For the first time in Peru’s history has a leftist and working-class candidate won the presidency. While Pedro Castillo’s election has generated big expectations, his ability to govern faces many challenges. Peruvian journalist and analyst Francesca Emanuele analyzes the election result.
Welcome to the Analysis, I’m Greg Wilpert. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the outcome of Peru’s June 6th presidential election, where the left candidate, Pedro Castillo, narrowly won the presidency.
Over 18 million Peruvians cast ballots last Sunday to choose a new president in a second-round runoff vote. They faced a very contrasting choice between right-wing Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the former dictator Alberto Fujimori, and the leftist Pedro Castillo, a rural teacher and union organizer.
With 97 percent of the ballots counted, newcomer Pedro Castillo appears to have won by a slender margin of half a percentage point – 50.25 percent to 49.75 percent, or by nearly 100000 votes. So what happened? Why did so many Peruvians vote for Fujimori, someone who promised more neoliberalism and who faces numerous corruption charges? And what can we expect from a Castillo presidency in Peru?
Joining me from Lima, Peru, to make sense of this is Francesca Emanuele. She’s a Peruvian graduate student in anthropology at American University and also a columnist for the Peruvian news outlet Wayka. She went to Peru to observe the election. Thanks for joining me today, Francesca.
Thank you, Greg.
So Pedro Castillo, the rural teacher and union organizer, came out of nowhere in the first round of the vote last April with about 19 percent of the vote. Well ahead of Keiko’s 13 percent. And polls showed that, as far as I understand, Castillo was slightly ahead of Fujimori until a few weeks before the election. So what happened? How did the vote come to be so close?
Well, since the first round, all the media allied together to support Keiko Fujimori and to actively attack Castillo. They called him a terrorist. They said that he had ties with the Shining Path and they said that Castillo was a communist. The media and the big companies started a robust campaign against him. So they put it all over Lima. For example, banners and big signs encouraging people not to vote for communism, by making a parallelism between communism and poverty and scarcity.
They were spreading fake news about Castillo saying that he was going to expropriate all the private properties. That he was going to make Peru another Venezuela. But I think they realized in the past two weeks that the message that was creating more fear in the population was the message about terrorism and the Shining Path. They went ahead. They had several of the members of his party on the media several times, not them being interviewed, but showing pictures of them supposedly being part of the Shining Path or being part of MOVADEF, many of those claims were with no evidence.
Even though if there was any connection of them with certain radical leftist groups that are fighting for the liberation or the freedom of the Shining Path members who are now in prison, in fact, that organization is not illegal in Peru. But the reality is that many of these allegations were with no evidence, they even push for one of their party members of Pedro Castillo who won to be a Congressman in the next Congress, Peruvian Congress. They push for him to reopen a process against him in the judiciary, to put him in prison, supposedly for organizing a terrorist attack. A process that he went through years ago. There was a sentence that said that he had no connection with this supposedly organized terrorist attack.
Hmmm, well, I guess a kind of related question, though, is why do you think Fujimori continues to enjoy so much support? I mean, she’s faced corruption charges of, you know, having embezzled something like 17 million dollars for her presidential campaign. And she also has a track record as being an adherent of her father’s authoritarian and neoliberal economic policy agenda. So what’s going on there? Why is she so massively popular, it seems?
Well, for the last 30 years in Peru, there has been imposed an economic model that has given a lot of power to different big companies and power groups. For example, I was talking about the media, 80 percent of the media belongs to only one company, el Grupo el Comercio and Comercio has around 20 magazines and newspapers. I mean, you see, you go to a kiosk to get a newspaper, and like 90 percent of them have a headline saying how horrible Castillo is or how great would be a situation or a presidency of Keiko Fujimori. So that’s big.
The other concentration of power here is in a case like business groups. So, for example, there are monopolies like the drug stores. There are two companies that run all the drugstores in Peru. They don’t want to lose power. They don’t want to lose their oligopoly. Same happened with beer. Like 98 percent of beer in Peru is run by one company. And I can give you a whole list of these companies that are really running the country. There are like 14. Fourteen families are running the country. They are putting all their money to convince people that Keiko is the option and the other one is the option of scarcity, poverty, and as I said before, in Venezuela.
We have to understand that this is not just a rhetoric about terrorism or the Shining Path. This is something that people went through. I mean, there was a real internal war here in Peru, and more than 60, 000 people were killed – half of them by well, not all half of them, but thousands by Fujimori’s regime and the previous regime as well, but about half of them by the Shining Path.
So people remember that and it was a very sad period in our history. So, yeah, they are afraid of this potential situation of coming back there. Even though there’s no indication that anything like that would happen.
I want to tell you an episode, a horrible, dramatic, tragic situation… attack actually two weeks ago, around two weeks ago in the jungle in Peru in an area called VRAEM near to del Rio Ene the river in it and 16 people were killed. A child was burned in this terrorist attacks, supposedly.
