Foreign Policy

Will Peru Become the Next Venezuela?

A Chavez-style socialist is the leading contender to become the nation's next president.

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Pedro Castillo, a self-described Marxist-Leninist heading the Peru Libre ("Free Peru") ticket, has secured a spot in the country's June 6 presidential runoff election. The only person standing between him and power is Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of a former president who assumed dictatorial control in the 1990s and the leader of Fuerza Popular ("Popular Force"), a right-wing populist political party. If Castillo wins, he threatens to impose the same sort of ruinous policies that have decimated Venezuela.

Peru Libre's platform calls for an economic transformation that would include nationalization of the mining, gas, oil, hydro-energy, and communications industries; agrarian reform which will include land expropriation and might involve land redistribution; elimination of private pensions; voiding contracts with the companies that are currently in charge of managing airports, railways, ports, and highways, and transferring these functions to regional governments and municipalities; and reviewing all trade agreements with an eye toward abrogating at least some of them.

Some of these measures were tried unsuccessfully by the military government of left-wing General Velasco Alvarado (1968-1975). During the so-called agrarian reform carried out by that regime, some 15,000 properties (totaling nine million hectares) were taken by force from private owners for which they received inadequate compensation. The lands were mismanaged by the new owners who lacked the training required to successfully oversee large farms.

The Peru Libre platform is reminiscent of that of Venezuelan socialist Hugo Chavez. For example, Chavez nationalized Venezuela's oil industry in 2005. Not only did state mismanagement prove fatal, but the lack of private investment also contributed to the demise of the once-mighty Venezuelan industry. Castillo's plans to nationalize Peru's powerhouse copper industry will lead to similarly tragic results. If Castillo wins, expect both government mismanagement and an output collapse that will cripple the nation's copper production.

Venezuela's economic collapse under Chavez also triggered a vast outmigration to Peru and other South American countries. Of the roughly five million people who have fled Venezuela, about one million moved to Peru, which is second only to Colombia as a destination for emigrants from the Bolivarian Republic. With Venezuelans accounting for about 3 percent of the country's resident population, Peruvian citizens are frequently confronted by the results of socialist transformation. Many Peruvians complain that the Venezuelan influx has created more competition for certain jobs, driving down wages. Given this palpable result of Chavismo, it may seem odd that a domestic advocate of this failed ideology would win a plurality of presidential votes.

Although Castillo is an educator and holds a graduate degree in educational psychology, he appears to have a weak grasp on policy issues. Asked about antitrust in a recent interview, the candidate identified a leading supermarket chain and a major department store as monopolies, despite the fact that they both have robust domestic competition.

Apparently, Castillo is not the brains behind Peru Libre. Mirko Vidal, a Peruvian libertarian who offers political commentary on YouTube, has pointed out that the party's thought leadership comes from Vladimir Cerrón, a former provincial governor. Cerrón was removed from office after being convicted for corruption and abuse of power in awarding a sanitation contract in his prior role as mayor of La Oroya. His 2019 conviction came with a 56-month prison sentence and a civil penalty of PEN 850,000 (roughly equivalent to $234,000).

The ideology that Cerrón and Castillo are promoting will be distressingly familiar to older Peruvians, who will remember the depredations of Sendero Luminoso (known in English as the Shining Path). This Maoist terrorist organization occupied huge swaths of the nation's interior during the late 20th century, and the conflict it caused is believed to have resulted in almost 70,000 deaths.

Peru Libre's ideology more closely matches that of a rival Marxist terrorist group, the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (whose Spanish acronym is MRTA).  Both Peru Libre and MRTA were inspired by the work of José Carlos Mariátegui, an influential Peruvian Marxist theorist active in the 1920s. Mariátegui reoriented Marxism to Peruvian realities, by, for example, arguing that a revolution could be led by indigenous peasants rather than factory workers and that a fully developed capitalist system was not a necessary precondition as Karl Marx had originally argued. 

Mariategui's reformulation resonated with Peru's indigenous people who were marginalized and excluded from political power ever since Spain supplanted the Incas. He also jettisoned Marxian atheism, recognizing the importance of Catholicism to the indigenous population.

Among MRTA's members was the American socialist Lori Berenson, who returned to the U.S. in 2015 after serving a 20-year prison sentence. In 1997, MRTA staged a four-month-long takeover of the Japanese Embassy in Lima, holding hundreds hostage. The standoff ended when the Peruvian military assaulted the building, freeing most of the diplomatic hostages while killing or capturing most of the MRTA operatives. By 2001, the revolutionary movement was defunct, to be replaced a few years later by a political party guided by similar principles.

