Where did Pedro Castillo come from? That was the most repeated question on Monday, April 12, after the first round of the elections, especially in Lima, a city whose most charming neighborhoods usually live with their backs to the Andes and its rural population despite the fact that the mountain range begins as soon as it is leaves town. Good communicator of emotions, if he wins must appeal to all his political waistline to govern a Peru that looks at it askance and with a crouched Congress, where it will barely have 35 legislators out of 130.
But Castillo, a 51-year-old teacher who promises “profound” change, is not an impromptu in politics, and enjoys broad social support, especially in the central and southern areas of the country, where his candidacy swept with percentages between 70 and 80%.
The candidate of the so-called “pencil party”, Peru Libre, is a teacher of humble descent who became known in 2017 when he led a teacher strike in order to demand a salary increase for teachers.
A religious and conservative teacher, oblivious to traditional Peruvian politics, he joined that left-wing party After registering on September 30, 2020, the last day registration was allowed. From there, a huge jump at the gates of the Pizarro Palace, seat of the country’s presidency, in a capital that looks at him with distrust.
In Cajamarca, the day of the vote in the first round. Reuters photo
Castillo is considered by some analysts as a figure that came “out of nowhere” in the first round, in which other candidates appeared with a greater chance of going to the ballot, according to the polls at the time.
Professor with a master’s degree in Psychology from Cesar Vallejo University, he was a member of the Peru Posible party since 2002 (which brought Alejandro Toledo to power, today in the United States waiting to be extradited for acts of corruption), when he tried without success of being a candidate for the Cajamarca district of Anguía. He stopped being part of that party in 2017, when the political group lost its registration.
His life and its shortcomings
Almost like an antithesis of Keiko Fujimori, Castillo personifies the demands of many of the social sectors that were relegated two decades ago, but also of those who were ignored during these 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic that has already claimed the lives of more than 180,000 Peruvians and that hit the poorest sectors hard.
And several of the proposals that the candidate raises also find a deep correlation with his life experience and, above all, its shortcomings.
During his election campaign he raised the slogan “No more poor in a rich country” and it is no less data than in the first round, while it was still little known in Lima, it conquered the five poorest regions of the country. For the ballot, he extended that domain to what in Lima they call “deep Peru” with some malice.
Pedro Castillo comes from a humble home in the mountains. AFP
Castillo was born in the town of Tacabamba, in the Andean district of Cajamarca, one of the poorest regions in Peru despite having the largest gold mine in South America. That same year, Peruvian President Juan Velasco Alvarado gave the green light to the Agrarian Reform (1969) and freed the peasants from pongueaje, a system similar to the serf of the gleba of the Middle Ages.
His parents, illiterate peasants, had nine children, but Pedro, the third of them, he was the only one who had a chance to go to college.
Of rural education, He attended the first years of primary school in the town of Puña and finished the cycle at an institution in the neighboring village of Chugur, in the district of Anguía, where he also studied secondary school.
The pencil, the symbol of the Peru Libre party. AFP photo
This structured parenting, perhaps, defined your conservative profile Faced with current debates such as the legalization of abortion, homosexual marriage, euthanasia and the gender approach in schools, which generates criticism from sectors that defend freedom and equality before the law.
Parallel to his interest in teaching, he was also cultivating a growing inclination in social issues: His first approach was as a patrolman in a peasant organization that protected the town from robberies and guerrilla groups, such as the Shining Path and MRTA.
Regarding his academic career, he trained as a primary school teacher, in 1995 he got a job as a teacher in a school in your region, and then he completed a Bachelor of Education in 2006 at the César Vallejo University, in the city of Trujillo, where he graduated as a master in educational psychology in 2013.
However, he always had political aspirations: in 2005 he became regional leader of the Peru Libre party, but kept a low national profile until 2017, when he led a strike for a salary increase and the repeal of a questioned teacher evaluation system.
Married to Liliana Paredes (he is a Catholic and an evangelical), whom he has known since childhood and is also a rural teacher, and the father of three children -Arnold, Jennifer and Alondra, between 7 and 19 years old-, Castillo’s face was nationalized when he led thousands of teachers in a national strike that lasted for almost 80 days between June and September 2017.
In an attempt to delegitimize the strike, the Interior Minister at the time, Carlos Basombrío, said that the teachers’ leaders were linked to Movadef, the political arm of the defeated Shining Path Maoist guerrilla, an illegal group considered “terrorist” in Peru, an accusation that Castillo flatly denies.
Pedro Castillo, candidate for the presidency for the Peru Libre party, goes to the Virgen de los Dolores church in the town of Anguía, in Cajamarca, (Peru). Photo EFE
Then-President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was forced to agree to most of the requests.
This year, when Castillo told the press why he had decided to run despite the fact that no polls or projections benefited him, he said the difficulties their students experienced during the first year of the pandemic, when the economy contracted by almost 12% – after 20 years of sustained macroeconomic growth – and the country had the third highest death rate from Covid-19 in the world.
This background prompted Castillo to campaign with many promises that do not usually dominate the political debate in Peru and for which they accused him of “communist”. For example, that 70% of the annual budget of the public sector must prioritize areas such as education and health, while the rest is distributed between transport, agriculture and sanitation.
Among one of his most controversial measures, promised to expel foreigners who commit crimes, in tacit allusion to the Venezuelan migrants who arrived since 2017 and who exceed one million.
“[Daremos un] 72 hours for illegal foreigners to leave the country, those who have come to commit crimes, “said Castillo, who in order to combat insecurity proposes that Peru withdraw from the Pact of San José to restore the death penalty to criminals.
In addition, he proposed prioritizing the need for a new Constitution drawn up by a Constituent Assembly to create a State that competes with private companies, plans, intervenes, and control the main natural resources, replacing the one created in 1993, during the first term of Alberto Fujimori, father of his current electoral rival.
Despite the criticism, the candidate, characterized by his peculiar “chotano” hat, maintains several of his proposals. In his so-called plan “Peru to the Bicentennial without Corruption”, maintains that the process will be carried out “within the framework of the current constitutional and legal rules.”
In economic terms, Castillo proposes the “relaunch of employment and the popular economy”, within the framework of which there would be an increase in social investment and the State would become a “regulator within a mixed economy approach”.
Pedro Castillo benefited from the rejection generated by Keiko Fujimori. AP Photo
But he promised to maintain the independence of the Central Bank, a “neoliberal” way out to calm the markets, a position held by Julio Emilio Velarde Flores, since September 7, 2006.
And he promised that during the first 100 days he will launch the “Peru Free of Pandemic Program”, in which he promises free distribution of medicinal oxygen, implementation of ICU beds, universal and free vaccination.
“Our proposal includes the hope of change of the peoples, and is affirmed in a path of progressive but profound change, truly democratic, guided by the search for rights and opportunities for all, with justice and peace “, outlines the government plan.
Part of the teacher’s radical discourse, such as the “nationalization” of the mining and energy sector, or the “limitation of imports” comes from the ideology of the Peru Libre party.
This party is led by the “Marxist Leninist” doctor Vladimir Cerrón, former governor of the Junín region and convicted of a crime of corruption that prevented him from running for president.
Almost all of Castillo’s campaign has focused on detaching himself from this figure and trying to approach the center with proposals much more measured and a technical team from outside Peru Libre.
Without many references at the international level or in the region, Peru Libre is one of the few left-wing Peruvian parties that defends the regime of the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, and Castillo received the endorsement of Evo Morales when he prevailed in the first round. However, the man who could arrive on horseback at the gates of Palacio de Pizarro is still more of a mystery that will be looked at with suspicion on the colonial balconies of Lima.