Pedro Castillo, a rural school teacher who came out of anonymity four years ago as the leader of a national teacher strike, broke in with a leftist speech and the promise of “no more poor in a rich country”, with which he seeks to become president of Peru.
The candidate of Free Peru, a minority leftist party, reaches the ballot practically tied with the right-wing leader Keiko Fujimori, according to the latest polls released after she hit the ground running by winning the first round on April 11 with 18.9%, which had a record of 18 applicants.
At 51 years old, Castillo has the merit of channeling the feeling of outrage from a part of Peru that he connected with his simple message: “No more poor in a rich country.”
He was born in Puña, a town in the Chota district, in the northern Cajamarca region, where he has lived and worked as a teacher in a rural school for 24 years.
His name started ringing in 2017, when led a prolonged national strike of the magisterium.
A propaganda poster of candidate Pedro Castillo, in his hometown, Catabamba, in Peru. Photo: AP
Religion and social demands
He is married and has three children. His wife is evangelical, but he is Catholic. The mix of conservative morals and social demands for change has tuned in well in a country where religion is often an electoral factor.
He is used to quoting biblical passages when he appeals to morality to justify his rejection of abortion, homosexual marriage and euthanasia.
Wearing a white high-top hat typical of Cajamarca, he patiently traveled the regions of Peru, even on horseback, to get votes.
“Castillo is a kind of Lula from the countryside, without the union skills of the former Brazilian president, but he proves to be a good communicator,” journalist and analyst Sonia Goldenberg told AFP.
“He is a much better candidate than Keiko Fujimori to convey emotions,” he adds.
Facts about Pedro Castillo and his rival Keiko Fujimori. / AFP
It promises to create a million jobs in one year and it denies that it intends to confiscate the workers’ pension funds, as its critics claim.
“The people feel identified with a person who is born from the same town,” said the candidate when he went on horseback to vote in the first round in Tacabamba (Cajamarca), the traditional means of transport in that rural area.
The 2017 national strike It lasted for almost 80 days, demanding a salary increase and the elimination of a questioned system for evaluating teachers.
The strike left 3.5 million students in the country’s public schools without classes and cornered then-President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
He initially refused to dialogue with the strikers until he relented and accepted most of the demands, except to end the evaluation system.
In an attempt to delegitimize the strike, the Minister of the Interior at the time, Carlos Basombrío, said that the leaders of the magisterium were linked to Movadef, the political arm of the defeated Maoist guerrilla of the Shining Path, an illegal group considered “terrorist” in Peru. .
Ireño Castillo, Pedro Castillo’s father, at his home in Puña, Cajamarca department, Peru, this Friday. Photo: EFE
“I categorically reject the complaints,” replied Castillo, who had integrated in Cajamarca the armed “peasant patrols” that resisted the incursions of Sendero in the harsh days of the internal conflict (1980-2000).
“We plan changes, not patches or reforms like other leftist candidates “Castillo said during the campaign.
The Peruvian left came to the elections divided with four candidates, among them Verónika Mendoza and the former Catholic priest Marco Arana, as well as Castillo.
Peru Libre’s electoral proposal was based on a triad: health, education and agriculture, the priority sectors to promote national development, according to Castillo.
Also plans to convene a Constituent Assembly to draft a new Magna Carta in six months to replace the current one, which favors the free market economy.
The 1993 Constitution is a legacy of the right-wing populist government of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), Keiko’s father. Castillo’s rival is opposed to changing the Magna Carta.
The candidate further promises to expel foreigners who commit crimes, in tacit allusion to the Venezuelan migrants who arrived since 2017 and who exceed one million.
“(We will give a) 72 hour period to 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 reinstate the death penalty for offenders.
Peru Libre is one of the few left-wing Peruvian parties that defends the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Castillo announced that, if he comes to power, the country will regain control of its energy and mineral wealth, such as gas, lithium and gold, now under the control of multinationals. But he did not say how he will do it.