Prime Minister Guido Bellido at left and President Pedro Castillo at right. (AP)

Guido Bellido, left, and Pedro Castillo. (AP)

Who's Who in Pedro Castillo's Inaugural Cabinet

By Holly K. Sonneland

Several of the new Peruvian president’s picks seem designed to provoke controversy.

Hopes for calm and clarity after the inauguration of the leftist Pedro Castillo evaporated in the first 48 hours after the new Peruvian president revealed his cabinet. It includes many ideological allies short on relevant experience and a particularly polarizing pick for prime minister.

Castillo’s selections were so confounding, writes Andrea Moncada in Americas Quarterly, that some believe it is part of a plan to provoke a showdown with Congress and therein accelerate the process of calling for a Constituent Assembly to rewrite Peru’s constitution. Under Peru’s current Magna Carta, Congress must ratify the presidential cabinet, but if it fails to do so two times during the five-year term, the president can dissolve the legislature. The executive and legislative branches deployed both maneuvers during the previous period. Congress must vote on whether to ratify the president’s picks within 30 days of the ministers taking office. While some members of Congress say they’ve already learned enough to reject the prime minister in particular, the new president of Congress, María del Carmen Alva of the centrist Popular Action party, has indicated that the body will hear from him first before taking any action.

Sixteen of the 18 ministers were sworn into their roles on July 29, one day after the presidential inauguration when they traditionally take office, and the final two—finance and justice—assumed office on July 30. If Congress does ultimately remove Castillo from the presidency, the next in the line of succession would be his vice president, Dina Boluarte, who’s also serving as minister of economic development and social inclusion. Boluarte is one of just two women in the cabinet, the lowest number for a Peruvian administration since 2006, which some analysts say is reflective of Free Peru’s old-school social conservatism.

AS/COA Online takes a look at some of the picks drawing the most attention.

Prime Minister: Guido Bellido

The selection of Bellido, a vocal ally of Vladimir Cerrón, to serve as Castillo’s prime minister—the chief of the cabinet—dispelled any hopes that the new president would be able to distance himself from the controversial and more radical Free Peru founder. Bellido is an electrical engineer and economist by training who worked for the national statistics agency until he won his first election to public office just this April to represent the Cusco department in Congress. Peruvian prosecutors are currently investigating him for defending terrorism after making less-than-critical comments about Shining Path leaders. He also has a lengthy track record of making homophobic and misogynistic remarks, particularly on Facebook.

Foreign Relations: Héctor Béjar Rivera

Béjar is a professor of sociology, who in the 1960s trained as a guerrilla fighter in Cuba and founded his own guerrilla group in Peru upon his return. On his first full day in his new role, Béjar received Venezuela’s Jorge Arreaza, the foreign minister of Nicolás Maduro. At a press conference on Monday, Béjar said improving relations with Caracas would be a priority of his. And while he said the administration “will favor a democratic renewal” in Venezuela, Béjar added that, “our concern is that not only in Venezuela but also in Peru and many other countries the rights of marginalized persons be respected.” As recently as 2016, Béjar referred to Hugo Chávez as a “Latin American hero” and a martyr.

Economy and Finance: Pedro Francke

One of the principal counterweights in the cabinet is Pedro Francke, a former World Bank economist. Francke was sworn in a day later than the rest of the cabinet, apparently after securing assurance from Castillo that he could carry out his work with some degree of autonomy. A university professor with experience with both public administration and civil society groups, Francke supports inflation-targeting, keeping debt levels low, opposes the appropriation of private property, and sees an expanded tax base from individuals and businesses alike as the source for more spending, particularly on social programs. Francke has been in regular contact with Julio Velarde, Peru’s world-renowned central bank president. Francke told Bloomberg he believes Velarde will accept Castillo’s invitation to remain at the post he’s held since 2006. Reviving the Peruvian economy will be a Herculean feat: it saw one of the steepest GDP drops in Latin America in 2020 at 12.9 percent, and the Peruvian stock market is the world’s worst performer so far in 2021, per Bloomberg.

Defense: Walter Ayala

Ayala is a lawyer, law professor, and solicitor for the Justice Ministry. While he’s not known for work in defense, he did gain recognition in the beginning of July when he successfully filed for an injunction against the outgoing legislature’s attempt to install six conservative judges on the country’s Constitutional Court in an attempt to blunt Castillo’s leftist policies. The day Ayala’s nomination was announced, the head of the joint command of Peru’s Armed Forces announced he’d retire upon Castillo’s inauguration, hours before a ceremony in which the military recognized the new president as its commander-in-chief. In his inaugural address, Castillo said he would require military service for all youth who are not working or in school.

Work and Employment Promotion: Íber Maraví Olarte

Maraví has primarily been involved in local Ayacucho politics and organizing thus far, serving as a city councilmember and the head of an activist teacher’s union, known as SUTEP. Maraví was the subject of a criminal investigation for his role in a 2004 teacher’s strike that turned violent. Maraví has a tough road ahead for him as unemployment in Peru stood at 7.5 percent in the first quarter of 2021, 2.3 points above the same quarter a year prior. Up to three in four workers in Peru were informal as of the third quarter in 2020, the highest rate in Peru in eight years.

Justice and Human Rights: Aníbal Torres

Torres is a lawyer and law school dean who advised Castillo’s campaign during the protracted effort to challenge his win. He’s been dismissive of Cerrón’s influence on Castillo, as well as of the viability of Marxism and socialism in general. Outside of academia, Torres has been involved with a handful of organizations that focus on air and maritime laws.

Other appointments

The following picks round out Castillo’s inaugural cabinet. Since Congress ratifies the cabinet on the whole and not individual ministers, if one cabinet member should fail to get their stamp of approval, the president could recycle some of his appointments when he submits a new slate of ministers. To keep any one person permanently out of office, Congress would have to censure him or her individually.

  • Culture: Ciro Gálvez
  • Economic Development and Social Inclusion: Dina Boluarte
  • Education: Juan Raúl Cadillo
  • Energy and Mines: Iván Godofredo
  • Environment: Rubén Ramírez
  • Foreign Trade and Tourism: Roberto Sánchez
  • Health: Hernando Cevallos
  • Housing, Construction, and Sanitation: Geiner Alvarado López
  • Interior: Juan Manuel Carrasco
  • Production: Yván Quispe Apaza
  • Transportation and Communications: Juan Francisco Silva Villegas
  • Water and Agriculture: Víctor Raúl Maita
  • Women and Vulnerable Populations: Anahí Durand