Peru: Election conflict during COVID

June 29, 2021

From the July-August 2021 issue of News & Letters

Pedro Castillo campaigning, May 16, 2021. Photo: Wikipedia, PROF. JHOJAN RAMOS.

As we go to press, a Peruvian post-presidential election battle between Pedro Castillo, a union activist and former schoolteacher, and Keiko Fujimori, a right-wing neoliberal and daughter of the jailed authoritarian former President Alberto Fujimori, is raging. Competing demonstrations have been organized in the streets of Lima, the capital. The results, which have not been finalized, show Castillo leading by a little over 40,000 votes from the millions cast. Fujimori’s party, Fuerza Popular, has filed hundreds of demands against alleged electoral fraud without any proof.

Dozens of former military officers have directly called on the military not to accept a Castillo victory, in a seeming appeal for a military coup.

Fujimori has made it clear that she intends to continue neoliberal economic rule, which has led to an economic disaster in the year-plus of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic Peru was declared “an economic success,” due to increased mining and agricultural exports. But the hollowness of this claim has been exposed during the pandemic.

Much of the economy is dependent on informal workers with no safety net, who could not work but could not stay home if they wanted to survive. Tens of thousands left Lima and other cities—many on foot—to return to their home villages to survive.

The neoliberal Peruvian government provided no aid, and has invested almost nothing in healthcare. “They asked us to stay at home, but a lot of people have no savings so that was impossible. They asked us to wash our hands, but only one in three poor households has access to running water,” noted one Peruvian researcher. Half of Peruvian homes do not have refrigerators, meaning families need to go daily to crowded markets. Under these conditions COVID-19 infections, followed by deaths, exploded to one of the highest death-per-population ratios in the world. Hospitals were overwhelmed, with people dying for lack of oxygen.

What Peru is experiencing is not alone a health and sanitation crisis, but a devastating social-economic crisis.

It is under these conditions that the Presidential elections have been held. Who is Pedro Castillo? That is not yet clear. Fujimori, in typical red-baiting fashion, calls him a Communist. Certainly, the neoliberal Right fears his “socialist” plans. But a number of Latin American countries have recently experienced a type of “socialism” which only ended up in statism. Whether Castillo, if he survives Fujimori and friends’ attempt at a coup, can construct—with social movements, unions and Indigenous organizations—a viable alternative to neoliberial authoritarian rule without falling into statism, remains to be seen.

—Eugene Walker

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