Peruvians are in my heart

Today, like yesterday, is a very anxious day for Peruvians and people with links to the country. After obligatory voting on Sunday June 6, over 96% of votes have been counted in the 2nd round of the presidential election between teacher, union leader and politician Pedro Castillo and businesswoman and politician Keiko Fujimori. Castillo represents the far left and Fujimori, the far right. There is about a 0.5% difference in votes, with Castillo leading.

Keiko Fujimori is the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, who has been in and out of jail for crimes against humanity (notably towards Indigenous peoples), murder, death squads, corruption, money laundering, embezzlement, and even kidnapping. With funding in part from the US government, Fuijimori pursued the forced sterilization of 215,227 Indigenous women and 16,457 men. He escaped to Japan and then exiled himself in Chile, but was eventually tried in court.

When I was living in Peru from 2013-15, Alberto Fujimori was on TV daily and there were debates about his legacy, and whether he should be imprisoned given his senior age. Many actually believe that his legacy was positive overall, as he managed to end violence of the [Lenin-Marxist inspired] Shining Path insurgency group, responsible for terrorism that rocked Peru in the 1980s and early 90s (though he used very extreme measures that also terrorized many). I am pained that his daughter is so close to becoming president of Peru, in her third (very determined) attempt.

My Facebook feed has been divided for months. Some of my friends don’t like Keiko but fear that Castillo will turn Peru into another Venezuela or Bolivia (‘communist’ state). Most people I know question how anyone could possibility vote for Keiko or “Fujimorismo”, which would mean neoliberal economics, mass privatization and even more corruption to benefit corporation owners. But it’s much more than that. Fujimorismo is the political ideology of Alberto Fujimori, plus the personality cult built around him, his policies and his family, which Keiko is upholding, despite having tried to distance herself from her father’s legacy over the years. The ideology opposes the political left and supports social conservatism (for example, opposition to LGBT rights and school curriculums including gender equality or sex education). Fujimorismo is about authoritarianism, populism, conservative politics and a lack of transparency regarding political decisions that will keep the lives of many in Peru in the dark ages, while rewarding private, corporate businesses who exploit millions of Peruvians and their lands.

Mural in Chiclayo that appeared just days after the killing by police of two youth protestors who were advocating for political reform on November 14, 2020, in Lima. There were huge protests in many cities, sparked by the removal of President Martín Vizcarra. Interim President Francisco Sagasti resorted to using extreme police brutality against innocent people.

Keiko has managed so many votes largely because she has controlled the media in Peru for many months, painting Castillo as someone who will turn Peru into a totalitarian, communist state and destroy private business. The media has made Castillo appear to be an ignorant campesino (farmer) and wrongly stated that he has ties to the offshoots of the Shining Path terrorists of the 1980s. Castillo has been mocked beyond belief.

Keiko has a dramatic track record in politics. She actually served as the ‘first lady’ of Peru at age 19 when her mother Susana Higuchi Miyagawa denounced the corruption and abuse of her husband Alberto Fujimori and then separated from him. Keiko will surely pardon her father for his crimes against humanity if elected. Being pro big-business, she received many votes in cities, while Castillo has faired well in many rural areas. Many corporations fear that Castillo will try to nationalize industries, prompting a sharp fall in the Peruvian Nuevo Sol currency. Keiko has managed so many votes because of the fear that she and her party have generated; most people are not voting for her because they agree with her policies, but because they have been brainwashed to fear Castillo’s policies, and also convinced to forget the brutal, violent legacy of Alberto Fujimori that Keiko is directly implicated in.

“I will call you old-fashioned, communist, terrorist if you don’t let me convert this…into this”.

Peru recently adjusted the national COVID death toll, and it is now about 185,000. Countless more lives have been affected and people are in mourning. Peru has the highest death rate on a per capita basis of all countries. Everyone I know in the Lambayeque region knows of multiple people who have passed, largely due to a lack of oxygen (much like in India). I know of several people who passed. April and May 2021 were horrific in Lambayeque. Despite controlling the spread of the virus quite well initially with a strict lockdown, the poverty in which so many people live makes enforcing lockdowns very challenging. The vaccination program is slow. Schools remain closed, meaning that children have spent an entire school year (and nearly a half of this one) trying to learn from home, which is brutally unfair to the millions with limited or no access to smart phones or internet for virtual lessons. Domestic and sexual violence have skyrocketed. According to official government data, there were 11,828 women reported missing in 2020 alone.

This image depicts the polarized educational realities during COVID. Both kids are saying: “Mom! I’m going to class”. The kid on the far right in the rural mountainous region says, “Continue, the [radio] signal is captured higher up.”

Despite the COVID crisis and the political turmoil, Peru is not in the news here in Canada, even though many people claim to love Peru, having travelled there in recent years to visit Machu Picchu. Canadians took their photos of amazing ecosystems and cultural and historical patrimony and left, forgetting the warm hospitality provided by hardworking Peruvians. Meanwhile, numerous Canadian mining, oil and gas corporations have continued to extract valuable resources from Peru’s mountains and Amazon regions throughout the pandemic, which many Canadians benefit from through the stock market and many private investments, leaving waters and soils in Peru contaminated and many people sick with cancer. Big business as usual as the Global North exploits the Global South whenever it wants and ignores the people of the Global South, especially when they are suffering more than usual.

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