By Carla Samon Ros
Chota, Peru, Jun 4 (EFE).- Wearing neither suit nor tie and with a “chotano” hat on his head, leftist presidential candidate Pedro Castillo embodies the humble, rural values of Peru’s Andean region and enjoys the backing of teachers and farmers who view him as the antithesis of Lima’s elite.
“(Castillo) is poor like us. He’s a rural person. He’s suffered and he’s personally experienced what we’re living through now, working by the sweat of our brow,” farmer and fruit seller Marcelina Condor told Efe.
“And when he wins he’s going to help us,” the young woman said at the municipal market in Chota, capital of the like-named impoverished rural province that is located in the northern Peruvian Andes and is part of the Cajamarca region.
A rural schoolteacher, union leader and son of illiterate peasants who has a slight lead in the polls over right-wing former first lady Keiko Fujimori, Castillo has channeled popular anger at a state apparatus seen as riddled with corruption, neglectful of Peru’s interior and married to a neoliberal (free-market) economic model that has been unable to narrow the country’s stark socioeconomic disparities.
The bastion of support for the Peru Libre (Free Peru) hopeful is the so-called “Peru profundo” (Deep Peru), a reference to poor, rural voters who feel they have been ignored for decades by Lima’s elites and support a mixture of economically leftist and socially conservative policies.
In Castillo’s native Tacabamba, a district of Chota Province, schoolteacher Tomas Rolando told Efe that the leftist candidate is the “true change that rural areas need,” particularly with respect to education, health care and farming.
“Unfortunately, we (rural teachers) are under-supplied in every sense, and our hope in Pedro is centered on the fact that he’s lived our experiences of sacrifice and effort working in the most remote areas” of Peru, said Rolando, who prior to the pandemic had to wake up at 3 am daily to arrive at school on time.
Support for Castillo also is overwhelming among farmers in the Cajamarca region who see the candidate as one of them.
“We’re supporters of the pencil,” a farmer named Segundo told Efe while working the soil with a wooden shovel in his calloused hands, referring to Castillo’s campaign symbol. “That Keiko has nothing to offer farmers.”
Sociologist Pedro Sanchez of the National University of Cajamarca said voter preference for Castillo ahead of Sunday’s runoff clearly shows “the total failure” of a structural reform launched in 2002 during then-President Alejandro Toledo’s administration to correct the excessive centralization of power in the capital city.
Castillo represents the demands of the provinces, the country’s interior, which rejects “a model that still has not reached all sectors of the country homogeneously,” Sanchez added.
Elementary school teacher Wilson Carranza, a resident of Tacabamba, offered a similar evaluation and said he is convinced that Peru is “a step away from achieving the struggle of people who have been organizing year after year, taking to the streets and demanding their rights.”
“In our country, power regrettably has resided exclusively in one group. and that’s made the working class wake up and raise their voices,” Carranza told Efe, recalling a large teachers’ strike Castillo led in 2017 that thrust him into the media spotlight.
Other voters, meanwhile, are less enthusiastic about the Free Peru candidate but want to prevent the daughter of Alberto Fujimori – an ex-president currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for sanctioning the use of military death squads against suspected terrorists – from winning the country’s highest office.
“We don’t want any more corrupt people, and Pedro hasn’t fallen yet,” said shopkeeper Maria Medina, referring to money laundering charges facing Keiko Fujimori that a prosecutor says merit a 30-year prison sentence. EFE