New opportunities in Peru

The second round of the presidential elections in Peru, which takes place on Sunday 6 June, will see left candidate, Pedro Castillo, line up in a run-off with the right-wing candidate, Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the former dictator Alberto Fujimori.

The first round of the presidential contest was held on April 11, along with elections for the National Congress and the Andean Parliament. The big winner of the day was the left-wing party, Peru Libre, whose presidential candidate, Pedro Castillo, came first, with 2.687 million votes, a 19.1% vote share, in an election with eighteen presidential candidates. His party also came first in the Peruvian Congress poll and in the election of members of the Andean Parliament, with a similar percentage of the vote. Peru Libre will have 28 Congress representatives.

Veronica Mendoza, who as the left-facing Broad Front candidate in the last presidential elections in 2016 received 18.7% of the votes in the first round, now only obtained a poll share of 7.8%, losing 1.76 million votes on her 2016 score. This is the result of her effort not to appear as a ‘radical left’, making declarations to distance herself from Venezuela for example, while making overtures to the business sector. Appearing as too much like the decayed political caste abhorred by her own electorate, Mendoza was abandoned by her supporters. The party she now leads won even less support for its congressional candidates, at just 6.8%.

No analyst foresaw the exponential growth of support for Pedro Castillo, the socialist and trade unionist from the most militant wing of the teachers’ union, along with the growth of his party, Peru Libre. An important layer of Peruvian voters has politically expressed its indignation and desperation about the permanent political crisis and the lack of effective action by the state, especially in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic. This has led to 55,230 deaths and impoverished the population. The United Nations Children’s Agency, UNICEF, for example, has warned that poverty will increase from 20.2% to 30.3%. Amongst those under 18 years of age, poverty will increase by 13%.

The country was already in a situation of permanent political crisis before the arrival of Covid-19. Since the dictator Alberto Fujimori fled Peru in 2000, every president has been involved in cases of notorious corruption or has been impeached by Congress. The depth of the institutional political crisis in Peru is such that the traditional parties have disappeared or, at most, remain a legal shell without any real content. In the recent elections, the so-called political centre has been the great loser; in Congress, there will be eleven different blocks. To this division must be added an even greater polarisation.

Keiko Fujimori, who has been indicted for corruption and who many Peruvians believe deserves jail, has gone into the second round to face Pedro Castillo. She is the daughter of the former dictator, Alberto Fujimori, once convicted for multiple human rights crimes. Keiko Fujimori is the leader of the Popular Force Party, which claims the legacy of Fujimori’s dictatorship. For some time, she has been under investigation for corruption. The state prosecution submitted evidence in an 18,000-page document and demanded a 30-year prison sentence for her.

The right-wing went to the elections divided, with several presidential candidates. In the second electoral round, however, Keiko is likely to be successful if the diverse conservative voters regroup and vote for her, out of fear of reforms or social revolution should Pedro Castillo win. This still can block the way for Pedro Castillo and the Peru Libre party. However, even if this is the case, both the next government and Congress will be very weak.

The state abandoned all its social responsibilities as a result of the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori. He privatised everything he could, and together with his henchman, Vladimiro Montecinos, plundered all they could. The lack of state services has probably never been more noticeable than in the midst of a pandemic. The public health system cannot guarantee oxygen to patients whose families do not have the resources to purchase health services.

Peru has been one of the countries most affected by the coronavirus pandemic in terms of both health and the economy. The United States, Peru and Brazil, are the three countries with the highest ratio of Covid deaths per 100,000 population in the Americas. Measures to try to control the progression of the disease in Peru, along with the disruption of the international economy, caused the country’s GDP to fall by 17.4% during the first half of 2020.

The central slogan of Peru Libre is “no more poor people in a rich country”. The party was founded in the region of Cajamarca, the poorest of Peru’s regions, despite being a region of great mining wealth.

In its ideology and programme, Peru Libre claims “to be an organisation of the socialist left … To be of the left it is necessary to embrace Marxist theory and with its light interpret all the phenomena occurring in the world, continent, and national society, its causes and effects, and from this diagnosis propose criteria for solutions that lead to the satisfaction of the majority of the people. Likewise, the Mariateguist ideas [the old left-wing Partido Unificado Mariateguista party founded in 1984] are of vital importance with respect to our national, Latin American and even world reality”.

In the same programme, they denounce the left that lives in permanent opposition without a governmental programme. They attack the left that has given up its historical mission and whose figures opted for the path of social enterprise, to become ‘labour-friendly’ businesses. They accuse Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) of vile treason of the people. A central political objective of Peru Libre is the convening of a Constituent Assembly to replace the 1993 constitution that was imposed by Fujimori’s coup d’état.

In its programme, Peru Libre also propose robust participation of the state in the economy, the nationalisation of strategic sectors, increasing the current 3.5% of GDP allocated to public education – and the 5.4% of GDP spent on public health – to ten percent for each of them. In health, Peru Libre proposes the creation of a universal, free, quality system. They propose to strengthen the national state pension system and gradually eliminate the private pension system.

Peru Libre’s presidential candidate, Pedro Castillo, emerged as a national labour leader from his role as a union member of the teachers’ union CONARE. The largest union in Peru numerically is the Sindicato Unitario de Trabajadores en la Educación del Perú (SUTEP) which organises teachers from state schools. A sector of the union, frustrated by the constant agreements made by the SUTEP leadership with governments, formed the National Committee for the Reorientation of SUTEP – CONARE.

CONARE has a history of struggle – it led a national strike in 2004. In June 2007, CONARE led a new indefinite strike to fight against ‘teacher evaluations’ that ended job stability enjoyed by Peruvian teachers and the municipalisation of public schools in a way similar to the measures used in Chile to privatise education. SUTEP joined the strike in July 2007.

The electoral gains of Peru Libre, which in the course of the campaign grew and strengthened, opens a new possibility to build a workers’ party in Peru based on mass organisations and with a genuinely socialist programme.

Patricio Guzmán, Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI Chile)