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Peru’s ex-president faces fanaticism for his impoverished past

When Pedro Castillo won Peru’s presidency last year, it was celebrated as a victory by the country’s poor – the peasants and indigenous peoples who live deep in the Andes and whose struggles have long been ignored.

His supporters hoped that Castillo, a populist underdog with humble roots, would right their lot – or at least end their invisibility.

But for 17 months in office before being ousted and detained on Wednesday, supporters have instead seen Castillo face the racism and discrimination they often face. He was mocked for wearing a traditional hat and poncho, ridiculed for his accent, and criticized for incorporating Indigenous ceremonies into formal events.

Protests against Castillo’s government featured a donkey – a symbol of ignorance in Latin America – with a hat similar to his. The attacks were endless, so much so that observers from the Organization of American States documented it during a recent mission to the deeply unequal and divided country.

Castillo, however, squandered the popularity he enjoyed among the poor, as well as any opportunity he had to deliver on his promises to improve their lives, when he stunned the nation by ordering the dissolution of Congress on Wednesday, followed by his ousting and his arrest for rebellion. . His act of political suicide, which recalled some of the darkest days of the country’s undemocratic past, came hours before Congress launched a third impeachment attempt against him.

Now that Castillo is in custody and the country is ruled by its former vice president, Dina Boluarte, it remains to be seen whether she too will face the same discrimination.

Boluarte, a lawyer who worked at the state agency that distributes identity documents before becoming vice president, is also not part of Peru’s political elite. She grew up in a poor town in the Andes, speaks one of the country’s indigenous languages, Quechua, and, a leftist like Castillo, has vowed to “fight for dummies.”

The Organization of American States, in a report published last week, noted that in Peru “there are sectors that promote racism and discrimination and do not accept that someone outside the traditional political circles occupies the chair presidential”.

“It resulted in insults to the president’s image,” he said.

After being sworn in as president on Wednesday, Boluarte called for a truce with lawmakers who ousted Castillo for “permanent moral incapacity.”

Peru has had six presidents in the past six years. In 2020, he rode three in a week.

Castillo, a rural schoolteacher, had never held office before narrowly winning a runoff in June 2021 after campaigning on promises to nationalize Peru’s key mining industry and rewrite the constitution, winning broad support in the poor countryside.

Peru is the second largest copper exporter in the world and mining accounts for almost 10% of its gross domestic product and 60% of its exports. But its economy has been crushed by the coronavirus pandemic, increasing poverty and wiping out a decade’s gains.

Castillo beat by just 44,000 votes one of the most recognizable names in Peru’s political class: Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former strongman Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for the murder of Peruvians executed under his government by an underground army team.

Supporters of Keiko Fujimori have often called Castillo “terruco,” or terrorist, a term often used by the right to attack the left, the poor and rural dwellers.

Once in office, Castillo went through more than 70 ministerial picks, a number of which were accused of wrongdoing; faced two impeachment votes and faced multiple criminal investigations on charges ranging from influence peddling to plagiarism.

Omar Coronel, professor of sociology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, said while accusations of corruption and criticism of Castillo’s lack of experience have merit, they were tinged with racism, “a constant in any Peruvian equation “.

“You can criticize his political inexperience, his clumsiness, his crimes,” Coronel said. But the way it was phrased, because Castillo was from a rural community with different customs, “is deeply racist and extremely hypocritical rhetoric” because right-wing presidents have also faced allegations of corruption.

“Social media has been inundated with visceral racism over these 17 months,” Coronel said.

Some of Castillo’s remaining supporters have been protesting and blocking roads across the country since his arrest. They also gathered outside the detention center where he and Alberto Fujimori are being held.

“They called him all kinds of discriminatory words,” Fernando Picatoste, a Castillo supporter, said outside the prison on Friday. “It’s a race issue. In Congress, lawmakers, who are supposed to have national representation, have the audacity to insult the president.”


Associated Press writer Franklin Briceño contributed to this report.

The Independent Gt

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