five milestones that marked the first month of Pedro Castillo’s government



President Pedro Castillo has had difficulties to consolidate his figure at the head of the Executive.


© Andina
President Pedro Castillo has had difficulties to consolidate his figure at the head of the Executive.

A month has passed since Pedro Castillo was sworn in as president of Peru. However, his new administration still does not show signs of stability and direction. The vote of confidence received by his Cabinet of ministers does not neutralize new clashes with a high opposition Congress, which is already preparing investigations into the Government. The political context impacts on the resentful economy, while the population expresses in polls the lowest support for a ruler in several decades of the Republic.

In Peru, the Castillo government has not had the so-called “honeymoon,” which describes the calm and acclimatization between the elected powers of the state within the first days in office. On the contrary, his mandate began with risky political decisions, improvisational gestures and his already known secrecy of campaign times.

The opposition force in Parliament has already shown several signs of its power in the face of official improvisation. Amid this potential escalation of political tensions, other problems add up for the weakened government; most, as a result of their own mistakes.

Here we review the highlights of these four weeks in office:

1. A questioned Cabinet

Although this last Friday the Parliament gave the confidence to the team of Prime Minister Guido Bellido with 73 votes in favor and 50 against, this does not translate into endorsement. Since his appointment on July 29, the Cabinet has been criticized for his suitability: of the 19 ministers, at least six have serious complaints. Bellido himself is being investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office for alleged crimes of apology for terrorism and money laundering, while the head of Labor, Iber Maraví, has also been linked to terrorist movements.

The Minister of Transport, Juan Silva, registers attacks against his ex-partner, in addition to serious traffic offenses. Rubén Ramírez, from Environment, was also denounced for harassing his ex-partner; and Geiner Alvarado, owner of Housing, was intervened a few years ago for driving while intoxicated, in addition to being reported by his then partner for abandoning his home. For his part, the current Minister of the Interior, Juan Carrasco, did not comply with formally resigning his position as prosecutor when he was swearing in to political office; incompatibility that casts doubt on the legality of his appointment.

“In past governments, such a set of ministers would have meant a denial of the inauguration without much hesitation. But we must take into account that Congress has not wanted to spend that ‘silver bullet’ that implies not giving confidence and that, on a second occasion, this leads to activating the power of the president to dissolve Parliament, “said the political scientist Kathy Zegarra in an interview with France 24.

How did it happen in 2019 with Martín Vizcarra, two refusals of this type allow, by constitutional establishment, that the presidents decide the dissolution of the Congress. In fact, the prevalence of questioned people in President Castillo’s Cabinet was analyzed by some legislators as a provocation to achieve that scenario.

Zegarra recalls that there are other tools of political control, such as interpellations and censures, that Parliament would apply with each minister. However, he points out that maintaining the nominations implies a high cost for a weak government.

In fact, Castillo had already lost a minister to political pressure. Héctor Béjar, appointed to head the Foreign Relations office, had to resign after Congress presented a motion to question him for statements that distorted the origin of terrorism in the country. He was only 19 days in office.

2. Economic uncertainty and the price of the dollar on a record rise

For several weeks, the exchange rate in Peru reached a historic critical level. In March of this year, the dollar cost 3 soles 76 cents, but this month it surpassed the barrier of 4 soles with 10. Previously, the prices of basic grocery products, such as chicken, and gas had already skyrocketed of kitchen; what affects the family economy.

In dialogue with France 24, the manager of the Peruvian Institute of Economics (IPE), Diego Macera, warned that -in terms of inflation in the country- it is important to differentiate the global trend of price increase in the commodities in front of the direct affectation of the local political climate.

“Indeed, there is an increase in commodities worldwide, and that has made some foods more expensive by up to 50% or 80%. Freight rates have also increased fivefold since the pre-pandemic period. In energy, gas and oil have also risen considerably. However, another part that is not less is the exchange rate. The Peruvian currency is one of those that has depreciated the most in recent months in the region and this, mainly, due to the political context. It is as if it were raining in the wet: we have higher global prices that are traded in dollars and there is a need to buy them with a national currency that has lost value ”, explains the economist.

The Government of Pedro Castillo has announced the distribution of new aid vouchers for families in poverty and extreme poverty, in addition to subsidies to the payroll as an emergency policy. Macera points out that these measures are positive as long as they are properly targeted, but he considers that economic reactivation requires other efforts.

“The most important thing is to give messages of stability and respect for the rules of the game. Countermeasures to that [se refiere al nombramiento de ministros cuestionados y a la posible insistencia de instalar una Asamblea Constituyente] they are the ones that generate uncertainty, and that uncertainty complicates the reactivation of private investment. Investment is likely to continue to suffer this semester and even half of next year. What would really help to reverse the scenario is that, at the political level, there is predictability, “he said.

