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Editorial: Socialism or barbarism? What's at stake in Peru

ALL eyes are on Peru as dictator’s daughter Keiko Fujimori gets her fraud allegations in even before results are declared.

Fujimori is beating a familiar drum: the political right in Latin America routinely dismiss elections they don’t win as fraudulent.

The last results to come in reflect the very different political bases of Fujimori and the socialist schoolteacher who terrifies the country’s ruling elite, Pedro Castillo. Fujimori counts on a lead among expatriates voting in consulates abroad, an atypically wealthy constituency; Castillo is expected to dominate in the poorest rural areas. 

An entirely predictable (and predicted) swing to Bolivia’s Evo Morales in 2019, as votes in the poorer indigenous regions took longest to count, was similarly exploited by the Bolivian military, far right and the US government to cry foul, evict the elected president by force and unleash a lethal reign of terror. 

The left internationally must be on the alert to prevent similar atrocities in Peru. Fujimori might be a more cautious politician than Bolivia’s coup president Jeanine Anez, who railed about sending “the Indians” back to the mountains and re-enacted the symbolism of European conquest by tearing native American icons like the wiphala flag from the presidential palace while brandishing a Bible. 

But she has pledged, if elected, to pardon her father Alberto, whose current prison sentence is ascribed by the BBC to “corruption and human rights abuses.” He was convicted of murder and kidnapping over the activities of anti-communist death squads like the Grupo Colina. As president he presided over thousands of political killings and hundreds of thousands of forced sterilisations, mostly of native American Quecha women, as part of efforts to solve “the Indian problem.”

Fujimori’s endorsement of her father’s politics is seen as an embarrassment by “centrists” like political analyst Alberto Vergara, who told the Financial Times that a Fujimori-Castillo showdown was “a contest between failures.” Why, the reasoning goes, is Peru forced to choose between the child of a far-right tyrant and a radical socialist? Why isn’t a “moderate” in the running?

In Britain we should be familiar with the dilemma, posed by disoriented liberals repeatedly when a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour faced off against Boris Johnson’s Tories. It prompted the wail that Labour would be 20 points ahead “under any other leader” (incidentally, it’s not). More recently even the supposed maverick Dominic Cummings intoned the old formula, that Corbyn versus Johnson was a sign that the political system had gone “extremely, badly wrong.”

Cummings was right, though not in the sense he intended. Politics does not polarise at random. 

The collapse of the “centre ground” reflects stresses on the system itself, caused by escalating social and economic crises. 

A system obviously incapable of dealing with the problems confronting it – whether that means ordinary people being able to afford a roof over their head or tackling climate change – loses credibility, as do its “centrist” advocates. 

There are innumerable variations on the theme, but there are essentially two political options in these circumstances: change the system (the left) or shift the blame (the right).

For the ruling class in Peru, as in Britain and everywhere else where the elite have been faced with this choice, the capitalist system is sacrosanct. Peru’s business elite and mass media have piled on the abuse of Castillo and dropped all previous reservations about Fujimori, as Brazil’s rich rallied around the race-baiting would-be-dictator Jair Bolsonaro when faced with Lula, and as Britain’s politicians and media directed their fire for years on end towards destroying Corbyn despite the character of his opponent.

The left should show similar discipline. Capitalism’s self-defence will keep getting uglier as its fragility and instability increase. There is no middle ground. 

As Pete Seeger had it, which side are you on? Castillo’s fight is our own; Peru’s choice, socialism or barbarism, is one that increasingly confronts all countries of the world.

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