Peru’s Castillo surprises with hard-line Cabinet picks

By David Blanco Bonilla

Lima, Jul 30 (EFE).- Newly inaugurated Peruvian President Pedro Castillo has named a novice lawmaker from the orthodox wing of his avowedly Marxist and socialist Peru Libre (Free Peru) party to lead his Cabinet, prompting an opposition backlash and taking much of the Andean nation by surprise.

One day after taking office for his 2021-2026 term with calls for social justice and a new constitution but also a message of unity and reconciliation for the polarized country, Castillo on Thursday introduced Guido Bellido as new prime minister during a symbolic second inauguration at the Pampas de Ayacucho Historic Sanctuary near the town of Quinua in the southern region of Ayacucho.

He then swore in the remaining members of his leftist-aligned Cabinet.

The political opposition, headed by the right-wing Popular Force party of presidential runner-up Keiko Fujimori, immediately slammed the Cabinet picks and said they confirm their warnings that Castillo will try to form a “communist” government in Peru.

The most prominent names were newly inaugurated Vice President Dina Boluarte as social development and inclusion minister; sociologist Hector Bejar as foreign affairs minister; and Dr. Hernando Cevallos, who is to head up the health portfolio.

Local media had seen moderate left-wing economist Pedro Francke and anti-corruption prosecutor Julio Arbizu as the likely choices for finance minister and justice and human rights minister, respectively, but those positions went unfilled during Thursday’s ceremony.

Both men supposedly turned down those slots due to their objection to the naming of Bellido, a confidant of Peru Libre founder Vladimir Cerron whose name did not figure in any of the speculation about who the new head of state would select to lead his Cabinet and represent the administration in negotiations with the deeply divided Congress.

Cabinets had been gender-balanced in recent years in Peru, but only two women were sworn in on Thursday: Boluarte and sociologist Anahi Durand, a member of the left-wing Nuevo Peru (New Peru) party who was appointed as head of the Women and Vulnerable Populations Ministry.

Bellido’s appointment was rejected by parties across Peru’s political spectrum, including leftist and center-left political groupings, who said it would not generate the confidence or consensus Peru needs amid ongoing pandemic-triggered health, economic and social crises.

The centrist Purple Party – to which former interim President Francisco Sagasti, Castillo’s predecessor, belongs – even urged Congress not to confirm the new Cabinet, saying Bellido is “a person who does not believe in democracy, human rights and the fight against corruption and terrorism.”

It adopted that stance despite having earlier accepted Castillo’s narrow victory in the June 6 runoff and backed him in the face of fraud accusations leveled by Fujimori.

Bellido, a 41-year-old engineer with a master’s degree in economics, was active in Peru Libre for several years before winning a seat in the legislature in the April 11 election.

Bellido begins his premiership under investigation by the Attorney General’s Office for comments about Shining Path, the Maoist-inspired guerrilla group blamed for tens of thousands of deaths during their 1980-1992 offensive to remake Peru.

Prosecutors are weighing whether Bellido committed the offense of “apology for terrorism” when he resisted labeling Shining Path fighters as terrorists in statements captured on video.

The prime minister, who by law must appear before Congress within 30 days and request a vote of confidence in the Cabinet, has his work cut out for him considering the widespread legislative opposition.

Besides Peru Libre, which holds 37 seats in the country’s unicameral legislature, the new Cabinet thus far has only received the backing of the Nuevo Peru party, which is led by Veronika Mendoza and is part of the Juntos por el Peru (Together for Peru) left-wing coalition that holds five congressional seats.

Castillo, a rural schoolteacher making his first bid for public office, came out of nowhere to emerge as one of the top two finishers in the first round of presidential voting.

After qualifying for the second round, he softened his rhetoric and sought to distance himself from the controversial Cerron, insisting that if he won the June 6 runoff he would lead a government that was his and his alone. EFE


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