Peruvian Expats' Election Protests Are Impressive. Too Bad They're Too Late.
COMMENTARY Pedro Castillo won the presidency in Peru thanks largely to corruption and other abuses there that South Florida expats largely shrugged at.
Miami’s Latin American expat protests are always impressive. The flags, horns and drums, fiery chants, cacerolazo banging of pots and pans — the passion for patria. It’s all striking. What’s unfortunate is that it’s almost always too late.
Case in point: this week’s demonstrations by South Florida Peruvians alleging vote fraud in Peru’s June 6 presidential election, which was narrowly won by their worst expat nightmare — a Leninist-socialist candidate named Pedro Castillo.
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Castillo will probably be sworn in as Peru’s next head of state. And it will be thanks in no small part to the systemic cancers in Peru that expats here have largely shrugged at — the sort of systemic cancers back home that expats of so many nationalities here shrug at, but which chronically give rise to politicos like Castillo.
In Castillo, who wears a big straw hat on the hustings to announce his poor rural roots, Peruvians here see Hugo Chávez redux. They fear – with some reason — that the same left-wing, authoritarian populism Chávez unleashed to ruin Venezuela will now devour their own homeland.
And that's why they’re ardently echoing the claims of Castillo’s right-wing opponent, Keiko Fujimori, that Castillo alchemized his razor-thin victory margin of 44,000 votes with ghost ballots and falsified precinct tallies in his Andean strongholds.
It’s doubtful Peru’s National Jury of Elections will find enough smoking pistolas to overturn the former teachers union leader’s victory. And yes, Castillo’s presidency may well be a howling disaster. Not because of his humble background but because of his addled ideology – a brew that’s recklessly Marxist on economic policy and archaically Trumpist on social issues. Chances are Peru’s Congress, which Castillo’s party will not control, will thwart him if not remove him.
But there’s a bigger, nagging point here. The question in Peru today should be the same one people were asking in America in 2016: what are the reasons a guy like this got elected President in the first place? And just as important in South Florida: why weren’t Peruvian expats, months if not years ago, out there protesting the reasons a guy like Castillo could get elected as loudly as they’re now railing at his actual election?
Why weren't Peruvian expats out there protesting the systemic cancers in their homeland that helped get a guy like Castillo elected president as loudly as they’re now railing at his actual election?
Five years ago, when Donald Trump was heading for the White House, if you’d suggested Pedro Castillo would ever win the Casa de Pizarro presidential palace in Lima, Peruvians would have laughed their chullos off. In 2016 their country was a South American showcase: booming economic growth had halved the country’s poverty rate and ushered almost two-thirds of the population into the middle class. Castillo’s straw sombrero seemed more quaint anachronism than potent symbol.
Then the riches got rotten. Corruption consumed Peru so completely that in those past five years the country has had five presidents — three removed due to financial scandal. Business moguls like Gustavo Salazar were fingered in bribery schemes like the infamous Odebrecht case, which left badly needed Peruvian infrastructure projects hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.
Salazar fled here to Sunny Isles Beach. His extradition to Peru is pending in court. But I don’t recall red-and-white flags and indignant placards being waved by protesting Peruvian expats in front of the oceanfront building where Salazar took it comfortably on the lam in a $1.5 million condo. This despite the fact that the alleged outrages of elites like him are what have been fueling the political popularity of outliers like Castillo.
Nor did I cover any expat demonstrations when “Vaccine-gate” broke in COVID-ravaged Peru this year — involving some 500 high-level government officials who embezzled more than 3,000 vaccine doses reserved for crucial research trials.
Nor have I seen expat marches here denouncing the fact that Peru now has the world’s highest per capita COVID-19 death toll largely because it’s long had South America's lowest level of healthcare spending as a share of GDP – even during its recent boom. Or the fact that despite the boom, an astonishing 70 percent of Peru’s workforce still have to inhabit the informal, underground economy, cutting them off from relief benefits and making their pandemic hardships even more brutal.
No, South Florida’s Peruvian community waited until this moment to get angry. The moment when all they can really accomplish is to get angry.