planet.

The polls were widely wrong in the first round of the elections and in the results of the elections to the National Congress. They are used more as a tool of the short-term political conflict than a serious study of the situation. The polls at the end of the campaign gave Pedro Castillo an advantage over his rival Keiko Fujimori, in some cases a small advantage, in other polls a more comfortable victory, but the uncertainty is great.

Keiko  – representative of corruption and reaction

Keiko Fujimori is the representative of corruption and reaction. Her party endorses the legacy of her father’s dictatorship (1990-2000). He is in prison for crimes against humanity. Under her regime, thousands of murders took place, and torture and forced sterilizations against indigenous women were amongst the methods used.

The war against the Maoist ‘Shining Path’ (Sandero Luminoso) guerrillas, began in 1980. The conflict resulted in estimated 50-70,000 deaths. Although on a much lower level, Shining Path still continues in some areas of Peru today. The Shining Path served as an excuse during Fujimori’s mandate to carry through a coup to so he could stay in power. He held elections to a Congress he controlled, changed the Constitution to win a new presidential term by a large majority, and finally fled the country in the face of massive protests against and resigned by fax message from Japan.

Keiko Fujimori is currently being investigated for corruption. The National Prosecutor’s Office requested 30 years imprisonment for the sum of the crimes of which she is accused.  She needs to win the presidency to gain immunity.

Around 60% of Peruvians have a negative opinion of the candidates. The “Keiko no va más” movement, which was very active in the last presidential election, and which Fujimori accuses of being a “cyber-terrorist” organization responsible for her defeat, has re-emerged with force on social networks and held massive marches in all the cities of Peru. These mobilizations show the broad active opposition generated by the figure of Keiko Fujimori. The formation of a movement against her indicated that even if she won the elections she would be confronted with the opposition from the beginning. The Fujimorista government would be an administration in permanent political and social crisis, which would only aggravate the un-governability shown by the political caste. It must be remembered that almost all former presidents from Alberto Fujimori onwards are in prison, fled from prosecution or are dead – as was the case of former President Alan García, who shot himself when he was arrested on corruption charges. The last two presidents could not finish their terms when, according to Peruvian legislation, Congress declared the presidency vacant.

Keiko Fujimori’s campaign for the second round based itself on an anti-communist platform, of course accusing Pedro Castillo of being a ‘communist’. The weight of the anti-communist campaign should not be overlooked in a country where an ultra-left Maoist “Communist” fraction took up arms and carried out brutal attacks in public places, murdered trade unionists, social movement leaders, indigenous people and even babies. Sendero Luminosa’s “people’s war” served as the perfect alibi for Fujimori’s coup, the generalized large-scale corruption of his government, and the systematic crimes of the military and police apparatus against social activists, youth, and indigenous women.

For his part, Castillo defends himself against the accusation of the Fujimoristas with his “moderate” response. Despite his party supporting some nationalisations, increased state intervention, and reforms, Castillo also defended the role of private enterprise in the economy. He is also against abortion, same-sex marriage, and sex education.  Castillo emphasises that he is simply popular and progressive, not socialist or communist.

However, the triumph of Castillo can open the crack through which a popular uprising and mass movement can be unleashed by rage, and the irrepressible despair which exists, and begin to break the dam of neoliberal capitalist power, on which a radical popular government can rest. Under such conditions, a government led by Castillo can be pushed to adopt more radical measures against capitalism. It can also enrage the ruling class who will prepare to take measures to defeat or overthrow such a government.  Socialist policies, to break with capitalism and carry through a structural social transformation, are the only way out of the current disaster for the Peruvian working people and to open a way of hope for Peru and all of South America.




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June 2021