The day before had been his official inauguration as president. The pomp of Congress. The military solemnity. Marble as a witness of the moment. Now, however, Pedro Castillo watched the infinite horizon of the Andes. It was in the region of Ayacucho, surrounded by mountains and birds that flew over an extensive plain. He wore the presidential sash and the palm hat he was born with. At that moment, he approached a table placed on a red carpet. Above, a small crucifix and a Bible. Then Castillo raised his voice.
– Mr. Guido Bellido Ugarte, do you swear by God and by these holy gospels to carry out with loyalty and fidelity the position of president of the council of ministers that I entrust to you?
– Yes, I swear! – summed up a man wearing a navy blue suit.
– If you do, may God and the country reward you. And if not, let the country sue him.
People applauded. Castillo had not chosen that scenario by chance to make his first big decision as president. On that plain local insurgents defeated the troops of the Spanish monarchy and sealed Peru’s independence two centuries ago. The primary school teacher saw his decision as an extension of the past.
But in Lima, the capital, people rubbed their eyes. Castillo had just elected as strongman of his government a semi-unknown Marxist and Castroist politician from the toughest and most radical wing of the Free Peru Party, for which he disputed the elections. The moderation with which he had faced the second round of elections, in which he relied on more focused and measured politicians, had disappeared. Then began 30 hours of uncertainty that made his cabinet shake even before it was formed.
The most surprised were those closest to Castillo. Among them, two characters who were called to be key figures in his government. Pedro Francke, a renowned economist, and Aníbal Torres, a prestigious lawyer. One would be Minister of Economy, the other of Justice. Both felt Bellido’s appointment as a betrayal. It meant giving power to Vladimir Cerrón, the leader of Free Peru. Bellido acts as a figurehead, he is there to be Cerrón’s eyes. He is a Marxist-Leninist stagnant in Castroism, as if the world were anchored in the sixties of the last century.
The ceremony in Ayacucho concluded shortly after noon, Castillo flew back to Lima. The presidency issued a statement saying that within a few hours the names of the ministers would be made public. What the new president did not expect was to find a rebellion. Francke and Torres resigned as ministers. The moderates, who represent the more centered left, were insulted to see a radical, people from Cerrón, in the most powerful position. The gap left by those who refused to join the Government had to be filled in a few hours. According to the Peruvian press, Castillo’s closest circle probed a dozen alternative candidates. Found a wall. Few wanted to enter into such circumstances.
Meanwhile, Peru has entered a depressive state. The local press was never benevolent towards Castillo. Instead. The European Union electoral mission oversaw the elections and in the end wrote a report that said: “There was clearly biased coverage by most of the private media that favored the FP (the party of Keiko Fujimori, Castillo’s opponent) and undermined the right of voters to receive balanced information”. However, the anguish at that time was general. The government of dialogue, of majorities, which people had hoped for after the elections that fractured the country, no longer seemed possible. Only Cerrón celebrated on Twitter what was happening.
At those times, everyone wanted to know who Bellido, the new prime minister, really was. It turned out that he never held relevant positions of responsibility. Classic middle frame of a party. His university academic record does not shine, he was one of those eternal students. In debates, he denied that Cuba was a dictatorship and that the Shining Path had anything to do with terrorism. The latter earned him an investigation for apology. On social networks, your profile is not pleasant.
In a post on Facebook, he transcribed some words of Fidel Castro, from 1963, in which he stated that the “new man” cannot be “a deer”. One of his contacts warned him that this is reactionary thinking from 60 years ago. He responded with a confused sentence, without periods, commas or question marks, which means: “What’s the difference? They ate the hooves of the sixties deer. It’s the same with the current one”. On another occasion, he referred to a Peruvian businessman and former minister in these terms: “Gay pig”. Later, he asks about a piece of news: “Why do they want to send the Peruvians at any price?”. Cerrón likes this post. Of the suicide of a man who said he could not see his children because of a mother’s impediment, he wrote: “A woman is so destructive and unforgiving when it comes to mixing up her grudges and selfishness. I don’t see any lesbian or gay organizing a mobilization”.
