Europen July 28On Peru’s Independence Day, the country’s president typically stands in front of Congress and speaks, highlighting achievements and outlining plans. Pity the man responsible for preparing President Pedro Castillo’s speech this month. Mr Castillo, one of a handful of leftist leaders to come to power in South America recently, has done little to show for a year in office.
Under Mr Castillo, chaos has become the norm. His administration is known for its constant turnover. On average, he appoints a new minister every week. He survived two impeachment attempts and is almost certain to face another. His approval rating is 20%.
Mr. Castillo is also involved in five criminal investigations in which former associates have accused him of corruption and obstruction of justice (all of which he denies). While he is not the first Peruvian president to face corruption charges, the charges against him paint a picture of a paranoid leader who seeks to carve out power for himself and his associates. Mr. Castillo’s former Army chief of staff claimed the president tried to use force to force him to promote unqualified loyalists and fired him when he refused. Many of Mr Castillo’s appointees had conflicts of interest; for example, his transport secretary ran an unlicensed public transport company (he has since gone into hiding). Several people are being investigated for domestic violence and others for murder.
When Mr. Castillo hires qualified people, they don’t last long. His sixth interior secretary said he was asked to sign an undated letter of resignation before he was sworn in and then abruptly fired for building an elite police force to help find Casti Three allies of Mr. Lloyd fled arrest (including the transportation secretary). On July 23, a former aide among the three fugitives turned himself in after three months on the run after prosecutors accused him of stashing $20,000 in the presidential palace bathroom.
Still, the fact that Mr. Castillo has managed to stay in power says a lot about one of Latin America’s most politically turbulent countries. A wave of corruption scandals following the 2016 election has discredited Peru’s political elite. Mr Castillo is the fifth president to govern the country in as many years.
Mr Castillo’s election reflected public discontent. Only 21 percent of Peruvians were satisfied with their democracy last year, according to a poll by the Latino Public Opinion Project at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Peru is also the country with the highest tolerance for military coups in Latin America. Mr Castillo, a former union leader, teacher and farmer, was an outsider promising to upend the status quo. He had no previous experience in national politics. He campaigned vigorously in rural areas and won big in last year’s runoff against polarizing politician Keiko Fujimori. Mr. Castillo won by less than half a percentage point.
By his own admission, Mr Castillo was unprepared for the challenges of public office. He hasn’t improved much either. At public events, the president still sounds like a candidate. He describes the problem without offering a solution. These problems have worsened. The central bank recently slashed its growth forecast for this year to 3.1%, partly because of the closure of two large copper mines due to protests (with ministers sometimes appearing to be complicit). Private investment is not expected to pick up at all this year as business confidence weakens. According to credit rating agency Moody’s, “all government branches are bowing to populism and short-term measures that are grossly irresponsible for development”.
In February, Mr Castillo replaced a leftwing finance minister with Oscar Graham, an economist with 20 years at the central bank. But Mr Graham lacks clout. In April, he was forced to accept tax exemptions on fuel and basic goods to help Mr Castillo quell protests by transport workers (see Bello). Mr Graham later called the move a mistake. In May, he failed to stop the president from signing a law that would allow Peruvians to withdraw more of their pension savings from private funds in the country.
Despite his many missteps, Mr Castillo has been able to stay in power as the opposition has split. Congress is rife with infighting. It’s not even as popular as the president. At this point, Mr. Castillo’s survival “depends on inertia and the lack of better options,” said University of Delaware political scientist Julio Carrión. While a majority of Peruvians want the president to resign, only 42% explicitly support his impeachment, according to an Ipsos poll conducted in July.
Even if he faces another impeachment attempt, Mr. Castillo may survive. He gained support from some lawmakers by backing conservative legislation, such as a bill that would give families the power to veto school programs. Instead of calling for new elections, many opposition lawmakers would rather keep their jobs and make the most of Mr Castillo’s chaos. But that could change once October’s regional elections are over as the economic situation worsens.
Either way, Mr Castillo’s short rule has damaged democracy. Camila Vargas, a 42-year-old waitress in the highland town of Cerro de Pasco, no longer thinks the election matters. “No one will save us,” she said. “Not a new president, not a new Congress.” ■