Peru Has a Choice: Democracy or a Return to Dictatorship

Chicago city councilor and Democratic Socialists of America member Carlos Ramirez-Rosa writes from Peru that the country’s elections this weekend offer two stark choices: a deepening of democracy or a return to right-wing dictatorship.

Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Castillo speaks during a debate with right-wing opponent Keiko Fujimori in Chota, Peru on May 1, 2021. (Cesar Bazan / AFP via Getty Images)

On January 6, 2021, Americans were horrified to witness Donald Trump’s right-wing supporters storm the US Capitol in an attempt to overturn the presidential election. Their attempted insurrection against American democracy colossally failed, but the riot served as a reminder to Americans that democracy is fragile — and is a system that must be constantly defended.

I’m currently in Lima, Peru with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) to serve as an election observer for the country’s June 6 presidential runoff election. This Sunday, Peruvians will choose between leftist candidate Pedro Castillo, an educator and union leader, and Keiko Fujimori, a career politician and daughter of former dictator Alberto Fujimori.

I’ve served as a poll watcher in local and national US elections, but the stakes have never been as high as they currently are here in Peru.

In the past two days, all four groups that DSA’s observer delegation has met with have expressed serious concerns about the possibility of a right-wing coup attempt should Pedro Castillo win. Castillo is currently leading in the polls. The four organizations — made up of indigenous leaders, lawyers, human rights experts, and trade union leaders — also expressed fears that Keiko Fujimori and her supporters in the military, courts, legislature, and media would engage in fraud or violence to secure her victory at any cost.

Legal experts with Peru’s Mesa de Abogados Por La Democracia (Lawyer’s Table for Democracy) shared their fear that this election could result in a return to Fujimorismo, the term used to describe the right-wing authoritarianism and violence of Alberto Fujimori’s ten-year dictatorship. Fujimori’s government forcibly sterilized 272,028 mostly indigenous, rural, and poor women and murdered thousands of Peruvians in terrible acts of state-sponsored terrorism. Mass graves around the country have still yet to be uncovered.

Concerns over a potential coup or electoral fraud were expressed by Peru’s Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Coordinator for Human Rights), an umbrella organization of eighty-two human rights organizations. The CNDDHH shared with our delegation a sixteen-page report documenting recent right-wing attacks on freedom of speech and freedom of the press during Peru’s presidential runoff election.

One recent right-wing attack on Peruvian freedom of the press was the firing of Clara Elvira Ospina from her job as news director with two of Peru’s leading television channels. Both channels are owned by major media conglomerate El Comercio. Clara was fired from her job shortly after a meeting with Keiko Fujimori — a meeting where Clara informed Fujimori that her channels’ news coverage would remain impartial and unbiased.

Attacks on freedom of the press. Right-wing violence threatening the democratic rule of law. This may sound all too familiar to Americans after four years of Trump and Trumpism.

If Pedro Castillo is elected on June 6, he has promised to strengthen democracy in his nation. Central to Castillo’s campaign is a pledge to work with social movements to initiate a referendum to write a new constitution — one that would guarantee the rights of indigenous communities, women, and peasants, and replace the constitution imposed during the Fujimori dictatorship.

Peru is at a crossroads between a return to right-wing dictatorship and the deepening of their nation’s democratic project. This Sunday, all eyes should turn to Peru to ensure that on June 6, like on January 6, democracy prevails in the Americas.