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Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo gestures at supporters from a balcony of his party's headquarters in Lima on June 7, 2021. Photo: Luka Gonzalez/AFP via Getty Images
Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo gestures at supporters from a balcony of his party's headquarters in Lima on June 7, 2021. Photo: Luka Gonzalez/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Progressives applaud people of Peru in aftermath of tight presidential election

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It appears that Pedro Castillo will be the next president of Peru, following a days-long election count that saw the right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori allege fraud after Castillo emerged with the lead. 

The final vote count gave Castillo a slim margin of 50.17% to 49.83% over Fujimori, amounting to about 60,000 more votes in his favor. While the election continues to be contested, it should be noted that the margin is actually bigger than the .24% margin Fujimori lost to Pedro Paglo Kuczynski in Peru’s 2016 presidential election. 

Peru’s electoral authority has yet to confirm Castillo’s victory, and Fujimori has also refused to concede, alleging election fraud even though national and international observers have already certified there was no foul play. Still, Fujimori has called for up to 500,000 votes to be nullified or reexamined, forcing the electoral board to conduct a review before the election can be called in Castillo’s favor. 

In the meantime, Peru continues without a president, and the ratification process has felt endless for Peruvians.

Castillo, a teacher from rural Peru and son of illiterate farmers, flew under the radar on an international scale until just recently. He claimed his victory on June 10 after months of campaigning that can be seen as a model for how to reach rural areas and how to engage hard-to-reach demographic groups in elections. 

Despite the pandemic, which has hit Peru particularly hard, Castillo campaigned across the rural Andes mountains, bringing his campaign directly to the people who are often overlooked in favor of metropolitan areas

He is known to have traveled on horseback, promising to work towards closing the poverty gap and to form a constituent assembly charged with writing a new “people’s” constitution.

On Thursday, Castillo reiterated that his government would be “respectful of democracy,” the current constitution, and of financial and economic stability. 

Even though his opponent has not officially conceded and an official victor has yet to be declared by the government, a host of world leaders, especially in Latin America, have already congratulated Castillo’s victory.

Argentina's President, Alfredo Fernandez, was the first world leader to congratulate Castillo. He took to Twitter to write that he had contacted the “President-Elect” and expressed wishes to join forces for the benefit of the region. Fernandez’s premature congratulations caused some controversy within Peru’s electoral authority as votes continued to be counted, but slowly the chips have continued to fall in Castillo’s favor. 

In Brazil, former left-wing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is expected to challenge far-right Jair Bolsonaro in the country's 2022 presidential election, applauded Castillo’s apparent victory, painting it as a symbolic blow against far-right regimes in Latin America. 

Former president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, also congratulated Castillo, calling him a “companion” in their struggle. 

On June 11, the U.S. Progressive Caucus released its own statement on the ongoing developments in Peru. 

Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Vice Chair At-Large Chuy García (IL-04), Chair Emeriti Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03) and Barbara Lee (CA-13), Whip Ilhan Omar (MN-05), and Executive Board Member At-Large Jan Schakowsky (IL-09) expressed their joint “support for the democratic process in Peru” in a statement outlining their hope that the results of the people’s decision will be respected.  

“We congratulate the people of Peru for carrying out a free and fair election, and we hope that it will help resolve some of the political instability, polarization, and the loss of public confidence in democratic institutions,” the members wrote. 

They went on to stress the importance of U.S.-Peruvian relations, emphasizing the economic and political challenges the country continues to confront, but calling on inside and outside entities to respect the will of voters. 

“We express our support for a return to well-functioning democratic institutions in Peru. For that to happen, the first step is for everyone — both inside and outside of Peru — to respect the will of the electorate,” they wrote.

The lawmakers cited that in the past week alone, the Peruvian government has announced that the number of deaths from COVID-19 had soared to 180,000 — three times higher than previously reported — putting Peru at or near the highest COVID-19 death rate in the world. 

The pandemic has also caused Peru to suffer severe economic hardship, including an 11% decline in GDP in 2020, a near-doubling of unemployment to 15.3%, and a 27% increase in poverty. 

Peruvians’ confidence in democratic institutions has also declined in recent years in light of corruption charges against top leaders in the country. 

Since 2016, three former presidents have been arrested for corruption, and a fourth committed suicide prior to arrest. 

In November 2020, former President Martin Vizcarra was impeached by Peru’s Congress in a move that was widely considered an illegal congressional coup, leading to demonstrations that were met with violence.

Fujimori herself has jail time on the line once the election is ratified in Castillo’s favor. 

She has been indicted on charges of corruption and money laundering, and had also pledged, if elected, to pardon her father, who was convicted of involvement in gross human rights violations, including murders and kidnappings.

Fujimori has already spent more than a year in pretrial detention, accused of receiving more than $17 million in illegal campaign funds and heading a criminal organization. She could face a 30-year jail term if convicted of the allegations, which she denies, calling them politically motivated.

Outside on a balcony, expressing his gratitude for the Peruvian voters who came out to vote for him, Castillo delivered a message: 

“I come here to tell the Peruvian people, not only to express my gratitude, but also my appreciation to the men and women of this country who have stood up here and abroad, to the brothers who are outside the country that they have been mobilized for democracy.”

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