Impoverished hometown is key to Pedro Castillo’s politics

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Peru’s president-elect wants locals to benefit from their natural resources

Gideon Long in Cajamarca

As I stepped off the plane at Cajamarca airport, the billboard that greeted me was a little disconcerting for a foreigner. “Peru for the Peruvians,” it proclaimed in big red and white letters. “No more plundering, no more mafia.”

In case I had any doubts, I had arrived in the homeland of Pedro Castillo, the rural primary school teacher and trade union activist who built a presidential election campaign around resource nationalism. Little known even in Lima until a few months ago, Castillo surprised everyone by winning this month’s election to become Peru’s president in waiting.

One of nine children, he grew up in poverty in rural Cajamarca, a mountainous region in the far north of Peru. As a young boy, he walked hours to get to school and helped tend his family’s crops. The reality of life in Cajamarca has clearly shaped his thinking.