Simeon Tegel

How long can Peru’s new socialist leader last?

(Photo: Getty Images)

The symbolism could hardly have been clearer when Pedro Castillo was sworn in yesterday as Peru’s new President on the country’s 200th anniversary of independence. For arguably the first time in its history, Peru has a head-of-state who personifies the national majority — a campesino hailing from a particularly impoverished region of the northern Andes — rather than a member, real or honorary, of the largely white Lima elite.

Given Peru’s persistent, stark inequality, drastically exacerbated by the pandemic, perhaps the biggest surprise is that the electorate has waited until now to vote in such a radical left-populist. Although the rabblerousing rural school teacher currently appears to be tacking towards the centre, he had originally promised to nationalise Peru’s vast mining sector and ban imports of any goods already produced domestically.

His first, Marxian campaign manifesto, which he now claims to have ditched, even cited Lenin in asserting that the media can never be free under ‘the yoke of capital’. When democracy protests broke out in Cuba earlier this month, Castillo, 51, was quick to express his support — but training his aim on the ‘antihuman and immoral’ US blockade rather than the Havana dictatorship’s abuses.

Castillo is set for a lonely and potentially brief presidency

No wonder, perhaps, that some have been citing Castillo’s dark horse victory as the latest indication that Latin America is once again turning leftwards, with a new ‘pink tide’ already in power in Argentina, Bolivia and Mexico, and Brazil and Chile set to follow suit.

The prosaic truth, however, is that Castillo is set for a lonely and potentially brief presidency, likely more similar to those of Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo or Honduras’s Manuel Zelaya, leftist leaders prematurely ousted in constitutionally dubious moves.

On the one hand, he will face a Congress dominated by the conservative opposition — less than a year after the previous legislature established the precedent, with the unseating of Martín Vizcarra, that presidents can be swiftly impeached, even without cause.

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