The scene for the ministers’ oath was set. Televisions broadcast from the location. The problem was that there were no names for all the folders. The ceremony was delayed two and a half hours. The country was in suspense. Francke left the venue, crestfallen. He would not join the cabinet, he refused. He, who had met with businessmen and ambassadors to tell them that in this government there would be no expropriation or intervention in the currency, as Castillo had once suggested at his rallies. His mere presence had calmed the markets. Francke has influence and recognition in Lima, where the country’s major business decisions are taken. Without him, confidence in the Government was in doubt.
But the composition of Castillo’s team must continue. Two and a half hours late, the president appeared on stage and took the oath of more than a dozen ministers. Only two women. The main folders, Economy and Justice, were left vacant. Castillo finally went to rest in the apartment where he has lived for a few months. It had been a long day. It started with euphoria in Ayacucho and ended with disappointment in Lima. Heavy clouds hung over the president.
At dawn, however, Francke showed up at the apartment. When everything seemed to be over. The cameras recorded him entering after midnight and leaving two hours later. Didn’t say a word.
The next morning, the pessimism was absolute. The front pages of newspapers and editorials were demolishing. No nuances. Political analysts of all stripes looked baffled. Criticism fell on Castillo from all sides, including from his allies. The improvisation and some turns that the primary teacher took in the campaign had raised doubts about his way of making decisions, but no one expected such a scenario 48 hours after his inauguration. The market resented it. The Stock Exchange fell 6%. The dollar reached its highest quotation in Peru. Exchange houses have placed a price hitherto never seen: “Four soles per dollar”.
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Cerrón celebrated “the new cabinet”. But Castillo had to straighten out. Opposition parties had already warned him that Bellido would not pass the Congressional vote next Thursday. The House must approve the new team by a simple majority that the president and his allies do not currently have. Castillo then approached Francke, who asked for conditions to return. First, that Cerrón not participate in any of the Executive’s meetings. Second, let Bellido’s hateful comments cease. Aníbal Torres demanded similar conditions. They didn’t seem easy to concede, it implied that Cerrón and his people would recant. There were hours of negotiation and uncertainty. The moderates called for a public and forceful gesture from the radicals. And it came, a surprise.
Bellido wrote a tweet in clear support for the university professor: “Pedro Francke has our full support for the application of the stability economic policy”. He later signed a statement as chairman of the council of ministers. There it ratified its commitment to democracy, governability and human rights, all of which had been in doubt when looking at its history. He added: “I categorically reject all forms of violence and terrorism in all its extremes.” This is understood to distance himself from doubts about the Shining Path, a communist-inspired terrorist group that caused panic in the 1990s. Its mere mention in Peru creates discomfort. the word path [sendeiro] it has been banned from common parlance even to designate a path.
But let’s go back to Bellido’s communiqué, because there is more. Ali said that he is the son of Quechua peasants who suffered discrimination in their own flesh, and he certainly has reason to. In the rejection of Castillo and his government there are also good doses of racism. The population of Los Andes was often seen and treated as second-rate. A radicalized sector at the other extreme believes that the command corresponds by natural mandate to the wealthy classes in Lima. This was the context that polarized the election between Castillo and Fujimori. Bellido, as Francke demanded, also rectified his comments on social media: “Together we will overcome racism, classism, machismo and homophobia that are deeply rooted in society”.
The first step was taken. The moderates were satisfied. The radicals had scored the first goal by placing a prime minister from their group, but had to rectify it in public. On Friday night, Francke and Torres were sworn in as ministers. It was a way to end the crisis. It was a day and a half of tension, of a schism that even called Pedro Castillo’s government into question. The professor experienced in his early days the turmoil of power.
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