Peru’s president reshuffles cabinet in shift towards centre

Controversial PM Guido Bellido replaced by moderate leftist congresswoman, Mirtha Vásquez

Peru’s president Pedro Castillo  congratulating newly sworn-in prime minister  Mirtha Vásquez  in Lima on Wednesday. Photograph: Peru presidency/AFP via Getty Images

Peru’s president Pedro Castillo congratulating newly sworn-in prime minister Mirtha Vásquez in Lima on Wednesday. Photograph: Peru presidency/AFP via Getty Images

 

Peru’s leftwing president Pedro Castillo has announced a significant cabinet reshuffle, ousting his divisive prime minister Guido Bellido and distancing himself from the Marxist party that helped to put him into power.

In his boldest move since he took office in late July, Mr Castillo replaced Mr Bellido with Mirtha Vásquez, a young former congresswoman and moderate leftist who does not belong to the Marxist Free Perú party.

The president made six other changes, including in the all-important mining ministry, where he appointed businessman Eduardo González. Labour minister Iber Maraví, a radical from Free Perú, was dismissed along with Mr Bellido.

The number of women in the cabinet increased from two to five.

Pedro Francke, the finance minister, was confirmed in his job.

In a short, televised address, Mr Castillo said he had “decided to take some decisions in favour of governability” and that it was “time to put Peru above all ideology and isolated party impositions”.

Mr Bellido said he did not know why he was forced out but that he assumed Mr Castillo had acted “according to his convictions and political criteria”.

“We don’t know what the causes are. What we know is that today the president has asked us to submit our letters of resignation, and immediately we complied with that request,” he told a news conference.

Mr Bellido had been the most controversial member of Mr Castillo’s cabinet.

A Marxist congressman, he expressed sympathy for the Maoist guerrilla group Shining Path in the past. On several occasions he sought to justify the actions of the insurgents whose war with the state claimed 70,000 lives in the 1980s and 1990s.

While Mr Castillo was in the US last month trying to convince potential investors to come to Peru, Mr Bellido was telling the foreign owners of the largest natural gas project in the country that they should hand over more of their profits to the state or else face nationalisation.

Mr Bellido also suggested the government should be prepared to shut down congress if it tried to impeach the president or censure government ministers. His departure is the second in just 70 days of what has been a chaotic and improvised start to Castillo’s mandate.

In August, the 85-year-old foreign minister, a former leftwing guerrilla who defended the regimes in Cuba and Venezuela, quit after just 19 days when videos emerged in which he claimed Shining Path was “largely a product of the services of the CIA”.

Mixed signals

Mr Castillo won June’s elections against all odds, becoming arguably the most radical leftist president in Peru’s history.

A rural primary school teacher with almost no political experience and no party of his own, he stood as Free Perú’s candidate. Peruvians and foreigners alike have been watching to see who holds the power in government – Mr Castillo or his ideological backers.

When Mr Castillo appointed Mr Bellido on his first full day in office, it seemed Free Perú had the upper hand.

Since then, Mr Castillo has sent mixed signals about the direction in which he wants to take Peru, one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America this century and a big producer of copper, gold, silver and other metals.

Centrists have urged Mr Castillo to move away from the Marxists, while rightwingers have threatened to impeach him if he tries to press ahead with his more radical proposals, including a rewrite of the constitution.

Free Perú’s Cuban-trained leader Vladimir Cerrón regretted Mr Bellido’s departure, saying it marked a “before and after”.

Before Mr Castillo named the new cabinet, Mr Cerrón tweeted that the president would have to choose “between the conservative and the revolutionary” and insisted the new team must not include “rightwingers, bourgeois leftists and traitors”.

“It is time for Free Perú to demand its share of power,” he tweeted. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021