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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Outside in

Pedro Castillo, a school teacher, is Peru’s president-elect. For the non-politician, there are lessons from his country’s history

By: Editorial |
Updated: July 21, 2021 7:55:54 am
Outside inA public school teacher from the rural north of Peru, Pedro Castillo has never held public office.

Pedro Castillo is, at last, Peru’s president-elect. It took the country’s election authorities over a month to finally declare a result: Right-wing leader Keiko Fujimori lost by just 44,000 votes. A public school teacher from the rural north of Peru, Castillo has never held public office. He rose to prominence when he led the country’s largest teachers’ strike in three decades in 2017. Poverty, uneven development, proliferating plutocrats — the themes on which Peru’s new leader sought his mandate are not new. The socialist “outsider” will have his task cut out for him.

With the exception of Costa Rica, every country in the region has been ruled by a US-supported autocrat at least once in the 20th century. That began to change in the 1990s, and for much of this century, a wave of democratisation promised that young, non-elite leaders who spoke of dismantling entrenched corruption, inequality and social injustice would finally be able to reach and occupy high office. Evo Morales in Bolivia, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Lula in Brazil — each of these leaders rose on a left plank, part of what has been called the Pink Tide, and each was tarnished by power in varying degrees.

In Castillo, many see an echo of Salvador Allende. But in some ways, there is a parallel closer home as well. The AAP and Arvind Kejriwal came to the limelight thanks to an anti-politician stance, they were “outsiders” promising to reform the system from within. The lesson for Peru’s new president from their experience might be that mere projection of idealism isn’t enough. It also needs to be tempered with political resolve and wisdom. Only then can leaders and governments deliver on the promise of change.

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