, Peru election: Pedro Castillo prepares to seize profits of big business as nation swings dramatically Left, The Nzuchi Times

Peru election: Pedro Castillo prepares to seize profits of big business as nation swings dramatically Left

, Peru election: Pedro Castillo prepares to seize profits of big business as nation swings dramatically Left, The Nzuchi Times

Pedro Castillo, right, with his idol Evo Morales, the former president of Bolivia

Pedro Castillo, the rural schoolteacher on the brink of becoming Peru’s next president, wants to reshape the Covid-battered country in the style of one of his Leftist idols by seizing the profits of big business.

Like Evo Morales, the former president of Bolivia, Castillo, 51, rose from humble beginnings in his country’s rural hinterland to become a populist, rabblerousing union leader, before then trampolining to national office.

And just like Morales, Castillo is bent on reshaping his country’s economy to favour the poor, in a deeply unequal society divided between a largely white, urban elite and a mestizo majority, of which the village schoolteacher is a member.

Yet Castillo has rattled investors and ordinary Peruvians alike with scattergun promises to rewrite the constitution, ban imports of any goods produced in Peru, and dedicate 20 per cent of GDP to education and healthcare, a promise even left-wing economists regard as far-fetched. During the runoff campaign, he backtracked on some of those ideas but many doubt his sincerity.

He hails from Cajamarca, in the northern Andes, Peru’s most impoverished region and home to various large mines, and has vowed to make mining companies leave 70 per cent of their profits in Peru. The Andean nation is the world’s second copper producer and among the top four for silver, tin, zinc, lead and molybdenum. It also has large, untapped reserves of lithium.

, Peru election: Pedro Castillo prepares to seize profits of big business as nation swings dramatically Left, The Nzuchi Times, Peru election: Pedro Castillo prepares to seize profits of big business as nation swings dramatically Left, The Nzuchi Times

Supporters of Castillo, who has no links to the Peruvian establishment – GETTY IMAGES

“We’re going to recover our country’s riches to distribute them fairly to our children,” Castillo said at his final campaign event last week. He added that Peru needed to increase its manufacturing capacity and stop simply exporting raw commodities, noting: “We don’t even make the buttons on our shirts.”

Another trait Castillo shares with Morales is his alleged authoritarian tendencies. He refuses to speak ill of the Maduro regime in Venezuela, has talked of abolishing the constitutional tribunal, and his first government plan — he has now had several — even cites Lenin insisting that the press cannot be free under the “yoke of capital”.

, Peru election: Pedro Castillo prepares to seize profits of big business as nation swings dramatically Left, The Nzuchi Times

Polls show that most Peruvians favour tweaking their country’s free market model to make it fairer rather than adopting socialism.

Nevertheless, Castillo’s unexpected rise comes at a time when Peru has been brought to its knees by the coronavirus pandemic and five years of political turmoil triggered in large part by his runoff opponent, Keiko Fujimori. The country has the worst Covid-19 mortality rate in the world and has, so far, fully vaccinated just 4 per cent of the population.

, Peru election: Pedro Castillo prepares to seize profits of big business as nation swings dramatically Left, The Nzuchi Times, Peru election: Pedro Castillo prepares to seize profits of big business as nation swings dramatically Left, The Nzuchi Times

Pedro Castillo’s opponent, Keiko Fujimori, has claimed the election is fraudulent – AP

“People are drawn to him because he looks like them,” says José Alejandro Godoy, a political scientist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. “He has this humble lifestyle and no links to the Lima political establishment and media. That’s the appeal.”

Yet it remains unclear whether Castillo will be able to fulfill his promises — or even see out his five-year term.

Although his Free Peru party will be the largest in the incoming Congress, it will not have a majority and most lawmakers will be conservative, while Castillo lacks the broad popular support that Morales once enjoyed in Bolivia. Meanwhile, last November’s ouster of former president Martín Vizcarra has effectively set a hair trigger for the presidential impeachment process.

That means that large-scale nationalisations may be unlikely. However, Castillo could raise taxes on the mining sector and use executive powers to more strictly regulate it, including withholding permits. But even there, he would need to tread carefully as any measure deemed “confiscatory” would be unconstitutional.

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