Peruvian President Pedro Castillo talks with journalist Nicolás Lucár of Exitosa. (Image via @PresidenciaPeru)

Pedro Castillo talks with Nicolás Lucár. (Image: @PresidenciaPeru)


Six Notable Pedro Castillo Quotes as He Hits Six Months in Office

By Holly K. Sonneland

The Peruvian president waited until he was half a year into his term to talk with the media. We look at some of his more indicative quotes.

Pedro Castillo took office on Peru’s bicentennial, July 28, 2021. Then he was a bit of a ghost for several months, avoiding public speaking and media interviews. He also kept his meetings and list of guests at the presidential residence under wraps—something that’s gotten him in hot water with prosecutors given laws about public records.

But then the elementary school teacher-turned-president sat down with journalist Cesar Hildebrandt for an interview released January 19 that was the first of his presidency. A few days later he did the same with Nicolás Lucár, which was then followed by his first international media interview—with CNN International’s Fernando del Rincón.

With January 26 marking Castillo’s first six months in office, we look at six notable statements from the interviews.

1. “I wasn’t prepared to be president. No one trained me. … It’s part of the struggle; I’m still learning.” (Lucár)

In one of the most oft-repeated refrains of his interviews, Castillo is frank about his lack of experience. In his view, it serves as a reminder that he’s not part of the Lima political establishment, and that was and remains his appeal to voters. Similarly, it’s a tradition for those who aspire to the upper echelons of Peruvian politics to study abroad, particularly in the United States. But such a move in his view represents the Lima elites who are distanced from the rest of the country.

2. “You know that to get into office in Peru you need a political party. Everyone knows I got here with Free Peru, and Vladimir Cerrón is the head of that party.” (Hildebrandt)

One of the bigger palace intrigues of Castillo’s administration surrounds his ties with Svengali-like Vladimir Cerrón. The Free Peru founder couldn’t run for office due to a corruption conviction, so he recruited Castillo to head the party’s presidential ticket. Castillo has not disavowed Cerrón, but appears to treat Free Peru largely as a political vehicle. In the same interview, Castillo also disavowed that he was a Marxist-Leninist, thereby distancing himself from Free Peru’s political orientation.

3. “Sometimes you get advice that leads to more problems. You have to learn not to trust.” (Hildebrandt)

When Castillo named his inaugural cabinet, the pushback was almost instantaneous, particularly given a sense of Cerrón’s presence in the picks. For example, Castillo selected Guido Bellido, a Cerrón ally, to serve as prime minister and chief of the cabinet. He also named a former guerilla fighter as his foreign minister, who lasted less than a month, and an activist who’d been under criminal investigation as his labor minister. Two months later and amid continuous blowback, Bellido stepped down at Castillo’s “request,” as did the labor minister. The president named the environmentalist and human rights activist Mirtha Vásquez, who hails not from Free Peru but the Broad Front, as Bellido’s replacement.

While Castillo didn’t say in the interview whose advice he was no longer taking, the prime minister shuffle is an area where Cerrón’s influence got Castillo in hot water. Does that mean the two aren’t talking anymore? Probably not, but based on these comments, Castillo is likely not reaching out on his own.

4. “If Congress wants to close the doors to the will of the people, that’s their responsibility.” (Hildebrandt)

Constitutional reform was one of Castillo’s cornerstone campaign pledges. But based on the current document, the question of changes would need to be approved by Congress first before going to the public. In the interview, Castillo said that if Congress scuttled his movement for reform or a constituent assembly, he would appeal to the country’s constitutional court. If that appeal is denied, he said he would “let the people know that we exhausted every option for changing the Constitution.”

5. “I reiterate … a call for private investment.” (Lucár)

Whether said out of belief or appeasement, Castillo’s maintained an open message to the private sector. “Together with the public sector, we need to get in agreement and create, not just sources of employment, but also reactivate the economy responsibly,” the president told Lucár.

In a December 2021 AS/COA conference, Castillo also affirmed the autonomy of Julio Velarde’s work at Peru’s Central Bank, which, he said, “In the last decade has been exemplary at the world level at guaranteeing our macroeconomic soundness.”

6. “I never met with the Lima Group. I didn’t feel it as an issue for people.” (del Rincón)

This statement came as he was pressed by his interviewers to say whether he believed Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are dictatorships. He evaded answering by saying he didn’t want to comment on other countries’ domestic affairs. While foreign policy issues are rarely at the top of voters’ minds, it’s notable that four and a half years after the regional group first convened in the Peruvian capital in an effort to see democracy return to Venezuela—and alleviate pressure on its members—can no longer count on the country’s president for support.