The fact that Castillo polled at the top of the presidential field may be explained by both the number of viable candidates dividing the overall vote and the popular revulsion at Peru's political status quo. Castillo topped a field of 18 other candidates, including 9 who garnered significant vote totals (of over 700,000 or 5 percent each). Hernando de Soto, an economist with libertarian leanings, placed fourth with over 1.6 million votes. A full 18 percent of voters returned blank or spoiled presidential ballots. 

Voters appear to have become dismayed by Peru's political chaos and poor governance. After the nation's last elected president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK), was obliged to step down in 2018 due to an impeachment threat, the nation has rapidly cycled through three unelected presidents to complete what would have been PPK's five-year term.

The nation has also suffered horrendously during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite an extremely strict lockdown, the country has experienced a COVID death rate of over 0.17 percent, which is worse than neighboring Chile and Colombia, and not far behind the United States. Although the lockdown failed to prevent widespread mortality, it dealt a severe blow to the nation's economy, which contracted 11 percent in 2020.

The only barrier to a Castillo victory is second-place finisher Keiko Fujimori, a perennial presidential candidate who has reached the runoff stage in the last two presidential elections, only to be defeated by a more popular rival. Although Keiko (who normally uses her first name) appeared to have a historic ceiling of just under 50 percent of the popular vote, it is likely much lower now due to her machinations and those of her party since 2016.

Keiko's father, Alberto Fujimori, is credited with vanquishing Sendero Luminoso and MRTA, but he did so at the cost of dissolving Congress and engaging in massive corruption. After fleeing the country, he was extradited from Chile and now sits in prison. Keiko and her party played a pivotal role in unseating PPK, thus giving rise to the country's recent instability. She was also temporarily jailed for her own alleged corruption offenses.

Popular revulsion against this current member of a prospective Fujimori dynasty may be enough for the socialist Castillo to win the presidency in June. If that occurs, expect mass emigration, economic calamity, and social unrest to follow.

NEXT: The Government Is Making Us Fat and Susceptible to Viruses

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  1. Animals at the Peru National Zoo feeling nervous.

    1. Seriously, how the fuck does anyone look at Venezuela and think “I want some of *that*”?

      1. They didn’t socialism hard enough. Or something.

        1. Something “democracy” something something “good and hard”…

          I mean, it kinda sounds like they have a real shit smorgasbord for options, but I’m not sure that really justifies choosing the Flamin’ Hot Fermented Diarrhea Stew option.

          Maybe we should find a wall in Panama. It’d be shorter, at least! *facepalm*

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      2. They vote Democrat and hope.

  2. Another great piece, keep em coming.

  3. Although Castillo is an educator and holds a graduate degree in educational psychology, he appears to have a weak grasp on policy issues.

    “Although”.

    Although Hitler killed 6 million Jews, he wasn’t a very nice man.

    1. How many do you want to kill for capitalism? Or slave labor?

      1. You have mixed up capitalism with slave labor. One is responsible for lifting billions out of poverty and providing a standard of living for average people that even the elites of 100 years ago did not have. The other is associated with feudal monarchies, landed aristocracies, Stalin, Mao, North Korea, and modern China.

        1. And capitalism (or economic freedom) is the only thing in all of human history that has raised most people out of a state of absolute poverty. If you are anti-capitalism, you are anti-humanity (or a fucking moron).

          1. Keep up the talking points. How many dead

            1. Beware anyone who uses the power fist salute. Usually it mens that fist will go up your ass. The fact that you keep asking the question means you don’t know. What we know is that hundreds of millions died under the red menace while not at war. And that’s not including the sparrows.

            2. If we are talking about voluntary (non-compulsory) capitalism, sometimes people make bad calls and end up in a worse position than they started in? See, when we talk about capitalism on this site we are usually talking not just about the ability for private peoples to own capital, but also a system of voluntaryism and property rights. The most foundational right is the ownership of your own person, and thus slavery is completely illegitimate. This principle carries through to many other topics, such as the drug war – if we truly have the right to our own bodies, we have the right to consume drugs. I think hard drugs are bad, but I think it is an inalienable right to be able to decide whether or not to consume them.

              Authoritarian regimes have much more direct culpability, and the outcomes are generally worse. The democide (death by one’s own government) count for the 20th century is around 250,000,000. This count is absolutely dominated by governments which were self proclaimed to be socialist.

        2. When Marx wrote abt the workers’ paradise the mercantilism he criticized was the mystical, monarchic, slaveholding colonial dictatorship of violently monopolized trade. This was the system so buoyantly described by Adam Smith as a step up from cannibalism, genocide of Jews and Hundred-Years’ War that preceded it, and also the system denounced in Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Even though Ayn Rand and a host of other Nixon-worshippers adopted the communist nickname for mercantilism, it ain’t Libertarian.

  4. “Will Peru Become the Next Venezuela?”

    Oh no! Are things in South America going poorly because a substantial percentage of voters will support socialist candidates?

