By Regina Garcia Cano and Mauricio Munoz | Associated Press
LIMA, Peru – Pedro Castillo, a left-wing political novice who promised to be a champion of the poor in his country, became the new president of Peru on Wednesday.
The rural teacher, who has never held a political office before, was sworn in less than two weeks after being declared the winner of the June 6 by-elections. He is Peru’s first president of farmers’ council.
In a ceremony in the capital of Lima, Castillo made a commitment “for God, for my family, for my peasant sisters and brothers, teachers, patrolmen, children, youth and women, and for a new Constitution.” Then he sings the national anthem, takes off his distinctive hat and places it over his heart.
He succeeds President Francisco Sagasti, who appointed Congress in November to lead the South American nation after weeks of political unrest.
Castillo, who until days ago lived with his family in an adobe house deep in the Andes, will face a deeply divided Congress that will make it extremely challenging for him to keep his poorly defined campaign promises to to help the poor make up about a third of the country’s population. His political prowess will be tested immediately, and his ability to reach agreements may even determine whether Congress allows him to complete his term.
“The government of Pedro Castillo still maintains us with considerable uncertainty; we still do not have its main lines clear, ”said Claudia Navas, an analyst at global risk firm Risk Risks. “However, we anticipate that Castillo, due to the characteristics of the Peruvian political system and the current general political and economic situation in the country, will maintain a more pragmatic position than he announced during the campaign.”
“The key is to draw up the consensus and strengthen the proposals on how he is going to achieve it,” she added.
Castillo defeated his opponent, right-wing career politician Keiko Fujimori, by just 44,000 votes. Peru’s poor and rural citizens supported Castillo and his slogan “No more poor in a rich country”, while the elite favored Fujimori, the daughter of the controversial former president Alberto Fujimori. He stunned voters and observers by rising from a pool of 18 candidates and progressing to the finish line, in the first place, no less.
Castillo’s initial proposal to nationalize the country’s mining industry has raised alarms among business leaders. While this attitude has softened, he remains committed to rewriting the constitution approved under the rule of Fujimori’s father.
Peru is the second largest copper exporter in the world and mining accounts for almost 10% of its GDP and 60% of its exports. The economy has been shattered by the coronavirus pandemic, which is raising the level of poverty and eliminating the gains of a decade.
‘I want you to know that the pride and pain of deep Peru runs through my veins. ‘That I am also the son of this country based on the sweat of my ancestors, built on the lack of opportunities of my parents and that I nevertheless see it resisting,’ Castillo said. ‘That my life originated in the early morning cold in the field, and that it was also these hands of the countryside that my children carried and shook when they were little. That the history of this long silent Peru is also my history. ”
In November, Peru had three presidents in a single week after one was charged by Congress with allegations of corruption and protests forced his successor to resign. Lawmakers then appointed Sagasti.
Thousands of small businesses have closed over the past 16 months, and the political uncertainty following the election has led to millions of dollars being withdrawn from local banks.
Enrique Castellanos, a professor of economics at the Peruvian University of the Pacific, told a radio station Castillo needed to build trust in the business community.
“It takes time to maintain trust and it goes away very quickly,” he said.
The pandemic has displaced Peru’s medical and cemetery infrastructure. It also deepened people’s distrust of the government because it mismanaged the COVID-19 response and erupted a secret vaccination campaign for the well-connected into a national scandal.
Castillo promised COVID-19 vaccines for all Peruvians.
Castillo was until recently a rural school teacher in the country’s third poorest district. The son of illiterate farmers, he led a teacher strike in 2017.
The new president lived with his wife and two children in an adobe house he built more than 20 years ago in the Chugur countryside. On Wednesday, he announced that he would not rule from the neo-baroque presidential palace, which he said would become a museum.
This follows a trend among some recent Latin American leaders, who have proclaimed austerity.
In Bolivia, then-President Evo Morales dug the colonial presidential palace and turned it into a museum. But he was then heavily criticized for building a 29-story skyscraper for offices and his home for more than $ 30 million.
In Mexico, current president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador avoided the presidential composition of Los Pinos and opened it to the public. He moved into the old national palace, where no president has lived since the late 19th century.
Several delegations from other countries traveled to witness Peru’s presidential transition. There was the US Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, who was also a teacher, the King of Spain, Felipe VI, and the leaders of Chile, Sebastián Piñera; Colombia, Ivan Duque; in Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso.
Duque met Castillo before the inauguration. Duque said they agree to continue to strengthen the participation of both countries in the Andean community and the Pacific Alliance and spoke on the binational social agenda that includes health and education issues.
Duque told reporters that rewriting a constitution, as Castillo suggested, was a ‘sovereign decision’ of every country. But he pointed out that “every constitutional reform process must be the product of a great national consensus, it must be an opportunity for union and not division.”
Garcia Cano reports from Mexico City.