Peru: Government Palace is a castle with an invisible president

From Peru, Sofía Martínez

On July 28, 2021, Pedro Castillo Terrones, a rural school teacher and union leader, was sworn in as President of the Republic in a tense environment due to the questioning of the transparency of the electoral process that the right wing had been carrying out, even calling to disregard the official results. He was sworn in with an incomplete and questioned cabinet; then in Pampa de la Quinua (Ayacucho), he presented Guido Bellido as Prime Minister. The latter to strengthen the image of Peru Libre, the party that invited him as presidential candidate. At the beginning, the right wing carried out a campaign of fear in complicity with the media. A fear that an authoritarian regime would be imposed under the shadow of Vladimir Cerron, the Secretary General of Peru Libre and that Peru would become another Venezuela. But nothing could be more wrong; Castillo’s government turns out to be a weak government based on improvisation, lack of professionalism, inexperience in public management and a total lack of commitment to make his campaign promises viable.

The right wing, however, has been very clear about the destabilization strategy that has been working since the government of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (2016). The presidential vacancy is an argument of legal interpretation that the Peruvian Congress has been making, a strategy designed from the bowels of Fujimorism. For Keiko Fujimori, this is the third electoral defeat that she refuses to accept; but they have been able to gain space in the legislature, which makes Fujimorismo the main political force with a parliamentary majority. The next “victim” of the vacancy was Martin Vizcarra (PPK’s successor) and then, during the transition government, they also used the vacancy as a mechanism to intimidate President Sagasti. Having banished the argument of electoral fraud, as well as that of Castillo’s possible dictatorship, the right wing continues with its ongoing attacks based on the power and control they have over the media. The insults, the terruqueo and the disinformation against the government continue daily. There is no regulation mechanism possible and on more than one occasion several public officials of the Castillo government; among them the Minister of Women, Anahí Durand and the Minister of Culture, Gisela Ortiz, have been forced to file criminal complaints for defamation.

Another phenomenon that has emerged after the electoral situation is the appearance of far-right fascist groups (“The Resistance”) that summon the most conservative and retrograde sector of Peruvian society. They went from verbal attacks to physical aggression; even with surveillance, telephone interception and violation of the privacy of characters such as the Prosecutor Jose Domingo Perez, who is directly investigating Keiko Fujimori.

There was no truce, nor the so-called “honeymoon”, there was no respect or possible agreement with the right wing; political instability is a questionable fact that causes obstructions with terrible consequences, for example, the acquisition of vaccines, the attention to urgent social problems and the attention as a whole to the crisis generated by the pandemic.

What has been the government’s response?

Pedro Castillo is not a president who knows how to communicate assertively and his few appearances through brief messages to the nation leave much to be desired. He has among his allies the progressive sector led by Verónika Mendoza. Juntos por el Perú took on a co-government with Castillo, made available its congressional bench of 5 seats and was also able to provide some key ministers such as Pedro Francke in the Ministry of Economy. After the disaster caused by the presence of Guido Bellido, progressivism was able to throw a lifeline to Castillo in the person of former congresswoman Mirtha Vásquez (Frente Amplio), who has been in charge of giving a moderate image to the government by assuming the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.

The Question of Confidence is a constitutional mechanism that the Executive Power makes mandatory when requesting the investiture of the President of the Council of Ministers and his Cabinet before the Congress of the Republic; so far in 2021, Peru has had to go through two processes of question of confidence and several interpellations to government ministers, the last one costing the departure of the Minister of Education, Carlos Gallardo.

Far from mobilizing the people that led it to electoral victory, the strategy of the government (Pedro Castillo and allies) has been to create mechanisms to defend democracy and governability. With both Guido Bellido and Mirtha Vásquez, the response has been to continue giving concessions to the right wing to calm its thirst for power. For example, the presence of Oscar Maúrtua in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The mechanisms do not manage to solve the problems since they do not respond to grassroots organizations that represent a real social pressure. Rather, they are reduced to symbolic acts that do not even achieve the effectiveness that the government needs.

How is Peru Libre doing?

Peru Libre reaches Congress with 37 seats; 16 of these come from the sector linked to Vladimir Cerron and 19 from the sector known as “magisterio”. However, after the entry of Mirtha Vásquez in the premiership and the consolidation of the alliance with progressivism in the co-government, Cerrón took away the congressional votes that the government needed to reach the question of confidence. The accusations of Cerronismo have been of all calibers, from the denunciation of Castillo for distancing himself from the Program and Ideology of the party to the alleged domination of “the caviars”; a term they use to refer to the progressives. As a consequence, they have ended up divided and confronted. The bench of Perú Libre presented several resignations, the most important ones: Guillermo Bermejo, main political cadre of Perú Libre and Betsy Chávez, congresswoman for Tacna and current Minister of Labor. Corruption was also not long in coming, since the beginning of Castillo’s government has been marked by scandals. The most significant ones have been the discovery of twenty thousand dollars in one of the bathrooms of the government palace, which led to the resignation of Bruno Pacheco, Secretary General of the Presidency. Likewise, the accusations against Walter Ayala, former Minister of Defense for pressuring former general commanders of the Peruvian Army and Air Force (FAP) to promote officers in an unlawful manner. Currently, the Attorney General’s Office is conducting a preliminary investigation against both characters.

What is in store for the Castillo administration?

Progressivism from its centrist and moderate position means one of the most important alliances on which Pedro Castillo’s government is built. However, the political instability and the governability crisis have not been solved. The tax reforms proposed by Pedro Francke to increase tax collection have been rejected by Congress. Also the promise of a new constitution has been almost forgotten, this serious setback is a concession made to the right in order to achieve the longed-for stability.

Popular disillusionment has not been long in coming; but not precisely because of the betrayals that Vladimir Cerrón loudly denounces. But because from the beginning there was no clear intention or vision on how to make the promise of “no more poor people in a rich country” a reality. While progressivism bets on achieving governability and maintaining the ministries and public positions achieved as a consequence of the co-government, they move further and further away from solving the real needs of the people.

Education is also an important pending issue to be addressed, after two years of loss of classes, the return to face to face classes has been announced for March 2022 for the entire school system, and schools nationwide are beginning to raise their voices because they do not have the minimum budget to implement the health protocols required during the pandemic. Another social conflict announced is the defense of the university reform, and there are already declarations and calls to action from various universities nationwide.

The right wing has a very clear agenda for next year. The vacancy has not ceased to be their main strategy. One after another they will continue to put every minister in the dock. It turns out that the interpellations also serve them to strike and they do it well. They will continue to delve into every detail without regard for the private life or the honor of the people, they are even the ones who best know Castillo’s weaknesses and now they got the support of Cerrón.

Pedro Castillo and his allies remain not only distant but also turning their backs on the people. The new constitution will only be possible with struggle and with the mobilized people. In Peru there is a challenging need to build a leftist alternative, a socialist alternative, an alternative that does not end up giving concessions but rather confronts the right with determination. Beyond the ballot box there is still a lot to do.