Fears are growing in Peru that supporters of right-wing presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of imprisoned former dictator Alberto Fujimori, will stage a coup to prevent her rival, the socialist teacher and union leader Pedro Castillo, from taking power. With 100% of votes counted from the June 6 election, Castillo has a 44,000-vote lead, but Fujimori is claiming fraud without offering any evidence. She is calling for hundreds of thousands of votes, mostly from poor Andean regions, to be annulled. Thousands took to the streets in Lima to protest against Fujimori’s claims. We speak with José Carlos Llerena, a Peruvian educator and activist, who recently co-authored a piece for Peoples Dispatch titled “The coup that is taking place in Peru.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.
Fears are growing in Peru that supporters of the right-wing presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori will stage a coup to prevent her rival, the socialist teachers’ union leader Pedro Castillo, from taking power after winning the June 6 election. With all the votes counted, Castillo has a 44,000-vote lead, but Fujimori is claiming fraud without offering any evidence. She’s calling for hundreds of thousands of votes to be annulled, mostly from poor Andean regions. Castillo is the son of Andean peasant farmers. He grew up in a remote village in a poor region. Fujimori is the daughter of the imprisoned former dictator Alberto Fujimori.
On Friday, over 80 retired military officers urged the Peruvian Armed Forces not to recognize Castillo as president if he’s formally declared the winner. The retired officers called on military leaders to, quote, “act rigorously” to “remedy” the election, claiming Castillo would be a, quote, “illegal and illegitimate” commander-in-chief.
This comes as Keiko Fujimori is fighting to stay out of jail herself. A state prosecutor recently urged a judge to send her back to prison in connection with an ongoing corruption case.
Michelle Bachelet, the former Chilean president, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, has urged Peruvians to accept the election results. She also condemned racist attacks on Castillo and voters from the Andes. She said, quote, “I repudiate hate speech and discrimination in all its forms, as it is unacceptable in any democratic society.”
Over the weekend, thousands took to the streets of Peru for rival protests. This is a supporter of Pedro Castillo speaking from Lima.
MARINA CRUZ: [translated] This march is to fight the coup d’état that Mrs. Keiko Fujimori intends. All this leadership is taking advantage of the circumstances to say that the election has been a fraud. Our brothers and sisters from the provinces have come to ask for their votes to be respected.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Lima, Peru, where we’re joined by José Carlos Llerena. He is a Peruvian educator and activist, recently co-wrote a piece with Vijay Prashad for Peoples Dispatch titled “The coup that is taking place in Peru.”
Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, José Carlos. If you can start off by talking about the significance of the Castillo win and who exactly he is?
JOSÉ CARLOS LLERENA: Good morning, Amy. It’s a pleasure to be with you and with all people who’s watching the program.
Well, Pedro Castillo is a rural teacher, a former peasant patrol — we call here rondas campesinas. And he’s a union leader of the teachers’ union in Peru. In 2017, he led a protest, a huge protest, that take almost free months of rally and protest, and he take down — turned down two ministers for the such protest. So, Pedro Castillo is a popular leader. He’s a popular leader, because in the first round of this presidential elections, most of 48 of his voters says that they vote for Pedro Castillo because he’s like them, a regular guy, a working-class Peruvian.
And also he has a message of sovereignty and patriotism. Pedro Castillo has declared or has said that the resources here in Peru have to be used for the Peruvian needs.
And also, finally, Pedro Castillo have this feature of social justice. And such message, for example, in education, in health, right now is so relevant in the middle of the pandemic that we are suffering here in Peru.
So, when you told me about the significance of Pedro Castillo, I have to say that this is the first time, in [200 years] of republic, where Peruvian people choose for a popular candidate or a popular leader, a left leader. But I think that the best way to approach this case of Peru and Pedro Castillo and Perú Libre is not in the contradiction of right and left, but more in the contradiction of poor against rich, Lima against regions. And in the last part of the campaign, the campaign of Pedro Castillo was fully of hope, but the campaign of Fujimori was of fear and threat, as you can see right now.
So, that’s why people were on the streets on Saturday defending the vote, more than 70,000 of peoples in the streets in Lima and many hundreds more around all the country.
AMY GOODMAN: So, now talk about Fujimori, the daughter of the jailed former dictator Alberto Fujimori, whose brutality is well known around the world. If you can talk about the approach she’s taking — clearly, straight from the Trump playbook — of just saying, without evidence, that she won?
JOSÉ CARLOS LLERENA: Yes, as you told, well, the rally, the protest of Saturday, was against the coup, because the coup is ongoing right now. That’s a fact. However, this is a coup with many combined elements from other experiences.
