Thursday, July 29, 2021

Castillo, Peru's first campesino president (July 29, 2021)

Pedro Castillo became Peru's president yesterday, wearing his characteristic broad-rimmed straw hat. The ceremony coincided with  Peru’s bicentenary of independence from Spain. Castillo, previously obscure rural school teacher, said colonization's wounds run deep and are the basis for the country's "caste system." He promised to to govern "with the people and for the people." 

"This is the first time that our country will be ruled by a peasant," Castillo said. “I want you to know that the pride and pain of deep Peru runs through my veins. That I, too, am the son of this country founded on the sweat of my ancestors, built on the lack of opportunity of my parents and that despite that, I also saw it resist,” he said. “That my life was made in the cold of the early mornings in the field, and that it was also these hands from the countryside that carried and rocked my children when they were little. That the history of this long-silenced Peru is also my history.”

He said his first priority as president would be to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Castillo declared a state of emergency in public education and pledged to boost its budget. He vowed to create a ministry of science and technology and rename the ministry of culture as the ministry of cultures to reflect Peru’s many indigenous peoples.

Castillo also said he would not govern from the capital’s presidential palace, known as the “House of Pizarro," which would be ceded to the new ministry of cultures, reports the Guardian.

Castillo tried to strike a conciliatory tone for investors, walking back on campaign rhetoric about nationalizations, reports Reuters. He pledged to respect private property and establish clear rules for miners, a critical sector of the economy. He has maintained his pledge to rewrite the constitution. (Associated Press)

Castillo is a social conservative, who has opposed marriage equality and abortion. He said yesterday that unemployed youth who were not in school would be conscripted by a military redeployed for engineering and public works projects.

Castillo's rise "to Peru’s highest office is the most glaring example yet of the power of the pandemic to upend politics in Latin America," according to the Washington Post. He will govern a deeply divided country. Television commentators yesterday denounced a wave of “racist” vitriol circulating on social media against Castillo, who has described himself as a “campesino” — a member of the largely Indigenous and mixed-race rural farming class.

The country has had years of political instability: Peru has had four presidents in five years. Two were forced out amid corruption allegations, and another over the use of excessive force against protesters. Castillo faces an opposition dominated Congress with a history of impeaching presidents and obstructing their agendas. 

He also faces internal divisions within his own Peru Libre party, and has not yet announced his cabinet. The ministerial swearing in was postponed until Friday -- it was unclear if Castillo has already finalized his picks or if political wrangling is still going on, reports Reuters.

More Peru
  • In an interview with the Conversation, the Peruvian historian Cecilia Méndez Gastelumendi suggests Castillo’s unconventional background could work to his benefit but says he has “enemies,” too – and they are already gunning for him.
Pandemic spurs other health crises

The coronavirus pandemic is interfering with routine inoculations and medical treatment in Latin America and the Caribbean, possibly paving the way for a surge in other preventable diseases in the region, warned the Pan American Health Organization yesterday. 

There has been a sharp decline in measles vaccinations throughout the region and a recent survey by the PAHO found the pandemic has disrupted diagnosis and treatment of viral hepatitis B and C infections in Latin America and the Caribbean, slowing progress on the goal of eliminating these infectious diseases by 2030.

"If we do not reverse these trends, we risk an avalanche of worsening health issues," said PAHO director Dr. Carissa F. Etienne.

News Briefs

  • More than 10,000 migrants from Haiti, Cuba and several African countries, many trying to reach the United States, are overwhelming Necoclí, a town on Colombia’s north coast on the way to the dangerous Darién Gap. Migrants are spurred by worsening conditions in Haiti and Cuba, and the recent reopening of South American borders. But officials say the surge is creating a public health emergency in the midst of the pandemic, reports the Washington Post.
  • The U.S. could soon be facing dual migrant crises stemming from unrest in Haiti and Cuba. In response, the Biden administration has preemptively warned migrants not to try to come to the U.S. by boat, reports Vox.
  • The Chilean government should stop summary deportations of Venezuelans and ensure that any deportations comply with international human rights law, said Human Rights Watch yesterday. "A series of rulings by Chile’s Supreme Court and various courts of appeal have recently ordered authorities to stop, in specific cases, numerous deportations, citing the heightened risks deportees would face in Venezuela. The rulings have also exposed violations of due process, including the right to be heard and to present evidence, before deportations are carried out."
Regional Relations
  • Mexico's government wants to overhaul the Merida Initiative, a $3 billion U.S. aid program that’s been the centerpiece of security cooperation between the two nations for more than a decade, arguing that it has failed to stem cartel violence. “The Merida Initiative is dead. It doesn’t work, okay?” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told The Washington Post. Despite the billions of dollars in aid, there has been a “huge, huge increase in violence” since the initiative was announced in 2007, Ebrard noted.
  • Ebrard said Mexico’s priorities included a greater focus on reducing homicides, rather than capturing cartel kingpins; stepped-up efforts to seize chemicals used to make fentanyl and other drugs; and slashing the number of U.S. guns trafficked illegally over the border.
  • U.S. federal agents served Florida search warrants related to assassination of Haiti’s President Moïse  yesterday. The federal investigation is trying determine whether the local businesses conspired to provide “material support” that resulted in the killing of Moïse or any other lesser crimes, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry said the government plans to create conditions for elections as soon as possible. Henry said he would be working to restore confidence in the government, and that there would be dialogue with civil society and political leaders to reach consensus on how to move forward, reports Reuters.
  • Cubans who dared to protest against the government two weeks ago are terrified in the wake of a crackdown that is not yet over. Advocates estimate that 700 people remain in government detention, and police have gone door-to-door making detentions.The draconian response has dampened the rebellion, and many protesters are terrified, reports the New York Times.
  • Five Cuban generals died during nine days this month, sparking a wave of discussion and rampant speculation among analysts and exiles. There is no suggestion of foul play in the deaths of the five, but some observers suspect a link to the country's Covid-19 surge, reports the Guardian
  • William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert at American University, said the deaths in Cuba may not have much practical impact on the government, but it was “a stark reminder that the ‘historic’ generation of leaders that made the revolution and founded the revolutionary regime is quickly passing from the scene.” (Washington Post)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's plan to construct a 1,000km railway system extending right into the heart of the Amazon rainforest is one of his most destructive projects yet, and would rapidly deforest large areas of the Amazon, writes Brazilian lawmaker David Miranda in the Guardian. " Yet it is not enough for western governments and environmental NGOs to lecture Brazil; they should compensate us for the economic costs of the environmental protection we must undertake on the whole planet’s behalf."
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

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