This happened two weeks before the elections. The military said that it was the Shining Path. An attack like that has never happened in the past 30 years. This big, like 16 people killed by the Shining Path. You have all the pictures of these dead people with blood and so on, all over the media, supposedly an attack organized by the Shining Path. And supposedly they spread out a bunch of fliers saying that people who voted for Keiko, they were going to have their revenge against them.
So this sounds very suspicious. And I don’t want to say that Keiko Fujimori and her party organized this, but definitely there I mean, it doesn’t seem likely that the Shining Path, suddenly they want to support Pedro Castillo. They killed 16 people and they spread out fliers saying that they were going to attack the people who vote for Keiko Fujimori.
So, I mean, I’m talking about a campaign that is very violent and aggressive. And Keiko Fujimori, as you mentioned before, she can go to prison, and not only her, most of her party can go to prison if they lose this election. So for them, this is life or death, and they are putting all their resources in getting all these alliances, even with people who were against her before. Like Mario Vargas Llosa, who won the literature Nobel prize from Peru who actively campaigned for her. They even had an event in Ecuador with all the right-leaning Latin America. Keiko couldn’t go because she’s been under investigation. She couldn’t leave the country, but they had the event online supporting her and claiming that she was going to support democracy.
In the past two weeks, Leopoldo Lopez and his wife, Lilian Tintori, came to Peru to campaign for her. They were all over the media. They had an event with Keiko Fujimori. And it was ironic because they had an event with Keiko Fujimori and Keiko pledged that she was going to comply with all the rules of democracy. Leopoldo Lopez was the person who was confirming that she was going to do that. And to Tuto Quiroga from Bolivia. He was all over the media a couple of days ago talking about how it would be horrible for Peru if Pedro Castillo wins.
So this is not only an election that people in Peru and the big companies and the powers in Peru care about but the whole region, because this can change the correlation of power in the region. So this was an effort from here and also from outside for Keiko to win. And definitely, I mean, it had some results. That’s why it’s very tight. It’s also true that one-third of the population lives here in Lima and one-third of this population has no understanding of that. These developments that they think that the country went through, it didn’t reach out to all their places and their very fancy neighborhoods. And so there is like several factors that has led us to these results.
I guess one could even say that it’s almost a miracle that Pedro Castillo got as far as he did, considering all the obstacles he faced. But I want to get into what’s going to happen now. I mean, Fujimori apparently says that she plans to challenge some of the vote count alleging irregularities. Is there any evidence of that? And could this still change the outcome of the results?
Yes. So let me go back a little bit to the fact that it’s incredible, actually, that Pedro Castillo won after all these attacks and after all these big power grabs like them lying and going after him. Just a few days ago, there was the end of the campaign and a big event on Thursday, I think. Yeah, on Thursday and Keiko had a huge show. She brought singers. The son of Mario Vargas Llosa was there. It was televised on all the TV channels, while Pedro Castillo had 30 seconds on the Perugia’s TV channels, 30 seconds.
So this attack, I mean, I’ve never seen a campaign like this. And I came here with a couple of delegations from Democratic Socialist of America and from Progressive International. Progressive International has experience in observing elections and they are shocked as well. Wherever we go with whoever we meet, the Coordinador Nacional de Derechos Humanos [National Human Rights Commission], they are telling us that there hasn’t been this level of aggression and violence and inequalities in terms of coverage of the campaign.
So coming back to the other subject, last night, Keiko Fujimori had a press conference saying that there was evidence of fraud in polling stations. She talks about irregularities. She showed three videos that have no sense. I have to say, no sense. To the point that the media outside Peru are talking just about irregularities because really there is no evidence. Even the OAS and the European Union have said that there is no evidence of any fraud.
But the problem of these allegations is that she is creating a narrative and there is almost 50 percent of the population that doesn’t want Castillo there. They are super afraid of what can happen in the next five years of his presidency. So she’s trying to destabilize this process and she’s trying to bring people to the streets and challenge Castillo and challenge his presidency. She is acting not only in an irresponsible manner, but she’s acting in a criminal way, as she has been acting for the past three years. Actually, since she was the first lady when her father was the dictator of this country.
I want to turn to Castillo. I mean, what do we know? I mean, we don’t know too much about him because he comes out of nowhere practically. But what did he promise to do and what do you think we can expect him to do as president?
Yeah. Yeah. So Castillo is, as you said, a rural teacher. It’s a victory for the Peruvian working-class people, for the Peruvian Campesinos, for the indigenous, that he has won these elections. It has never happened in the history of Peru that someone from the working class, I mean, becomes a president ever. So we have to understand that and see it in perspective. His party is a very weak party. It wasn’t a national party. It was a regional party. It’s still kind of like bumpy and disorganized because it just came suddenly to become the biggest force, political force, in this country.
So his Party is a leftist party. He was invited by this party. He wasn’t a member of this party, he is a leftist, but he still has certain discrepancies with the historical left in Peru and the left of Veronica Mendoza, who was another candidate in the first elections, who run two times for the presidency. For example, he is still conservative. He thinks that abortion shouldn’t be passed and that LGBTIQ people shouldn’t get married. He has said it openly, but he also has shown that he’s open to change his positions.
