Peru: elections of crisis and surprises on the left

By Alejandro Bodart

The outcome of the national elections on April 11 confirmed the deep crisis Peru is going through. The next round between a representative who sympathizes with the left and an accomplished right-wing politician will boost a great political polarization in the country.

The elections to elect president and congressmen took place in the context generated by the social outburst of November 2020, which ousted then president Martin Vizcarra and once again shook the political regime established by the Fujimori Constitution of 1993.

With 10 of the 18 presidential candidates being criminally prosecuted for corruption, there was a predominant rejection to traditional politics and a great dispersion of the vote.

The first place went to the surprise of the election, the teacher unionist Pedro Castillo, who appeared eighth in the polls prior to the election and with a radicalized discourse and to the left of the rest of the candidates, ended up winning with 19.1% of the votes. Second place went to the right-wing Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the former dictator. Both will compete on June 6 to see who will win the country’s presidency.

Keiko’s 13.3% represents a major setback for Fujimorismo, which would lose the hegemony in Congress that it had managed to maintain for decades. In turn, her second place, as well as the third place obtained by the ultra-conservative Rafael López Aliaga with 11.7%, and the fourth place of the liberal economist Hernán de Soto with 11.6%, indicate that in the face of the collapse of traditional politics, the bourgeoisie bet on a radical right-wing solution.

However, the main expression of the collapse of traditional politics came from the left.

Who is Pedro Castillo?

He emerged as a national figure after leading the 75-day teachers’ strike for salary raises that shook the country in 2017. Age 51, with a country countenance and always on horseback, this former rondero – a farmer defense organization – and elementary school teacher since 1991 managed to represent and channel the massive break with the political regime that the Peruvian people have been leading. He won in the 5 poorest regions of the country. He claims to be a Marxist and has a certain Maoist formation.

He campaigned proposing a Constituent Assembly to change the Constitution and the Fujimori economic model, nationalize some strategic companies such as mining, oil and energy deposits, govern with a teacher’s salary, reduce congressmen’s salaries and increase workers’ salaries, as well as health, agriculture and education budgets. A critic of the AFP, he says he defends the state pension system and proposes to reformulate international treaties to “stop being subjected to the United States”.

He presented himself as a candidate of Pueblo Libre, a party led by Vladimir Cerrón, former governor of Junín, disqualified and prosecuted for influence peddling. He is fervently opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Although he does not propose a rupture with capitalism -his central proposal is that the State should act as a company and compete with private companies- he managed to appear as the most radicalized figure against the traditional political caste.

It is very difficult to predict what will happen if he wins the ballot: will he fulfill everything he has promised or will he join the long list of people in Peru who have quickly lost popular support for leaving the program for which they were elected at the front door of the Government House?

Whatever happens next, what is clear is that between now and June, society will be polarized between two antagonistic proposals. And whoever wins, he/she will have to do so in a framework of crisis and enormous deterioration, with a deeply fragmented parliament.

Enormous space for the left

A month ago, I was in Peru participating in a series of activities in Lima and Tacna with comrades who sympathize with the International Socialist League. Some of them organically and others more informally consider themselves part of Nuevo Perú, the space that together with the majority of the left formed the Juntos por el Perú alliance with the candidacy of Verónika Mendoza for the presidency, who came in sixth place with just over 7% of the votes.

The expectations that were transmitted to me were to enter the second round. But reality was already showing symptoms of what finally happened. Verónika Mendoza, who had surprisingly emerged as an alternative figure on the left in 2016 with almost 20% of the votes, in these years was fading, adopting an increasingly sweetened, center-left discourse, focused on democratic reforms and timid economic proposals that did not allow to distinguish her as a clear and decisive alternative against the corrupt caste and the owners of the country that the poor people loathe and want to get rid of.

Space for a radical left proposal exists and has existed for a long time in Peru, as the excellent election of Castillo and other phenomena to which attention should be paid, such as the incipient Labor Party that the Confederation of Miners’ Unions is trying to set up.

What is lacking is to build a revolutionary anti-capitalist alternative that brings together the best exponents of the extended youth vanguard and of the working class that have been training in an infinity of struggles during these years.

The tasks of the revolutionaries

The electoral clash that will take place between the ultra-right project represented by Keiko Fujimori and Pedro Castillo will not be indifferent to the majority of the working people, who will try to get someone they consider one of their own into the government. With all the reservations we may have, we revolutionaries cannot abstain from this fight. Verónika Mendoza, Juntos por Perú and the rest of the left should play an active role from now until the second round against Fujimori and his project.

Within New Peru it is necessary to carry out a profound assessment, and from the revolutionary left we have to contribute without diplomacy. The crisis that global capitalism and the Peruvian regime are going through leaves no room for lukewarm center-left projects, which, as has been shown once again, always end in failure and new frustrations. The Congress of this space will probably be held in May, an instance that should be used to draw conclusions as to why there has been such a pronounced setback and what the future steps should be. The revolutionaries should begin to regroup and participate with their positions in that event.

A sure path to marginality in which one should not fall into is abstention in the face of real processes such as those that are being developed, as unfortunately some small sectarian groups are doing.

Once the electoral process is over, we will have to shuffle and give again. From the ISL we are determined to set up a new socialist and revolutionary project in Peru, for which we will have to discuss the best tactics, without losing sight of the fact that the strategy is to group together the best fighters, some of whom have been acting within broad expressions such as New Peru, others outside, open to the fact that the electoral process may lead to new phenomena to which we will have to respond without falling into sectarianism or opportunism.