By Sophie Squire
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Peru’s poor put their hopes in Castillo, and now they are angry

Just a few months ago workers cheered the election of a radical president in Peru. Fewer are happy now, says Sophie Squire.
Issue 2785
School teacher, union leader and president of Peru, Pedro Castillo.

School teacher, union leader and president of Peru, Pedro Castillo. (Pic: Braian Reyna Guerrero)

When Pedro Castillo became president of Peru in July, he promised widespread change in the Latin American country.

But since beating right winger Keiko Fujimori by a slim majority, the former union leader has moved rapidly rightwards.

A collection of right wing parties last week put a motion to impeach Castillo before congress.

They accused him of corruption and incompetence.

The motion was defeated with 76 against and 46 in favour. But Castillo is still in trouble after a chaotic period of power.

From the beginning of his term, the right has rallied to get rid of him, and in trying to hang on to office, Castillo has bent to their will.

The president has been hindered by cracks in his support base inside his own party. He only joined Peru Libre in late 2020.

The party was slow to defend him against the right’s impeachment attack.

In a bid to appease the right, over four months the cabinet has been “shaken up” so that anyone remotely left has been ousted.

After being sworn in, Castillo appointed the self‑proclaimed Marxist Guido Bellido Ugarte as prime minister. But Urgate was replaced by the more moderate Mirtha Vasquez after just 70 days.

As prime minister, Ugarte had been vocal about nationalising the natural gas sector. Nationalisation was central to Castillo’s election campaign but has since been abandoned.

The bosses were relieved when he appointed ex-World Bank economist Pedro Francke as finance minister.

When Francke was just an advisor to Castillo, he assured the markets there would be “no expropriations, no nationalisation, or price controls”.

The president has tried to reassure the state that he will not move against it, and uses every opportunity to commend the military.

He even argued that the role of the army was essential to “exit the economic crisis” and for “strengthening our social agenda”.

While Castillo has done everything to appease the right and the bosses, he has done very little to keep the promises he made to ordinary people during his election campaign.

In the Ayacucho region, a large section of the population voted for Castillo, but that hasn’t stopped big demonstrations against him.

Protesters blocked roads to demand Castillo uphold an agreement to shut several mines in the region.

The Andean community of Aquia say that these mines poison the environment and deprive communities of water.

The government said initially that it would keep its promise to shut the mines. But it then did a U-turn and said that the bosses could still seek permission to extend operations.

Activists in the region say they’ll keep fighting to force Castillo to keep his promises.

Che Bernaola, a representative of the Ayacucho Sur Fighting Committee, said, “If the government does not comply with the signed agreement, we will activate the protest that had been suspended.”

“Most voters in Ayacucho and other mining areas voted for Castillo. I doubt they will betray us now.”

People are right to protest to force Castillo to deliver on what he promised, and they are right to feel betrayed by him.

Castillo promised an end to government corruption, the nationalisation of natural resources and the dismantling of neoliberalism. But since coming to power, he has all but abandoned this project.

There are important lessons to be learnt from what has happened in Peru.

Chile was set to choose on 19 December between a far right fan of the dictator Augusto Pinochet and a left wing former student leader as president.

But whether in PeruChile or Bolivia, socialism will not come through parliament.

The working class across Latin America have proven to be a powerful force. Only they hold the power to dismantle neoliberalism and bring the system down for good.

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