In the past few weeks, Veronica Mendoza, this political former candidate I mentioned, met with him. They signed a pact, an agreement, and they are talking about these other issues. He said that if people in Peru want to support abortion and want to support gay marriage, he will do it. He will support it as well. He is supporting the change of the constitution, a new constitution, change of our constitution that was approved under the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori in 1993. And yeah, so he supports land reform and he also supports mining. But he says under conditions that protect labor rights and the environment. So he is now putting together a more robust plan for his presidency. He is receiving support from many academics and former politicians from the left and many of them from low Peru, the party of Veronica Mendoza. He has shown himself with them in several events.
So I think we will know soon the specifics of his next plan. He has been like, his plan for the presidency. He has been just responding to the attacks by the media. These attacks, as I said, have been coming from all over the place.
Now, you mentioned that he has only a very small party, I imagine that they don’t have a majority in the legislature. So I’m just wondering, what are his chances of actually implementing his program? I mean, does he have enough support in the legislature?
Yeah. So his party it’s not that it’s small per se. it was regional, right. It has support. It’s kind of weak in terms of organizing because they came from being a regional party to a national one. So they are going through that transition. There are many mechanisms about communications strategies, working groups that are not in place yet. They have thirty-seven members in Congress. In Peru, there are 130 members of Congress. So, yeah, definitely they don’t have the majority. The majority is sixty-six members.
Veronica Mendoza and her party had only five members and there is another leftist Liberal Party that has three members. So not even summing up that we can reach the sixty-six members that are needed for a majority. But what is true is that Keiko Fujimori has a lot of parties and social movements that hate her, that reject her. I think, and some people that we met during these days think, that the scenario will change when he wins, that there are some parties that will support some of his proposals.
One of the challenges, of course, the new constitution, the constitution we have now doesn’t have many paths to change it. Of course, it was coming from a dictatorship. So he will need a lot of support in the streets and a lot of international support in order to put together and reach his policies, his leftist policies.
Actually, that’s the next thing I want to turn to briefly is the international contacts. You mentioned earlier that his election changes the geopolitics of Latin America. I just wanted to know if you could say a little bit more about that. And what does it change specifically?
Yes. So, Pedro Castillo has been very clear. He has been close to Evo Morales and he has said publicly that for him, Evo Morales presidency and Rafael Correa presidency in Ecuador, it’s an example for him. He looks up to them. He has also said publicly that he doesn’t consider Maduro a dictator, as many of the governments in this region does. So he’s very clear about that. He has said that he wants to strengthen the international integration in this part of the region. We’re talking about UNASUR, CELAC, ALBA. So, yeah, we have historically, Peru not been part of el Grupa de Lima. I mean, Peru was a leader of the right-wing in the region and was a big ally for decades of the U.S. and U.S. imperial policies towards the region.
I think we just need to explain what the Lima Group is because most people probably don’t know.
Oh, yeah. So el Grupa de Lima was actually, it is a group of countries in Latin America that got together to try to overthrow the presidency of Maduro in Venezuela. They met several times pushing Maduro like trying to delegitimize his government and not even ever mentioning the sanctions of the U.S. against Venezuela. So this group has been very useful for the right-wing, not only governments but also right-wing companies in the region. They have been having events. And it’s the group that actually kind of organized this event for Keiko in Ecuador. And with [Ecuador’s president] Lasso also helping there, so it’s huge, it’s huge. These results in these elections are huge for the region and the world.
Now, finally, I just want to get to a point about the context that is the significance of this election for Peru, because just like in Colombia, the battle against insurgent groups such as the Shining Path and I guess also maybe the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, they served as an excuse to repress Peru’s left, it seems. Now, do you think that Castillo winning the presidency signals an end to the left’s marginalization in Peru?
So, Greg, this is a tough question, because if Castillo doesn’t organize his own political movement, if he doesn’t strengthen these alliances that I talk about it can be harmful for the left here. As I said, this is the first time that leftist candidates that is coming from the working class is winning the presidency. It’s a huge victory, not only because he’s there, but also for the left because we never saw this coming.
As you said, for decades, the left has been criminalized, being tied, even though it was fighting against the Shining Path, and being tied with the Shining Path as if the left was the same. So if Castillo doesn’t perform and doesn’t reach some of these policies, the redistribution of wealth, it can be harmful for the left here. There are some parties here that are scared about it. We have talked to them and they have said that they will help and they will support him with any means they have because that also affects them and, of course, affect the country right, and the future of the left.
OK, well, we’re going to leave it there. I’m sure we’re going to come back to you again sometime soon, hopefully, to see how things are going. I was speaking to Francesca Emmanuel, a Peruvian graduate student of anthropology and freelance journalist. Thanks again, Francesca, for having joined me today.
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