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story.lead_photo.caption Pedro Castillo, center, celebrates with his running mate Dina Boluarte after being declared president-elect of Peru by election authorities, at his party´s campaign headquarters in Lima Peru, Monday, July 19, 2021. Castillo was declared president-elect more than a month after the elections took place and after opponent Keiko Fujimori claimed that the election was tainted by fraud. (AP Photo/Guadalupe Prado)

LIMA, Peru (AP) — A teacher in one of the poorest communities in the Andes who had never held office is now Peru’s president-elect after officials in the South American country declared him the winner of a runoff election held last month.

Leftist Pedro Castillo catapulted from unknown to president-elect with the support of the country’s poor and rural citizens, many of whom identify with the struggles the teacher has faced. Castillo was officially declared winner Monday after the country’s electoral count became the longest in 40 years as his opponents fought the results.

Castillo received 44,000 more votes than right-wing politician Keiko Fujimori in the June 6 runoff. This is the third presidential election defeat for the daughter of imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori.

“Let’s not put the obstacles to move this country forward,” Castillo asked his opponent in his first remarks in front of hundreds of followers in Lima.

Wielding a pencil the size of a cane, symbol of his Peru Libre party, Castillo popularized the phrase “No more poor in a rich country.” The economy of Peru, the world’s second-largest copper producer, has been crushed by the coronavirus pandemic, increasing the poverty level to almost one-third of the population and eliminating the gains of a decade.

The shortfalls of Peru’s public health services have contributed to the country’s poor pandemic outcomes, leaving it with the highest global per capita death rate. Castillo has promised to use the revenues from the mining sector to improve public services, including education and health, whose inadequacies were highlighted by the pandemic.

“Those who do not have a car should have at least one bicycle,” Castillo, 51, told The Associated Press in mid-April at his adobe house in Anguía, Peru’s third poorest district.

Since surprising Peruvians and observers by advancing to the presidential runoff election, Castillo has softened his first proposals on nationalizing multinational mining and natural gas companies. Instead, his campaign has said he is considering raising taxes on profits due to high copper prices, which exceed $10,000 per ton.

Historians say he is the first peasant to become president of Peru, where until now, Indigenous people almost always have received the worst of the deficient public services even though the nation boasted being the economic star of Latin America in the first two decades of the century.

“There are no cases of a person unrelated to the professional, military or economic elites who reaches the presidency,” Cecilia Méndez, a Peruvian historian and professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara, told a radio station.

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