Political newcomer becomes Peru’s president

Lima, Jul 28 (EFE).- Pedro Castillo, a schoolteacher and union leader with no previous experience of public office, was inaugurated here Wednesday as president of Peru.

Wearing a suit with indigenous motifs and his trademark straw hat, the 51-year-old leftist received the presidential regalia from congressional speaker Maria del Carmen Alva during a ceremony coinciding with the bicentennial of Peruvian independence.

“I swear by God, by my family, by my Peruvian sisters and brothers, peasants, original peoples, militia members, fishers, teachers, professionals, children, youths and women, that I will exercise the office of president of the republic for the period 2021-2026,” Castillo said as he took the presidential oath.

“I swear by the peoples of Peru, by a country without corruption and by a new constitution,” the new head of state said before Congress.

Present for the occasion along with lawmakers were Castillo’s family, senior judges and a number of foreign dignitaries, including Spain’s King Felipe VI and the presidents of Argentina, Alberto Fernandez; Bolivia, Luis Arce; Chile, Sebastian Piñera; Colombia, Ivan Duque; and Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso.

Castillo takes the helm at a critical moment for Peru, struggling to deal with the human and economic cost of the Covid-19 pandemic amid acute political polarization.

Peru, with nearly 200,000 deaths, has the world’s highest per capita mortality rate from coronavirus, while the economy contracted by 11.8 percent in 2020.

The nation’s first-ever president from the Andean interior came out of nowhere to emerge as one of the top two finishers in the April 11 first round before prevailing in the runoff with 50.12 percent of the vote.

During the campaign, Castillo advocated a second agrarian reform and called for the convening of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution.

But he has kept his own counsel since the runoff while waiting for the National Electoral Court to confirm his victory in the June 6 runoff.

It was only on July 19 that the court proclaimed Castillo as president-elect after rejecting in their totality the myriad objections and legal challenges brought by right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori.

Polls show that 34 percent of Peruvians are hopeful about the prospects for Castillo’s administration, while 29 percent say they are uncertain and 15 percent described themselves as fearful.

Castillo’s Peru Libre, with 37 members, constitutes the largest bloc in the 130-seat legislature, but the party will need allies to get anything accomplished in the face of opposition from Fujimori’s Fuerza Popular.

The daughter of disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori continues to insist that Castillo’s campaign stole “thousands of votes” on June 6, though international observers deemed the process free and fair.

And allies of Fujimori, including some retired generals and admirals, publicly urged the military to refuse to accept Castillo as president. EFE amr/dr

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