Peru’s bitter presidential election puts scourge of racism on full display

By Carla Samon Ros

Lima, Jun 17 (EFE).- This year’s bitterly fought Peruvian presidential election has brought the scourge of racism out into the open.

Previously latent, that legacy of colonialism has been manifest recently in numerous vile social-media messages that reveal the hatred toward leftist candidate Pedro Castillo – who holds a narrow lead with all votes counted but has not yet been declared the winner – and his core group of indigenous and rural supporters.

“Whether Castillo wins or not, we should put his voters in concentration camps,” “we need to burn the Amazon again” and “bring back sterilizations,” were some of the countless racist messages posted in the lead-up to the June 6 runoff.

Amid the Andean nation’s polarized political climate, hate-filled diatribes targeting Castillo’s voters have been unleashed by a segment of Peru’s mostly white upper class, who see the apparent victory of that little-known rural schoolteacher as a mortal threat to the status quo.

In remarks to Efe, indigenous activist Tarcila Rivera, president of the Center for Indigenous Cultures of Peru (Chirapaq), said it is regrettable that the “struggle for power” causes some people to “lose all their sanity, all notion of rights and respect.”

“In this context, and with a candidate not backed by the right participating for the first time (in a presidential runoff), racism is used as a strategy to disqualify the rural vote, which in the popular consciousness is worth less than the foreign or Lima vote,” Marco Lovon, a linguist and researcher on the racist use of language at Lima’s Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, told Efe.

Social media has been the main platform for denigrating Castillo voters as ignorant and even encouraging the “genocide” of rural communities that voted against rightist candidate Keiko Fujimori and the continuation of the country’s longstanding, market-oriented economic model.

Last Saturday, after a recount showed a virtually irreversible margin of victory for Castillo, two white male participants in a social media chat that went viral called for the destruction of the Andean regions that voted heavily for the leftist candidate.

“I’m going to throw my garbage on the ground in those places, spit on the street, rape the women, beat their kids, sterilize everyone. Castillo is a sh___y cholo (mestizo) and his voters are alpacas (llama-like animals) who don’t know why they’re voting and probably don’t read,” one of them wrote.

Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian-born Nobel literature laureate who lost to Fujimori’s father, the now-imprisoned Alberto Fujimori, in the 1990 presidential runoff and has been a staunch opponent of Fujimorism for decades, threw his weight behind Keiko on this occasion and said of a Castillo presidency that Peru is headed for a “castastrophe.”

That fate, according to the novelist, is “evident to a large majority of Peruvians, especially Peruvians in the cities who are more informed than the rest.”

Lovon said Peru is seeing a rise in racial “cyber-hate” that also is laden with another divisive colonial legacy: classism.

That prejudice, according to the linguist, is evident in the recurrent use of racist, disparaging terms like “cholo” and “serrano” (a native of the Andean highlands) by urban elites in Lima and other coastal areas, who often disparage the rural poor as ignorant and uneducated.

“Since the start of the campaign, we’ve heard that they’re people who can’t write, who shouldn’t vote, who don’t represent the country,” Lovon said.

The academic recalled that between 1896 and 1979 there was a literacy requirement for voting in Peru, a country where the share of the population that cannot read or write currently stands at 5.6 percent overall and 14.5 percent in rural areas.

“In recent years, we (indigenous people) have achieved recognition and it’s sad to come to the realization that all these efforts are only worthwhile so long as they don’t affect the establishment,” said Rivera, who lamented the colonial mentality of some of her fellow citizens. EFE


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