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We continue with this series of articles “Disparo al pie: The symptoms of a sick Latin America.” After having delved into some of the common characteristics that constitute a script to be implemented in countries where the left is winning, we will review some concrete cases, especially more recent ones, to understand what this is all about. Today, the second chapter of the series is dedicated to Peru, perhaps one of the most dramatic and disastrous experiences in the region.
The Election of Communist President Pedro Castillo: Causes and Origins
After a controversial election, full of doubts and rumors, Pedro Castillo, the candidate of the left, won by a small margin over the candidate Keiko Fujimori, identified as the representative of the right and center sectors in the country. Only 44,000 votes made Castillo the winner, who achieved this victory of only 50.12% on the basis of a populist discourse that claimed a communist project based on Marxism-Leninism and declared his admiration for the Cuban revolution. The tragedy of his election, however, is not that, but that half of Peruvians decided to elect him even knowing what Castillo represented because he never hid it. That is to say, half of Peruvian society ventured to elect as president someone who without any concealment always said he was a communist. How was this possible?
It would take a long time to go back to the root causes of that adventurous and costly decision for Peruvians. However, it is enough to see the wounds of a country that before Castillo and in the last four years had four presidents (three of them in one year), to understand that political instability became a latent sign thanks to corruption and the erosion of a political class from which not even what they call “the caviar left” could escape. The paradoxical thing is that this political instability, mostly of recent sign, was accompanied by an unprecedented economic growth that had managed to position Peru very well in recent years.
Neoliberalism, Three Presidents in One Year, and Political Instability
Very few had dared to question the Peruvian economic model, based on profound liberal reforms that opened the country to the free market and to a growth that, despite inequality, significantly reduced poverty. However, this model was an inheritance from the Fujimori era in the 90s, something that for the most retrograde leftists was always an enemy to be defeated, since it represented “neoliberalism.”
Certainly, much can be questioned and criticized about Fujimori’s government, even condemned for his practices, which had little or nothing democratic about them, but he set his country on the right path, economically speaking.
However, the cost of doing so was very high and nothing justifies power lashing out against the people, but what is certain is that the seed was planted—quite similar to what had happened in Chile and the model inherited during the transition, after the Pinochet era, and which managed to make that country (despite its dictatorship) a great democratic and developmental reference afterward. These are not isolated narratives and were very well used by the left to seize power, as we will see later on.
The Rejection of Left-wing Economics
Nobody questioned the economic model and whoever did, suffered the consequences. Not even Ollanta Humala maintained his initial project, despite the fact that during his first attempt to become president he allied himself with Hugo Chávez. In fact, moving away from the leftist adventure and vindicating the Peruvian economy, brought him to power later on. The intentions of the Peruvian left until then were similar to those of the left in the whole region: call for constituents, expropriate the means of production, give popular power, etc.
These proposals hardly generated any echo, but they did receive a lot of rejection, something that had managed to keep Peru far from the turn to the left that the region had taken since 1999 with the arrival of Chávez to power. But what changed with Pedro Castillo?
Castillo knew how to use his unionist image and his popular and humble origins, as a teacher with a pencil symbol, to connect with a Perú beyond the big cities and the coast. In addition, with a vengeful and resentful discourse, he knew how to exacerbate the weariness of a society that had always defended a development model, but was tired of seeing how this model made corruption and power walk around the government palace at every turn.
Weaponizing Civilian Discontent with the Status Quo
The image was imposed that Perú was bad precisely because of that model and that it was time to realize it. They sought to generate the sensation that their liberal economy was not working and that something else was needed. The handling of the pandemic contributed to this leap into the void. Perú took an adventure, risking everything and making people believe that the country was living in a dictatorship because of its economic model.
Thus, Castillo managed to impose himself on the limit to a Keiko Fujimori who, despite her popularity, was more prey to the manipulation of her adversaries and the ghosts of the past and present. She was not perceived as a genuine alternative defender of a model of liberties where the economic aspect is not enough.
This was joined by the articulation of the entire regional left, which saw in Pedro Castillo the opportunity to snatch one of the crown jewels in Latin America that had failed to be taken. The São Paulo Forum was celebrating that one of its own (and one of the most orthodox) was coming to power. Unfortunately, the result is plain to see.
Post-Pedro Castillo: Scathing Inflation, Corruption, and Impeachment
Peru is going through its worst inflation in 12 years, while Castillo’s government has only shown instability and disaster. Appointments outside any institutionalism or credentials, the partisanship of institutions to favor his figure, corruption scandals, violence, and an endless number of plots, surround the president who has already been close to being “vacated from power”. In Congress, he can still be confronted, and even his own congressmen have begun to abandon him.
Certainly, the figure of “vacancy motions”, as institutions of impeachment, is a red line for anyone who dares to go too far, although many question its existence for favoring political instability. The success of measures such as these, is their timely and decisive use, not as a threat, but as a true defense of a model that today sees in Congress its salvation, but nobody knows until when.
Abolishing Institutions as Revenge and Consolidating Power
Castillo has already started a crusade for a constituent assembly that will allow him to abolish any real counterweight to his power. Although turbulent and unsuccessful in his first attempt, he will not give up, just as he has not given up trying to influence the appointment of the Constitutional Tribunal, meddling in justice; both characteristics mentioned in the first article of this series.
The president has not spared either in dividing society, polarizing it with non-existent enemies, encouraging censorship and persecution of the media, promoting xenophobia against Venezuelans, joining very dangerous geopolitical allies and resorting to the idea of “popular democracy” to justify his wanderings with the excuse of the majorities. This is the script.
Today, a good part of Peru, even those who voted for Castillo and who are not exactly part of the urban areas, regret having voted for him. That regret may be belated because Castillo never hid what his plan was. People voted for communism, without euphemisms or lies, and they are suffering in real-time and in an accelerated manner its consequences. Society is responsible for deciding to shoot itself in the foot, wanting an adventure that would lead them to something different. Now they do not know if they will be able to get out of it. It is also a message to the political class, which must be bolder, more conscious and more direct in what it believes in, without fear of labels. That political class is responsible for being fed up and for not offering real solutions to the people, based on the values they believe in.
Can Peru Be Saved?
Fortunately (and by effort) there are still some signs of hope that could stop the disaster in time. In Congress, there are firm and courageous voices that are doing everything to prevent Castillo and the model he represents from going any further. Alejandro Cavero, and Adriana Tudela, among many others, are just some of the names of those who are doing the impossible to achieve it. Also in October there will be elections in the city of Lima and it will be key for the center and right-wing sectors to achieve a victory that prevents Castillo from snatching the capital from them.
Leaps into the void are very costly and even more so when the bet is to find better than what exists, knowing that the alternative will never lead to that. Peru decided to do so by voting for “Peru Libre”, and now it is in free fall. Will it manage to save itself?
“Shooting yourself in the foot” is a series of six articles by Pedro Urruchurtu for El American. This is part two.
Pedro Urruchurtu, is a political scientist. He is the Vice President of RELIAL and coordinator of International Affairs for the Vente Venezuela party // Pedro Urruchurtu es politólogo. Vicepresidente de RELIAL y coordinador de Asuntos Internacionales del partido Vente Venezuela