Pedro Castillo takes office as Peru’s new president

In his first speech as president, peasant and public school teacher Pedro Castillo stressed that his government will prioritize the needs of the historically marginalized sectors and outlined a series of progressive reforms to transform the country

July 29, 2021 by Tanya Wadhwa
“I swear by the people of Peru, for a country without corruption and for a new constitution,” said Pedro Castillo while taking oath as the president of Peru on July 28. Photo: Pedro Castillo/Twitter

Pedro Castillo of the left-wing Free Peru party was sworn in as the president of Peru on July 28, the day that marked the 200th anniversary of the country’s independence from Spain. The 51-year-old peasant, school teacher and trade unionist, Castillo, vowed to end corruption and change the country’s free-market friendly constitution in his swearing-in speech.

“I swear by God, by my family, by my Peruvian sisters and brothers, by peasants, by Indigenous people, by ronderos (peasant patrolmen), fishermen, teachers, children, young people and women, that I will exercise the office of president of the Republic. I swear by the people of Peru, for a country without corruption and for a new constitution,” said Castillo while taking oath.

After Castillo, Dina Boluarte took oath as the first vice president of the country. Boluarte promised to work for the forgotten and silenced sections of the Peruvian society. “For the nobodies, for those whose voice was taken away from them, for a sovereign homeland embraced in a single heart. Yes, I swear,” she said.

The socialist duo will govern the Latin American country for the next five years. They face the challenge of rebuilding the country, mired in corruption and neoliberal policies, reviving it from the economic, health and social crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic and regaining the trust of the population, tired of unfulfilled electoral promises.

The swearing-in ceremony was held at the headquarters of the Congress in the capital Lima. It was attended by delegations from across the globe. Argentine president Alberto Fernández, Bolivian president Luis Arce, Chilean president Sebastián Piñera, Colombian president Iván Duque, Ecuadorian president Guillermo Lasso, and Spanish King Felipe VI were among the heads of state who attended the inauguration ceremony. Similarly, former Bolivian president Evo Morales, Brazilian vice president Hamilton Mourão, Paraguayan vice president Hugo Velázquez, and Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza, among various other leaders, also were present at the event.

How does Pedro Castillo plan to transform Peru?

In his first speech as president, Castillo outlined his government’s plan for the next five years. He began by talking about Peru’s history, the formation of the country and the conquest of important rights. In this regard, he highlighted how poor Peruvians like him, who come from a rural family, lack opportunities.

“This time, a government of the people has come to govern with the people and for the people to build from the bottom up. This is the first time that our country will be governed by a peasant, a person who belongs like many Peruvians to the oppressed sectors for so many centuries,” he said.

On several occasions during his speech, Castillo stressed that his government will prioritize the needs of the historically marginalized people, those from a humble, unprivileged background. In this regard, he emphasized on the need to replace the current constitution with a new one. According to many people, the 1993 constitution, written and imposed during Alberto Fujimori’s dictatorship (1999-2000), enshrines the neoliberal order and deepens inequality in the country.

The president indicated that he seeks to draft a new constitution during his tenure, but “always within the framework of the law and with the legal instruments that the current Constitution itself provides.” He said that he promotes a constituent assembly, but admitted that the current constitution does not provide for a constituent assembly, nor does it authorize the president to call a referendum and that a constitutional reform is possible only by the decision of the Congress. He announced that he will present a bill to the parliament and he hopes that “it will be approved and then submitted for ratification in a popular referendum.”

He announced that the strengthening of the public healthcare and education sectors will be his government’s priority.

In this regard, he announced that a universal, unified, free, decentralized and participatory health system will be established. He said that COVID-19 vaccination will be the first priority of his government. He promised to accelerate the vaccination process, maximize efforts and accepted the enormous challenge of inculcating more than 70% of the population by the end of the year.

With respect to education, he declared “a state of emergency in public education with immediate effect” with the aim of “recovering learning and preventing the lack of equity from continuing to grow.” He vowed to allocate a sufficient budget for primary and higher public education and gradually increase it to make higher education free for all. Likewise, he stressed on the need to ensure internet connectivity and innovative learning in all educational centers across the country.

Regarding the economic affairs, he clarified that his government does not “intend to nationalize the economy or make an exchange control policy.” He added that they only “want the economy of families -especially those with lower incomes- to be more stable and prosperous” and that “large companies do not defraud the treasury through tax evasion or avoidance.”

He said that there is a need to put “an end to the abuses of monopolies, consortia that charge exceptionally high sums for basic goods and services.” For this purpose he announced that the National Bank will provide the small producers with all available banking services at reasonable rates to allow them to compete in the market effectively.

Castillo also promised to create one million jobs in a year by investing in large-scale public infrastructure construction projects.

On the issue of corruption, Castillo announced the strengthening of legal and regulatory frameworks for nationals, foreigners as well as companies involved in acts of corruption, so that no crime in this regard goes unpunished.

Concerning the oil industry, Castillo highlighted that there will be a change in public policy. It will no longer be based on providing subsidies but on increasing the government’s participation in the market to regulate the final prices and prevent consumers from being exploited by monopolistic companies.

As he had announced in the campaign, Castillo reiterated that his government will propose the creation of a ministry of science, technology and technological innovation, “to enhance the technological independence of Peru.” According to Castillo, it will provide “the possibility of a career for scientific and technological researchers to incorporate graduated talents and repatriate those who migrated due to lack of opportunities.”

In order to eradicate hunger and malnutrition, Castillo proposed a plan for the industrialization of the countryside to promote agriculture and livestock sectors. He also insisted on prioritizing irrigation, planting and harvesting projects for the national and international market in the benefit of poor families.

Castillo also reiterated the need to support and strengthen medium and small companies in industries that have social profitability such as fishing to promote local production and development. For this purpose, he proposed to create preferential credit funds.

The president also spoke about guaranteeing adequate water and sanitation facilities in urban and rural areas. The latter is very disadvantaged compared to the former. He also promised to facilitate access to decent housing for all with the formalization of rural and urban properties, for which his administration will work with local governments.

Castillo promised to guarantee decent pension plans. He said that his administration will build a national system of care for dependent persons such as children, elderly and disabled people as will as for physical and psychological rehabilitation of victims of sexual violence.

The new president also announced that he will not govern from the government palace or “the House of Pizarro”, as he described it, because it is a symbol of colonial domination. He announced that he would hand it over to the new Ministry of Cultures to “be used as a museum that shows our history, from its origins to the present day.”

This weekend, Castillo announced that he will give up his lifetime salary as president and hold functions with his pay as an elementary school teacher in order to fight for equality in the country. “Let’s remove the golden wages. I ratify to lead our country’s destinies with my salary as a teacher,” he stressed. He added that he will propose to the Congress to reduce by 50% the lifetime incomes of lawmakers and ministers.

Castillo is Peru’s first president in decades, who has no ties with the country’s political or economic elite. It is widely hoped that Castillo will bring an end to years of political upheaval in Peru as well as will bring positive changes in the country’s social development.

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