Poor and illiterate, Ireño Castillo, a devout Christian who knows the secrets of the Andean countryside like the back of his hand, would never have believed anyone who would have predicted that the third of his nine children would be on the verge of becoming president of Peru today.
Ireño, 81, and his wife Mavila Terrones, 75, also illiterate, were for years landless peasants on a farm in San Luís de Puña, a community in the Chotano district of Tacabamba, where their humble home of stone, adobe rests. and corrugated roof.
There, in the northern region of Cajamarca, the second poorest in Peru, the leftist candidate Pedro Castillo, a 51-year-old rural school teacher, grew up with his eight siblings, who on Sunday will face the right-wing Keiko Fujimori in the vote. that will define the new president of the country.
“I was a poor boy and I didn’t have enough money to pay the rent (of the land) and educate my children,” the candidate’s father reminded Efe, wearing a machete, sandals made with used tires and a traditional hat. “chotano” of straw and large wing.
LIFE IN THE COUNTRYSIDE
According to the old man’s account, his son’s education sought to bring Pedro closer to the values of the Catholic faith, the peasant patrols and the arduous work of agriculture: “He took him through various areas since he was a child and taught him to work,” he said. .
When he was 12 years old, father and son walked once a year for more than two days about 140 kilometers to an Amazon area to work for a month as day laborers in the coffee harvest.
“We would go with cold cuts and two or three days on the road, with a saddlebag on our shoulders and we would come and bring little money to buy their notebooks and their school uniform,” explained the father.
The candidate, the only one of all the brothers to go to university, made strenuous efforts to combine work in the field with studies.
“The day he didn’t have classes, (Pedro) worked all day on the farm, cultivating corn, potatoes and watching cattle,” the eldest of the Castillo brothers, José Mercedes, explained to Efe.
“We had food because we all worked since we were children as if we had been adults on the farm,” added the 55-year-old man, from the house he built with his own hands a few meters from his parents’ home, where he lives with his wife. and their five children.
KILOMETERS AND MEATS
Mercedes and Pedro completed the third grade of primary school in their community of San Luis de Puña. But later, the first one dropped out and the candidate continued at another school in the Anguía district, the third poorest in Peru.
There he met his wife, Lilia Paredes, also a rural teacher, with whom he has two evangelical Christian children, like his mother.
Paredes’ little sister also lives with them, who is the age of the couple’s youngest son and whom they have raised as just another daughter.
While finishing elementary school, every day, without exception, Pedro started a two-hour journey on foot through the mud at five in the morning, loaded with the cold cuts that his mother prepared for him and protected with the typical wool poncho from ram and chotano hat.
“He never failed,” insisted the father.
Pedro’s kilometers, cold cuts and morning ritual remained almost intact even as a teacher, a vocation he exercised for more than a quarter of a century in three remote villages in the region, with poverty rates exceeding 60%.
Living in his own flesh the poorly paid effort of Peruvian rural school teachers, a position of enormous influence and social respect in the communities in which they work, led him to union work.
Castillo grew in this work until he ended in 2017 as the leader of a teachers’ strike, which placed him in the eye of the media hurricane.
In fact, at that time, he held friendly meetings with the leaders of Fujimori -now their great enemies-, who supported his protest, which left Peruvian children without schools for months, due to their interest in weakening the Government of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski ( 2016-2018).
Without having more political experience than that, on April 11 he was surprisingly the most voted candidate in the first round of the presidential elections.
“He has always had great ambitions, but we did not think that he would suddenly be in this situation. Now the hope of all the people is Pedro and I am proud to have such a brother,” said José Mercedes, who acknowledged that everything “it seems to be a dream.”