On the day the bicentenary of Peru’s independence was celebrated, July 28, 2021, Pedro Castillo (Free Peru) assumed the presidency for a five-year term (2021-2026).
The inauguration would symbolize the country’s belated participation in what has been called the ‘pink tide’: the wave of leftist governments that swept through Latin America in the first decade of the 21st century and part of the second.
I maintain that this cycle is over, that we are at another time in the region.
In fact, whether the regional cycle is exhausted or not, Castillo faces national dilemmas: some long-term, others more immediate.
Long-term ones are linked to the poverty and informality of its economy and the secular division between Costa and Serra. The most immediate is to survive until the end of the mandate – something unlikely.
The tide rises and falls
The “pink tide” is an exhausted cycle. It took place in a different context, in reaction to the neoliberal political cycle of the 1990s.
It has benefited from the rise in international commodity prices (the basis of Latin American economies) and from a certain lack of attention on the part of the American government towards the region, focused on the so-called ” war on terrorism ”.
It was characterized by independent foreign policy strategies, increased social investments, experiences of participatory and direct democracy.
The tide started to ebb in the early 2010s, and what followed was a mixed picture.
There has been the rise of right-wing governments, some through elections, others through institutional coups.
Some have carried out a neoliberal program within the minimum limits of procedural democracy, like Uruguay. Others take more authoritarian positions, like Colombia and El Salvador, even flirting with fascism in Brazil.
On the other side, there are the survivors of the “pink tide”. Some are trying to reproduce the policies of the turn of the century in degraded versions, such as Argentina and Bolivia (and Mexico, which did not join the first wave). Others close their regimes to survive, such as Venezuela and Nicaragua.
We cannot consider that there is an overwhelming wave of the rights, nor a second cycle of the left. There is indeed a disputed region, in which Peru is an important piece of the board.
Depending on what happens until next year in Chile, Colombia and Brazil, a new “left cycle” may be more clearly configured – which will necessarily be different from the previous one.
But Castillo can’t wait: he will have to worry about local issues, some of which are very immediate.
Moderate to survive?
The main dilemma will be one of moderation.
“Good” political science invites political agents to move to the center in search of votes and governability.
This thesis can be associated with the conservatism of most political scientists and has been disputed by virtually all contemporary polarized political conflicts.
In today’s Peru, that would be the password for Castillo to do nothing – and get knocked down in the end, anyway.
Castillo’s nomination symbolizes his temporary victory in a dispute over stories that have gone on for weeks of allegedly unproven electoral fraud. But in no case does it ensure governability for the new president.
The country is going through a serious political, economic and social crisis – which symbolically cannot be resolved with this inauguration and the calls for unity around the Bicentenary.
Fujimorism is a constant destabilizing factor, constituting the real threat to Peruvian democracy.
In addition, nothing helps living with a Constitution produced in an authoritarian period, following a state coup.
As in Chile, it is justified to consider that the Peruvian charter lacks legitimacy, to say the least.
In addition, the Constitution is the guarantor of a political system which we do not know if it is semi-presidential or semi-parliamentary and which generates successive crises between weak presidents and minority political parties without representation.
It does not generate balance and stability, but an endless crisis and the blocking of any transformation.
It is surprising that any Peruvian analyst who calls himself a Democrat is riddled with fears about the proposal for a Constituent Assembly. And it is not surprising that the convocation of the Assembly is at the heart of the program of Castillo and Peru Libre.
Two possible scenarios
Therefore, the Constituent Assembly is a symbol that will indicate whether Castillo has opted for moderation or to fulfill his program.
This is why, having moved to the center in the second round and in the assembly of his cabinet, he does not let go of this flag.
Thus, two possible scenarios open up. Both are difficult and do not guarantee the fulfillment of the mandate.
The first is to give up all the rings so as not to lose your fingers.
In this scenario, we would end up with a demoralized government with no chance of electing a successor. Like Ollanta Humala, he would be one more representative to renounce a program of change.
By the way, even that would not guarantee the completion of the five-year term. Other Peruvian presidents have been ousted for much less.
The second way is to try to fill the program as much as possible, to push the possibilities or to try to push the limits of the possibilities.
This is obviously a sharp edge, which does not guarantee the survival of the government for five years either.
This path would obviously require greater popular mobilization and arduous negotiations.
Note that in both scenarios there is no guarantee of stability. But in the second scenario, there would be at least a chance of concluding the organic crisis that the country is experiencing, given the possibility (though unlikely) that this path would lead to a rebuilding of the country.
In the midst of this difficult dilemma, the new government has yet to reorganize the problematic confrontation of the pandemic.
It must also fight against growing poverty and informality. These have been deepened by the pandemic, but they are the legacy of decades of neoliberalism and the country’s long history.
This brings us to the question of the secular division between Costa and Serra, crossed by the indigenous question.
Castillo was elected largely on the basis of this division. It did so by displacing the “cosmopolitan” and “progressive” left of Lima, which will have to face the eternal return of issues that it would like to bypass: a nationality never complete, the indigenous question, regional divisions, the religiosity of the poor.
Considering the whole context, the spaces are narrow. But we must try to seize the rare opportunity of a clearly left-wing government in Peru – a novelty in a long conservative trajectory.