Lima (AP) – Exactly 200 years after Peru’s declaration of independence, new president Pedro Castillo wants to set the South American country on a new course.
“We are a government of the people,” the leftist politician said after being sworn in at Congress in Lima. “Peru is now ruled by a peasant.” The former village school teacher promised “a new constitution and a new Peru”.
In his inaugural address, he also announced the creation of one million jobs in one year, government support for poor families and investment in the education sector. “We want to build a more prosperous and fairer country.” He also pledged to reform the health system and build new hospitals in rural Peru.
Political Newcomers Face Huge Challenges
The teacher, farmer and unionist Castillo had never held political office until he was elected president. The challenges for the new head of state are enormous: Peru is suffering particularly hard from the corona pandemic. It is one of the countries with the highest death rate in the world and its economy collapsed by 12.9 percent. The past year has been marked by bitter conflict between the government and Congress.
The narrow election results also made clear how deeply divided Peru is. Castillo called on his compatriots to start over together. “We must put aside ideological differences, political views and interests in order to lead our country out of the grave crisis that plagues us.”
Castillo narrowly beat right-wing populist Keiko Fujimori in a second round. The daughter of ex-ruler Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), who was imprisoned for human rights violations, subsequently filed a series of complaints. It was only last week that Castillo was officially declared the winner of the election.
However, it is unclear whether Castillo can carry out his political ideas. His Marxist-Leninist party, Perú Libre, does not have a majority in Congress. So Castillo has to forge alliances to get his agenda through.
Support for farmers and indigenous peoples
However, with his inauguration, a different wind could blow in the government district of Lima. Despite a large proportion of the indigenous population in the Peruvian population, the country has been largely controlled by the white elites until now. Castillo, on the other hand, grew up on a farm in Cajamarca in the Andes; his parents were illiterate.
He knows from personal experience that the farmers and indigenous peoples have hardly benefited from the strong economic growth in Peru in recent years and often still live in abject poverty. For example, in the future, profits from mining should benefit the regions more, Castillo said. “If a project does not generate social benefits, it will not be carried out.”
The left-wing politician also used his inaugural address to allay fears of an agenda that was too radical: “We don’t want to nationalize branches of the economy, private property is guaranteed.” According to reports, the more moderate economist Pedro Francke will be the Minister of Economic Affairs in his cabinet.
Castillo also wants to symbolically distinguish himself from his predecessors. He announced that he would not rule from the presidential palace. “We need to break with the colonial symbols to break the shackles of rule that have existed for so many years.” The Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro already lived in a building on the site of the current presidential palace.