A year since his moonshot ascent to Peru’s highest office, socialist President Pedro Castillo is in the throes of political crisis.
Sworn in last July, the campesino teacher and union leader from rural Peru today faces mounting corruption allegations, a grim approval rating and a stillborn legislative agenda thwarted by an opposition-dominated congress.
One year into his five-year term, Castillo has survived two impeachment attempts, a whiplash-inducing change of cabinet ministers, and deepening economic and political strife.
Last summer, Castillo, a political fledgling and son of illiterate farmers, stormed into Lima from his native Cajamarca in Peru’s northern Andes. An improbable frontman for his Marxist Free Peru party, he promised to rewrite Peru’s constitution, redistribute mineral wealth and resuscitate a nation reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Backed by a coterie of peasant supporters, his message confounded Peru’s left-wing bourgeoisie and shook business and political elites. Rarely seen without his trademark straw hat, Castillo fired up campesino and Indigenous Peruvians with a simple mandate: “No more poor people in a rich country.”
His deeply unpopular far-right challenger, Keiko Fujimori, daughter of Peruvian strongman Alberto Fujimori, admonished voters that Castillo’s economic policies would steer the country into a crisis similar to Venezuela’s. But to many among Peru’s exasperated electorate, which had endured four presidents and two congresses in five years, both candidates represented dangerous extremes. Castillo won by just 44,000 votes in a runoff election last June.
“When he came into office, it’s not at all that he enjoyed the mandate of a majority,” Cynthia McClintock, a political science professor at George Washington University, told Al Jazeera. “He faced a congress in which forces on the right were very opposed to him, and a lot of people voted for him very worried.”
Days after assuming office, Castillo drew fire for naming a number of inexperienced and hardline nominees to his cabinet, some with alleged criminal ties. His fealty to Marxist Free Peru’s party boss, Vladimir Cerron, raised the spectre that he would embrace regional autocrats and enact a radical agenda that would spook foreign investment.
Amid multiple cabinet reshuffles, his marquee campaign promises, including amending Peru’s 1993 dictatorship-era constitution, were rebuffed by congress. In March, he survived a second impeachment attempt, driven by right-wing parties who cited “moral incapacity” and corruption allegations.
In May, Peru’s attorney general revealed that Castillo would be included in a corruption probe into his alleged role as ringleader of a “criminal network” within his transportation ministry, which purportedly received bribes for public works contracts. Castillo, who testified before prosecutors in June, has denied wrongdoing. He is the first president in Peru’s history to be investigated by national prosecutors while in office.