As you said, in the first days, this coup have all the feature of the Trump scandal of the last election over there in the United States: stop the count or have a large law firms army in order to invalidate votes. In such a way, Fujimori’s coup have these Trump’s features, but also have the Bolivian features, because the field of lawfare here is within the arena of an election process as in Bolivia. And also, right now within where — we can appreciate a feature like the parliament Brazilian coup against Dilma Rousseff, because while all the tentative initiatives of Fujimori in order to invalidate the votes are falling down, are being declared invalid and unprecedented, they are trying to do by means of the Congress, by means of a parliament coup, too.
And also, there is the feature of the typical lawfare that we know here in Latin America in order to avoid that popular leaders participate in popular elections, like Ecuador with Correa or Argentina with Cristina Fernández. Right now there is a lawfare tactic over cadres of Perú Libre, the Peruvian party whose founder is the doctor Vladimir Cerrón, a doctor located in Cuba. So, we have all the features of coup and lawfare in this Fujimori’s threat of coup.
AMY GOODMAN: This is the socialist presidential candidate who, according to 100% of the vote, has one by over 44,000 votes, Pedro Castillo, addressing supporters earlier this month after he cast his ballot in the presidential election runoff.
PEDRO CASTILLO: [translated] I hope that today, beyond the elections, Peru has to understand that we can’t move our country forward if we do not unite. Our country needs to move forward from many situations, and the pandemic has demonstrated it. We will make every effort to give health to the Peruvian people, education to the Peruvian people, tranquility and welfare with justice.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Pedro Castillo. If you, José Carlos Llerena, can talk about what is the elite so afraid of? He’s standing there with his signature straw hat. He is Indigenous. He is wearing a mask in these times of COVID. What are they so fearful of?
JOSÉ CARLOS LLERENA: Well, I think there are two ways to approach it. The first one is that people is afraid and is with fear because Fujimori campaign has been a campaign of fear, of terror media — terrorism by media, with fake news trying to relate Pedro Castillo with this narrative of communists who kills people, eat children, and all that McCarthyist strategy. That’s one way to approach it. And it explain very well how the distance between Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori has been closing while we were near to the June 6, because all the media was spreading this message of fear, of terrorism and all that we know.
But there is another structural reason in our case in Peru, and have to be with the colonial and racist approach. During 200 years of republic, the Peruvian oligarchy have ruled everything here in Peru — everything — media, executive power, judicial power, parliament. They have controlled everything. And this is a Peruvian white oligarchy that have this hate of people, of Indigenous people, hate of peasants, hate of everything that can be popular. That’s why, following even these manuals of or these texts of revolution of color by Gene Sharp and all the kind of others, the grassroots movement — that is weak right now; it’s not strong — but the grassroots movement that they are promoting right now, they have flags that celebrate the European invasion here in Latin America — the Spanish flag and colonial flags and all this kind of symbols.
So, I think that those are two reasons why it’s so fear right now in Peru. One, people for the media terrorism, but also the oligarchy is spreading their fear, because they are losing the control of a country that they think that they own and they lead. But this cannot take anymore.
AMY GOODMAN: In this last minute we have, Peru’s death toll from COVID per capita is the worst in the world. Based on population, the per capita death toll is more than double that of Brazil. The effect that that has had on your country?
JOSÉ CARLOS LLERENA: Excuse me? I didn’t hear your last —
AMY GOODMAN: The effect that COVID has had on your country?
JOSÉ CARLOS LLERENA: Yes, as you said, we have the most leader rate in all over the world. But I think that the pandemic have also impact in this election, because pandemic have put in evidence that the neoliberal project imposed here 30 years ago by Alberto Fujimori, Keiko Fujimori’s father, have failed, have fully failed. We don’t have health — we don’t have health insurance. We don’t have school conditions. We don’t have anything. That’s why in the first wave of COVID many doctors, many nurses die, a lot of poor people die. There is an outline of class here in order to tackle the pandemic, the pandemic crisis. But I think that the pandemic have helped in order to put in evidence or put the spotlight over this neoliberal failing project, and that’s why people is voting for Pedro Castillo, because he represents a change, a social change.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, and we’ll continue to follow what happens in Peru. José Carlos Llerena, Peruvian educator, member of the Peruvian organization La Junta and a representative of the ALBA Movimientos Peruvian chapter. His article for Peoples Dispatch, we’ll link to, “The coup that is taking place in Peru.”
Next up, “gasping for air.” The Progressive International holds an emergency summit to promote vaccine internationalism. Stay with us.