Reportage. The teacher and union leader has inspired Peruvians to dream of the end of Fujimorism. The influx of votes from rural areas is expected to be decisive.

With a photo finish, Pedro Castillo’s hope is alive in Peru

The long-awaited overtaking in the vote count took place around 11:30 a.m. (local time) on Monday, after a long and nerve-wracking wait. Since that moment, Pedro Castillo’s dream of changing the country, freeing it from the toxic legacy of Fujimorism, has become more and more solid. True, his lead remains very narrow—50.4% to 49.6% as of Tuesday night, with over 97% of the votes counted—and there is still the unknown of the overseas vote, for which data will be available by Wednesday, but victory now seems within reach for the teacher and union leader who has ignited the hope of the ninguneados, the “nobodies” of deepest Peru.

At midnight on Sunday, according to the first data released by the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE), with just over 42% of the votes counted, Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the former dictator who is now serving a 25-year prison sentence, was ahead with 53% of the vote against 47% for her opponent.

But the director of ONPE, Piero Corvetto, was clear: “In addition to the overseas votes, those in rural areas are still to be counted.” That is, the areas where the advantage of the leftist candidate is overwhelming, with margins of victory of up to 20 and 30 points. Castillo, speaking at midnight to his supporters, invited everyone to trust the “will of the people” and to remain calm: “We must be prudent. The people are wise, they know what they’re doing.”

At the same time, in the alternative press—the one not complicit in the dirty, racist and McCarthyist campaign unleashed against the leader of Peru Libre, between the many meetings of U.S. embassy officials with the leaders of Fuerza Peru—the comments were unanimous: if everything goes according to the rules, there is no doubt that Castillo will win the election.

But there were many who doubted that everything would go “according to the rules,” especially since the international observers had expressed concern about the unequal treatment given by the national media to the campaigns of the two candidates.

The assault on Dina Boluarte, the candidate for the first vice-presidency for Peru Libre, at the exit of the polling station where she had gone to vote, was also an ominous sign. After holding a conversation with journalists, expressing her hope for change and thanking the Peruvian people for the warm support during the campaign, the candidate was chased by rabid Fujimorist sympathizers all the way to the door of her house, as they shouted heavy insults at her.

However, as the hours passed, the fears and suspicions gave way to hope, also fueled also by the announcement of the final data from the unofficial quick count run by Ipsos Perú, according to which Castillo won the election with 50.2% against Mrs. K’s 49.8%.

And it was indeed the case that the difference between the two narrowed more and more with each vote counted, until the leader of Perú Libre overtook his opponent: the yearning for change of the dispossessed of Peru, and of all the truly democratic forces in the country, was too strong to be held down at the ballot box.

So now, barring any shenanigans, there is finally a reason to celebrate in a country where more than 20% of children and adolescents are forced to work; where 2.7 million inhabitants are illiterate (84% of them women) out of a population of 32.5 million; where 60% of the population has no access to the Internet; where 40% do not even have a refrigerator; and where 30.1% of the population lives below the poverty line, an increase of 9.9% over 2019.

The data shows the catastrophic impact of the pandemic on the country, which ranks first in the world for the number of deaths (5,484) per million inhabitants, for a total of more than 180,000 victims. A record that can be blamed on an unprepared and underfunded healthcare system, on the limited number of ICU beds, and on a very slow vaccination campaign.

But it can also be blamed on the absence of alternatives on the part of the working class, 70% of whom work in the informal economy—one of the highest percentages in all of Latin America—and who chose to expose themselves to the risk of contagion rather than stay at home and starve.

For all of them, hope has a name: Pedro Castillo, the candidate who came from the people with a new promise: “No longer poor in a rich country.”

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