3. Bad start in polls

Last August 15, Ipsos published a national survey that barely gave 38% approval for the Government of Castillo. The rejection was 45%. None of the last eight Peruvian presidents had garnered such poor support in their early days in office.

It should be remembered that Castillo came to power by a difference of 44,000 votes against the right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori, in the middle of the elections that have most divided the country. Despite Castillo’s victory, polarization still exists in the streets, with occasional protests to his leftist ads. However, the measurement of low popularity is not only explained by this drag of detractors.

Political scientist Paula Távara told France 24 that the government’s own behavior also contributes to its unpopularity and even deepens it. “With the appointment of some ministers, for example, questions would have been avoided with a simple filter, but he did not apply it. I think he has not considered that it is not enough that he has won the legality of the election, but that he also needs to build the legitimacy of his inauguration, ”he emphasizes.

In these four weeks in office, the president has not given a single interview. As in the campaign, the relationship with the press has been distant. On August 18, an incident was recorded, when a reporter from the State channel was forcibly removed by a security agent while the president walked to the municipality of Lima to meet with the mayor. The Presidency would issue a statement of apology shortly thereafter.

For political scientist Kathy Zegarra, openness to journalists is key in a government that intends to keep their acceptance afloat. “The relationship between Castillo and the press has not been the best and that has been seen repeatedly. He does not seek to speak with the dam and that creates spaces for others to speak for him and for the population to distrust. In any country, secrecy with the media does not give good democratic signals ”, he estimates.

4. Investigations in its early days and the return of the “fraud” theory

Congress has approved by majority the creation of two investigative commissions that strengthen the opposition message against Castillo. The first will focus on the alleged irregularities “or possible illicit” by the acts that Castillo did not register between July 28 and August 1, when he refused to dispatch from the Government Palace.

The other parliamentary group will review the alleged vices in the last electoral process, which the main opposition groups (Fuerza Popular, Renovación Popular and Avanza País) have described as fraudulent.

Regarding the lack of transparency in the first week of administration, the political scientist Paula Távara emphasizes that the Government harmed itself and did not predict the political consequences. “Unfortunately, this government opens flanks very easily and does not consider the risks of certain actions. The relationship with Congress was destined to be tense and it is really not surprising that it activates all possible oversight mechanisms, even when they are not reasonable, as in the case of investigating the electoral process, which is already known to be legitimate ”, Távara points out.

5. The Vladimir Cerrón factor and the weakening of the ruling party

Peru Libre, the party with which Pedro Castillo won the elections, obtained the majority bench in Congress, with 37 legislators out of a total of 130. However, the opposition, which by compacting adds 79 representatives of different groups, has already neutralized all attempts at pro-government leadership in the hemicycle.

The congressmen from “the pencil” – the logo of Peru Libre – did not obtain any place in the Board of Directors of the Parliament or in the presidencies of the main commissions of sectorized work. Composed of a high number of teachers, the caucus aimed to lead the Education Commission, but the post was taken by the ultra-conservative right-wing Popular Renovation party.

These days, the impression has been strengthened that the ruling group in Congress lacks negotiating skills and that, moreover, it is divided in practice, with up to three different factions. The one that stands out the most is the “Cerronista” faction, so named by political analysts to refer to Vladimir Cerrón, the leader and founder of the party.

Cerrón is known for his intense activity on Twitter, from where he answers political opponents and also reacts to every government decision. Contrary to President Castillo, Cerrón is very communicative; even to reveal disagreements to the inmate. For example, after the retirement of Foreign Minister Héctor Béjar, Cerrón criticized the replacement appointed by the president.

“The new Chancellor Óscar Maúrtua De Romaña does not represent the feelings of Peru Libre. Our Party is an integrating and sovereign entity, committed to an independent united Latin America, rejecting any interference or servile policy, “wrote the party leader.

Cerrón is perceived as a political actor who pressures the Government not to give in to the clash with Congress or renounce its leftist principles. In the Ipsos national survey, 40% of people interviewed said they believe that the most important decisions of the presidency really fall on Vladimir Cerrón and not so much on Pedro Castillo. In addition, 57% said that Minister Guido Bellido would listen more to the first.

“Although there are people who believe that Cerrón is a kind of ‘puppeteer’ for President Castillo, I would say that in recent weeks there have been coincidences between Cerrón and Castillo, which are not forced. But Castillo has also been seen backing down on his own and much to Cerrón’s chagrin. In general, I consider Castillo to be pragmatic, while Cerrón is ideologically inflexible, “political scientist Kathy Zegarra commented to this medium.

The new doubt about Castillo is whether his pragmatism will allow him to maintain himself in the four years and eleven months that he has left in the Government Palace.

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