Peru Chooses Between Extremes
Voters will decide between a dictator’s daughter and a socialist in Sunday’s polarized contest.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Peru prepares for a polarizing presidential election, U.S. President Joe Biden announces distribution plans for 25 million COVID-19 vaccines, and global food prices near a 10-year high.
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Peru’s Swing Election
As the presidential campaign enters its final days, Peru’s voters have the opportunity to send their country in one of two very different directions.
Sunday’s runoff pits Pedro Castillo, a socialist newcomer, against the right-wing Keiko Fujimori, who is mounting her third presidential bid. Fujimori has dubbed the vote a choice between “markets and Marxism” while Castillo has described it as “a battle between the rich and the poor, the struggle between the … master and the slave.”
Princess vs. peasant. The candidates’ respective backgrounds are as polarized as their views. Castillo, a rural schoolteacher and the son of illiterate peasants, squares off against Fujimori, the daughter of former dictator Alberto Fujimori. She is a polarizing figure due to her father’s record and her own political career, which has been marred by accusations of corruption. Fujimori had to abandon a campaign stop last week after a crowd pelted her with garbage.
No more poor Peruvians. In a country with steady economic growth but where poverty jumped from 20 percent to 30 percent between 2019 and 2020, Castillo’s campaign slogan of “no more poor people in a rich country” is bound to resonate. And according to recent polls, Castillo is the slight frontrunner. An Ipsos poll taken last Sunday showed Castillo 2 percentage points ahead of Fujimori with 42 percent support. Crucially, 18 percent of those surveyed had yet to make up their mind. Any poll should be taken with a pinch of salt but especially in Peru’s case as first round surveys completely missed Castillo’s rise, with the final preelection poll predicting a seventh place finish.
Castillo’s candidacy initially spooked markets. When he won the presidential first round with 18 percent of the vote, Peruvian stocks fell by 3.2 percent. On Wednesday, Peru’s currency reached a historic low against the U.S. dollar as wealthy Peruvians scrambled to move their money overseas.
Since his surprise first round of success, Castillo has tempered the more radical aspects of his platform. After accusing mining firms of plundering the country, he has backed off on a proposal to nationalize Peru’s mining industry—worth roughly 10 percent of its GDP—in favor of negotiating more favorable terms with mining companies.
Just business. Rather than face the uncertainty of a Castillo victory, Peru’s business elite have piled their support behind Fujimori. Corporations have slipped pro-Fujimori leaflets into food parcels to distribute in needy neighborhoods, the Guardian reported, while the Financial Times highlighted the pressure media owners have placed on journalists “to demonize Castillo and play up the idea that he represents a Marxist menace.”
Sunday’s winner is unlikely to change the country overnight and will have to deal with a fractured Congress eager to disrupt the path of any new legislation. It’s entirely possible Congress may not allow the next president to finish their term by pursuing the impeachment route that dethroned former Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra last November.
The COVID-19 toll. Whoever wins will face the immediate problem of Peru’s COVID-19 crisis. On Monday, Peruvian authorities updated the country’s pandemic death toll to better reflect excess deaths data, more than doubling the previous figure. The more than 180,000 people dead means Peru has the highest COVID-19 death toll per capita in the world. Both candidates have said they will secure vaccines for all Peruvians, with only 8.7 percent of the population having received a dose so far.
What We’re Following Today
U.S. vaccine plans. U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Thursday a plan to distribute 25 million vaccine doses from the U.S. stockpile to other nations. Biden said 75 percent of the vaccines would be donated to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative while the remainder would go to allied and partner countries. The 19 million-dose donation would substantially boost COVAX, which has only distributed 76 million doses to date.
Nevertheless, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the United States would “retain the say” on where COVAX doses will go, according to the Associated Press, adding: “We’re not seeking to extract concessions. We’re not extorting. We’re not imposing conditions the way that other countries who are providing doses are doing.”
Denmark’s asylum proposal. Danish lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a measure on Thursday to establish a refugee application processing office in a third country, likely in Africa, in a move that has been criticized by the European Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Supporters of the proposal say it is designed to cut down on deadly migrant crossings of the Mediterranean Sea, but human rights groups have questioned that logic. “What it’s all about is that Denmark wants to get rid of refugees. The plan is to scare people away from seeking asylum in Denmark,” Michala Bendixen, a spokesperson for the advocacy and legal aid organization Refugees Welcome, told the Associated Press.
European Commission spokesperson Adalbert Jahnz also questioned the plan. “External processing of asylum claims raises fundamental questions about both the access to asylum procedures and effective access to protection. It is not possible under existing EU rules,” Jahnz said.
Food prices. Global food prices in May were at their highest point in almost a decade, up 40 percent from the previous year, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Thursday. It is the 12th consecutive month the FAO food price index has increased. The agency blamed the recent surge on the higher cost of vegetable oils, sugar, and cereals—even as global cereal production is expected to reach record levels.
Keep an Eye On
Killer tech. A military drone attacked soldiers in Libya’s civil war using artificial intelligence rather than a human pilot, an independently authored report commissioned by the United Nations found. The drone, believed to be a Turkish Kargu-2 model, was part of advanced military technology introduced by Turkey that ultimately proved a “decisive element” in helping the Government of National Accord defeat of the forces of then-Libyan leader Khalifa Haftar in western Libya in 2020.
DOJ updates ransomware guidance. The U.S. Justice Department will investigate ransomware attacks at the same level as terrorism, Reuters reported on Thursday, in the wake of high-profile hacks of Colonial Pipeline and global meatpacking giant JBS.
The move means local U.S. attorneys must coordinate with a central Justice Department task force in Washington. The decision was taken to ensure the department “can make necessary connections across national and global cases and investigations, and to allow us to develop a comprehensive picture of the national and economic security threats we face,” according to a guidance document issued internally and seen by Reuters.
Africa’s COVID-19 threat. The World Health Organization warned of the “real and rising” threat of a third coronavirus wave hitting Africa soon as infection indicators show cause for alarm. The continent has seen a 20 percent increase in overall cases in the past two weeks while eight countries have reported more than a 30 percent rise in cases. As cases jump, vaccines are still hard to come by: Only 31 million people have received a single vaccine dose out of a population of 1.3 billion people. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, urged rich countries that have achieved “significant vaccination coverage” to free up their stocks to poorer nations.
Odds and Ends
Rowboats may soon be joined by robots on Amsterdam’s famous canals as the city begins trials of self-driving electric boats. Stephan van Dijk, the director of innovation at the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, which is developing the boats along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the technology was “very relevant in highly complex port operations, where you have a lot of vessels and a lot of ships and a lot of quays and piers.” The vessels have the potential for use as trash collectors and transporting passengers. One would not want to be in a hurry, however, as the boats chug along at a relaxed 4 miles per hour.
Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn