Lee is artículo en español.
Translated by Néstor David Pastor.
EEight months later, the administration of Pedro Castillo, whose victory in the 2021 elections was once a symbol of transformation and hope, is now closer to nightmare. The dream of a government that could have laid the foundations for a process of structural transformation seems unrealizable. It’s a blow for the left, as it is for voters who share the current president’s background, habits, cultural practices and common struggles.
As I have already said, the electoral process which led Keiko Fujimori, leader of the controversial Fujimorista (Fuerza Popular) and Pedro Castillo, candidate of the controversial Perú Libre party, in the second round showed the urgency of responding to the historical and long-standing demands of peasants, farmers, teachers, workers and indigenous communities.
It also showed that after all these months, a sector of the opposition with conservative and anti-democratic leanings, and a tendency to sympathize with fascist attitudes, has only been able to present two unsuccessful motions to Congress to impeach the president. Moreover, in just four months of existence, the structure of the Commission of Inquiry for alleged electoral fraud has only resulted in the unnecessary and costly expenditure of 150,000 soles (just over 40,000 dollars). This earned Congress a 79% disapproval rating.
Opposition insists on impeachment of president as means of political control with the intention of ignoring the formality of democratic elections, thus adopting a pro-coup stance rather than a non-conciliatory or proactive stance.
The incomplete first cabinet of Pedro Castillo, led by Prime Minister Guido Bellido, a congressman affiliated with the ruling party, initially raised concerns. The Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Justice were sworn in one day after the official ceremony. Prime Minister Bellido was mired in controversy over homophobic, macho and anti-democratic comments he posted on his social media, as well as being a confidant of Free Peru’s secretary general, Vladimir Cerrón.
President Castillo stood among the main ministries (Economy and Finance, Health, Women, Foreign Relations, Agriculture and Foreign Trade) and representatives of his left-wing political allies who joined him in supporting the second round of elections, mainly political groups Nuevo Perú and Juntos por el Perú. The implementation of the Plan Bicentenario in the first 100 days of his administration was his message to the nation. More than a document, it was a sign of commitment that recognized the contributions of independent professional experts.
The plan tries to solve the immediate problems that threaten the country: health, education, work and the economy. However, the first 100 days were marked by mistakes and weak reforms. Prime Minister Bellido’s confrontational style caused the dollar’s exchange rate to rise, depreciating the national currency, from which the opposition took advantage.
At the beginning of October 2021, the president calls for the resignation of his prime minister, which causes a new political crisis, this time within the political party that brought him to the government palace. The leader of Perú Libre continues to focus on the ongoing persecution of those he considers part of the “caviar(elite) sector, thus reinforcing a pejorative also used by its detractors. Pure nonsense.
Also as part of government shortcomings, in the first 100 days Castillo had to swap nine ministers and reorganize his cabinet twice. The changes came amid a potential rift between a sector with strong ties to the Free Peru leader. No public initiative can survive with so many changes.
In terms of management and public policy, the main actions were: the renegotiation of the Camisea Gas contract; the “Yanapay” economic stimulus payment targeting 13 million people; increase vaccination rates from 15 to 60% of the population; launching of the second agrarian reform; pay the social debt owed to teachers; revoke temporary layoffs that affected thousands of workers; create a national program for women entrepreneurs; pass a law for orphaned children; and a new precautionary emphasis on resolving social conflicts with a multifaceted strategy.
Following the cabinet restructuring, Mirtha Vásquez became Prime Minister. A lawyer also from Cajamarca, Vásquez was known for her role as president of Congress and her career in the defense of environmental and peasant rights. Apparently more open to dialogue, the government seems to be taking shape.
This new firm ended up with five women instead of just two. However, the Perú Libre bloc interpreted this change as a “betrayal” and publicly expressed its opposition. Congress confirmed the cabinet with only 68 votes in favor and 19 protest votes from the Perú Libre bloc. Paradoxically, Free Peru had no problem voting with the same opposition blocs demanding the president’s resignation over higher education reform, sexual and reproductive rights, and electoral reform.
On January 31, 2022, four months after her appointment, Prime Minister Vásquez submitted her letter of resignation. Among her reasons, she pointed to the impossibility of reaching a consensus for the benefit of the country. She also pointed to several potential acts of corruption committed by high-level officials. The cabinet’s internal crisis worsened with the departure of Interior Minister and prosecutor Avelino Guillén, who demanded a new director for Peru’s national police. The president simply did not support it.
Government mismanagement has worsened, and the tools to deal with it appear to be political privilege and a declared war on meritocracy and fitness in public service. On April 2, a new chief of staff was sworn in, only to be forced to resign 72 hours later after it became public knowledge that he had been charged with domestic violence against his late wife and daughter.
Citizen mobilizations then began in response to broken campaign promises and appointments that did not represent demands for change. The president was put on notice.
After this shameful appointment, a fourth Prime Minister was appointed: the then Minister of Justice, Aníbal Torres, also from Cajamarca. The new cabinet was under a magnifying glass. Castillo again backed down in the presence of female appointees and the door was opened to ministers close to the secretary general of Peru Free, in addition to lacking qualifications. His political ally, Nuevo Perú, was left out.
This cabinet represented a recomposition of forces and political alliances which would make it possible to face any attempt to vacancy or censorship of the ministers. The government is once again taking a defensive stance without making the promised changes. Congress wasted no time in censuring the Minister of Health (linked to Free Peru), a doctor seriously questioned for his professional capacity. In the meantime, a new minister has not yet been sworn in.
Finally, the freight transport unions began an indefinite strike on March 28 in Junín, Arequipa, Cusco, Puno, Áncash, Piura, Apurímac and Ayacucho mainly. Their main demands were dialogue with central government authorities regarding rising fuel prices, paying tolls and rising staple food prices. On the sixth day, the first regional demonstration broke out in Junín, putting pressure on the government of Pedro Castillo. This time it was not just transport unions, but farmers who demanded subsidies in the face of rising fertilizer prices. Everyone demanded that the president introduce himself.
The transport union has given the government five days to start responding to its demands. Five deaths and dozens of injuries were reported. On April 7, the president participated in a remote session in Junín with his cabinet of ministers. As a result, a bill was announced to reduce and exempt taxes on fuels and certain foods, respectively. The salaries of the president and ministers were also cut and the minimum wage was increased.
Amid layoffs and the replacement of skilled civil servants with military and sympathizers, a new stage of crisis has emerged that could be an opportunity for President Castillo to push forward fundamental changes involving the civic sector – unlike previous governments that led Peru to the current crisis. Will there be enough support now?
Alejandra Dinegro Martinez is a sociologist at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (UNMSM), with a master’s degree in social policy. She is a columnist and analyst with a background in public management and a former national youth secretary.