Peru has a new president and some citizens have been preparing for the worst

Peru recently experienced the closest presidential election in its history. After the second round of voting, much-criticized candidate Pedro Castillo won by a bit more than 44,000 votes over his rival, Keiko Fujimori. The official result was announced on July 19, declaring Castillo’s victory over Fujimori. The announcement came more than a month after the vote. 

Because of Peru’s experience with governments that have taken socialist approaches to power, some Peruvians fear Castillo’s idea to “return resources to the people.” Amidst Castillo’s ascension to the presidency, those citizens are taking precautions they feel are necessary to secure their assets from the new leftist government. The country is divided as it welcomes its new president, who took office July 28.

The events of this story are still occurring and developing.

Elections in a Polarized Country

In this year’s Peruvian election, representatives of two parties of opposing platforms ran for the presidency –Castillo of the leftist Peru “Libre” party and Fujimori of the conservative “Fuerza” Popular” party.

According to Peru’s National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE), Castillo received 50.17% of the votes in the second round of voting on June 6, leaving Fujimori trailing behind with 49.88% of the votes. Though this seemed to be the final tally, days passed and still the results were not finalized. 

Graphic by Giuliana La Mendola

Judith Mansilla, historian and assistant professor of Latin American studies at Florida International University, explained how distinct this election has been from those in the past.

“In any regular election process, we would’ve known the result about four or five days after the vote,” said Mansilla, who is Peruvian “But because of the annulation requests, it was over a month before the results were announced.”

The June 6 results could not be legitimized because several claims of voter fraud were brought to Peru’s National Electoral Jury (JNE). Though cases were made by both parties, about 800 of them came from Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular party, compared to the few dozen from her opponent.

The JNE is the only political body with the power to announce the official victor of the presidential elections, but it cannot do so when there are pending claims. This review process, which was expected to last only a couple of weeks, lasted almost two months.

On July 19, the JNE declared Castillo Peru’s new president-elect. He took his oath to office on July 28, the 200th anniversary of Peru’s Independence.

Some are wary of Castillo’s plans

During the late 1960s, Peruvian General Juan Velasco Alvarado overthrew President Fernando Belaunde Terry in a military coup. After taking office in 1968, Velasco vowed to finally give power to the forgotten average and poor population of Peru. These claims sound very similar to Castillo’s campaign leading up to his election.

Pedro Castillo (right) takes his oath to the presidency beside Maria del Carmen Alva, president of Congress, on July 28, 2021. (via Centros de Noticias del Congreso Peruano)

Velasco confiscated land from wealthier families and nationalized industries like mining and fishing, all of which crashed due to a lack of infrastructure. His attempt to bring education to all parts of Peru failed as there were not enough resources to maintain the schools and universities.

Ricardo Vizquerra, a former Peruvian farmer, explained that his experience during Velasco’s regime was difficult for him and his family.

“I lost all my lands when Velasco took the presidency in a military coup,” Vizquerra said.

(click above for a Spanish language interview with Vizquerra.)

“After he took all of my family’s land away, it took me 14 years to and hundreds of miscellaneous jobs to save up enough money for a couple of acres of land,” Vizquerra said. “I fear the worst is coming with [Castillo] in office.”

During the campaign, Castillo vowed to nationalize the hydraulic and mining industries. He also pledged to bring quality, free education to even the most rural parts of the country. Most importantly, he wants to rewrite the constitution to rid the country of monopolies and bring opportunity to the people.

Because of the similarities between Velsasco’s regime and Castillo’s future plans for Peru, some Peruvians are trying to secure as much of their property as they can.

The Shadow Looming Over Fujimori’s Shot at the Presidency

In 1990, the Peruvian people were concerned about inflation and terrorism, and voted Alberto Fujimori, father to 2021 presidential candidate, Keiko Fujimori, into office. The senior Fujimori was well-known for his economic achievements and the fight against terrorism during the ten years after he annulled the first constitution and ruled as an authoritarian dictator. Later in his second term, several accounts of human rights infringements, corruption and bribery arose, and he was sentenced him to 25 years in prison. 

During Keiko Fujimori’s third run for the presidency, she tried to outrun the shadows of her father’s corruption scandals. Fujimori, who has faced little criticism for her positions, won majority support from Congress and garnered seemingly endless campaign funding.

Mansilla, the Peruvian-born FIU professor, said that she voted for Castillo because she could not bring herself to vote for Fujimori due to the fear of the dictatorship that occurred in the late ’90s during her father’s regime.

“For me, [Keiko] Fujimori represents a legacy of oppression and a government full of corruption,” said Mansilla. “Castillo lacks the experience and the support from Congress to truly cause any real change. I’ll be surprised if he lasts two years, but I’m glad that Fujimori will not rule over Peru.

The election of Castillo was a sign that the countryside is tired.”

(click above for a Spanish language interview with Mansilla.)

Peruvians are looking for a way out

The electoral victory of a little-known socialist teacher has raised fear among the small but powerful Peruvian elite. In response to Castillo’s promises to lead with a mandate that is “inclusive, fair and free,” groups of Peruvians have been leaving the country with whatever they could legally withdraw from their savings and retirement funds.

Steven Joseph, an American man who married into a Peruvian family and runs a business in Peru, says that Peruvians have been moving their money out of Peru since Castillo proved to be a contender for the presidency.

“Everyone who I know that is living in Peru has taken their money abroad. I do not know anyone who has not removed it,” Joseph said. “That includes people from the business sector and my extended family.”

“A big part of the business sector is skeptical of what this new government will do to specific segments that really drive the Peruvian economy.”

(click above for a Spanish language interview with Joseph.)

Mansilla said that she knows that her family back home wants to secure assets.

“My mother has two small properties in Lima, and she told me she’d like to sell at least one of them,” Mansilla said. “My family believes that Castillo is a communist and that he will just take everything away.”

During his acceptance speech on July 28, Castillo assured that he would not take any citizens’ funds as many believed.

“Sadly during the campaign, the people were manipulated and scared into thinking that [Peru Libre] would want to expropriate savings, properties, cars, and other kinds of property, which is completely and utterly false,” Castillo said. “We don’t want to do any of that because we want the economy to maintain order and predictability, the basis of investment.”

In the first week of his presidency, Castillo completed the formation of his cabinet with the additions of Pedro Francke as new Minister of Economics and Finances, and Anibal Torres, new Minister of Justice and Human Rights. He will now begin to act on his five-year plan. One issue might be the controversy surrounding his party’s affiliation with terrorist groups like Sendero Luminoso.

Giuliana La Mendola is currently a junior at FIU majoring in Journalism and minoring in Nutrition. She hopes to combine her passions for writing and fitness to become a free-lance journalist in the health industry.