Peru’s Presidential Election in Historical Context: “Markets Versus Marxism”

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By Quentin Choy

If you have any knowledge of U.S. involvement in Latin America, you know that there are patterns of American intervention when nations veer too far from policies deemed “acceptable” by the United States.

Peruvians elevated Pedro Castillo to the presidency over Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of a Peruvian dictator. Castillo is a firm leftist on economic policies but holds very conservative social views, making him quite a complex figure.

Pedro Castillo: From Peasant to President

Pedro Castillo, Peru’s president-elect grew up poor as the son of peasant farmers. Castillo has never held public office before, making him one of Latin America’s few leftist leaders who rose from outside of politics. He later became a teacher.

He is a member of the Perú Libre party (Free Peru), a far-left, socialist party in Peru. Castillo holds leftist economic views but staunchly conservative social views. He rejects abortion, same-sex marriage, marijuana consumption, euthanasia, and opposes Venezuelan migration.

For many leftists and international observers, Castillo is a complex figure with his firmly leftist economic policies and firmly conservative social policies.

According to Choice Humanitarian, about 8 million people in Peru live in poverty. Poverty is even higher among indigenous populations usually living in isolated, rural areas.

“Votes from the highest mountain and farthest corner of the country are worth the same as votes from San Isidro and Miraflores. No more making fun of workers, peasant leaders, or teachers. Today we must teach the youth, the children, that we are all equal before the law.”

President-elect Pedro Castillo from The New York Times’ “Pedro Castillo, Leftist Political Outsider, Wins Peru Presidency

Keiko Fujimori: A Family Legacy

Before discussing Keiko Fujimori, the legacy of her family just be discussed first. Her father is former president Alberto Fujimori who led Chile throughout the 1990s.

Fujimori is the son of Japanese immigrants and rose to political power in Peru.

Alberto Fujimori won the election in 1990 and dissolved Congress in 1992. Fujimori is a divisive figure in Peru, and many have referred to him as a dictator.

President Alberto Fujimori in 1998.

Police arrested Alberto Fujimori in 2009 for human rights abuses and was sentenced to jail for 25 years.

Indigenous women died from forced sterilizations under Fujimori’s rule. According to BBC, “more than 270,000 women and 22,000 men were sterilised as part of a government-run birth control programme between 1996 and 2000.”

Since many of the women who were forcibly sterilized spoke the native Quechua language, they were unaware of the procedure being performed on them.

A Quechua family in Peru.

Keiko: A Return to the Past?

To many poor Peruvians, Alberto’s daughter, Keiko represents dark days of her father. Some viewers see her as the elite business-as-usual candidate who holds poor and indigenous populations in contempt.

She ran for the presidency before in 2011 and 2016. The cultural and economic conservatism of her party, Fuerza Popular (Popular Force), is based in the ideology of Fujimorism.

Based on the legacy of her father, Fujimorism emphasizes free markets, neoliberal economics, LGBT rights opposition, and social conservatism.

Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori.

In 2018, police arrested Fujimori in a corruption probe. While campaigning. Keiko Fujimori viewed the 2021 election as historic, calling it a battle between “markets and Marxism.”

Peruvians Cast Their Votes

As voters cast their ballots, it was clear that the election would be a close one. Fujimori and her Popular Force Party dominated in urban areas like Lima. Castillo and his Free Peru Party won votes in rural areas as well as regions with high indigenous populations.

Lima, Peru.

Castillo’s election victory frightened many urban elites living in Lima. NBC News spoke to an attorney in Lima who was concerned about Castillo’s leftist economic policies.

“All of my friends have taken their money abroad, I don’t know anybody who hasn’t withdrawn their money. I wouldn’t keep any money in Peru, not a penny.” 

Attorney in Lima, Peru from NBC News’ “Peru’s elite panics, stashes cash as a socialist looks set to clinch presidency

Rural voters decided Castillo’s razor-thin victory. He won the election with just 50.126% of the vote.

Street graffiti translated to “Fujimori-Montesinos, thieves and murderers.”

The United States, Latin American Leftists and Self-Determination

The United States has always had economic and political interests in Latin America. A long history stands of the United States overthrowing leaders in the region through assassination, covert operation, or full-scale military invasion.

Coups in Guatemala and Brazil, operations in Cuba, and military invasions in Grenada and Panama have set the American precedent in the region.

Invasion of Grenada, 1983.

Peru is the world’s second largest producer of copper. In 1973, the United States supported a coup against leftist leader Salvador Allende in Chile after he planned to nationalize the Chilean copper industry. He was killed in the coup following the military’s aerial bombings of the palace.

The State Department’s own website cited Allende’s leftist economic policies and American copper interests as justifications for the coup.

“The prospect of the nationalization of two of the leading Chilean copper companies, Anaconda and Kennicott—both owned by corporations based in the United States—along with the growth of socialist sentiment throughout the hemisphere led the United States to overtly and covertly send aid and assistance to the Chilean Government, as well as to political parties such as the Christian Democratic Party (PDC).”

From U.S. State Department’s “The Allende Years and the Pinochet Coup, 1969–1973
Chilean leader Salvador Allende.

Leftist economic policies and self-determination have no place in the western hemisphere as long as the United States is watching. There are many examples of political leaders wanting to drift away from American power in the region who have been deposed from power.

In Bolivia, letftist Evo Morales was forced out of power.

Evo Morales.

Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro have been in the United States’ sights for some time now. Venezuela also happens to have some of the world’s largest oil reserves.

Hugo Chavez.

While I hope that Pedro Castillo can be successful in ruling Peru, historical patterns show that he will likely be viewed in a hostile way by the U.S. at some point.

However, the United States congratulated his success and will likely view Castillo cautiously.

“We look forward to the successful transfer of power to the new administration on July 28, 2021 – Peru’s Bicentennial – a fitting occasion to celebrate Peru’s independence.  Together we can ensure that democracy delivers greater opportunities to our countries’ citizens.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken from The Hill’s “Blinken congratulates Peru’s president-elect

Conclusion

Castillo’s win is a victory for leftists, the poor, and indigenous people in Peru. However, if his leadership flops, he could be a future target of American hostilities, especially if he veers too far from what the United States deems “acceptable” in its hemisphere.

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