    Well, Koch / Reason libertarianism has the solution. We simply encourage the entire populations of socialist countries to immigrate to the US. It’s the humanitarian thing to do, of course. But more importantly, it brings cost-effective labor to billionaire employers like our benefactor Charles Koch.

    #OpenBordersWillFixEverything

    1. OK, well, I claim Cuzco once all the people are cleared out.

  5. WTF is it with people in South and Central America? What are the cultural and economic legacies that encourage ass hole left and right dictatorships and prevent any significant and enduring functional market democracies?

    1. A culture where sitting on your ass any chance you get is a virtue, thus making anyone that promises you more money to sit on your ass a hero. Incidentally, this same culture is embedded in much of Portugal, Spain, Greece, and Italy.

      The Anglo-Germanic concepts of industriousness are absent in these nations. It’s not a joke. These cultural divides are very real. Hispanic/Mediterranean culture, imported to South and Central America, made for a bad fucking mix.

      “We shouldn’t have to work! Let the government pay for it while I sit around and smoke cigarettes and read the paper …”

      1. The most ignorant response today lol

        1. Fuck off DOL.

          1. Nice response

      2. Probably the weather’s too hot. I’m not kidding. What better incentive to sit on your ass?

    2. Caudillismo. Otherwise known as “The Man on the White Horse” or Leviathan. It’s how Spain operated for centuries and it’s how we’re going to be operating shortly.

      1. Yes.

        The sad thing is, borrowing from US Stratcom’s hilariously ill-advised Tweet a few days ago, an American Franco is probably going to be the ‘least worst option,’ very quickly.

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        2. Got a link to that tweet?

    3. Someone didn’t read history, keep buying wood from Ben Shapiro lol

      1. Whatever.

      2. ohlookMarketthugs = DeOpressoLoser

      3. Ben Shapiro sells lumber?

    4. The problem is that if the field of candidates is large enough, a top-two-with-runoff election system is almost as bad as simple plurality. Name recognition, then this. Top-two-with-runoff is pretty good at preventing that problem when the field is smaller.

    5. WTF is it with people in South and Central America?

      There’s nothing special about South and Central America. People everywhere are easily manipulated by envy and greed, it’s the entire value proposition for leftists across the globe.

  6. But this time we’ll get it right, say the Socialists.

  7. Democrats screaming “no cutting in line Peru”

  8. Peru Libre’s ideology more closely matches that of a rival Marxist terrorist group, the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (whose Spanish acronym is MRTA).

    So they’re slightly to the right of Shining Path? It’s good that they’re a more centrist terrorist group.

    1. One day, cocaine will be popular again, Peru. Keep the faith. Have another Guinea Pig and some cancha.

  9. Sounds like Peru may be due for some bad luck.

    1. Friday looks more and more prescient every day.

  10. Collectivism always fails. Even Bernie was a lazy fuck in the commune and got kicked out.

  11. I am proud of Peru for embracing science. Part of the scientific method is repeatability and they are willing to suffer and die in poverty to help prove that socialism doesn’t work.

  12. I’m sure Vice will report about the REAL truth and success of Peruvian socialism.

    1. I’m sure Vice will report about the REAL truth and success of Peruvian socialism.

      If they follow the Venezuela pattern they will praise the socialist success for a decade even as the country falls apart claiming the economic indicators are misleading. Then they’ll switch to claiming their beautiful plan was sabotaged by hoarders and the USA. Then they’ll completely ignore the result and deny the Peruvian example has any applicability anywhere else.

  13. I’ve lived in Peru, and closely track any hints of a Libertarian party there. What I find are violent communists who for 200 years described themselves as “nihilist, communist, anarchist” now suddenly describe themselves as “libertarian.” Like the no-borders U.S. National LP now dominated by Beavis ‘n Boothead, Peruvian “Libertários” are the devout communist terrorists Richard Nixon’s Anti-Libertarian Law and New Prohibitionism HAD to summon forth. Peru was a pretty free country before the Harrison Act and Republican cartelization of Big Pharma were exported via Hoover’s Good Neighbor policies. Bolivia and Brazil also do whatever it takes to prevent formation of an actual Libertarian Party.

  14. “Will Peru Become the Next Venezuela?”

    We’re neck and neck with Peru right now. USA! USA!

  15. What kind of regurgitated propaganda is this?
    My favorite part is when they authors talk about Castillo not being aware of “Policy” yet they show their complete lack of knowledge on any issues.

    I enjoy a good discussion or debate that counters ideologies yet reason has become basic propaganda with no substance.

    As a socialist it’s good to debate and hear various views. But seriously all they can talk about is Venezuela without any mention of Bolivias economic dominance?
    No mention of U.S. Sanctions.
    No substance as to why nationalizing specific industries would be so bad.
    Yet also no mention of U. S Interference through out Latin America toppling socialist governments

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