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Castillo distances himself from the Peru Libre party and strengthens a moderate wing of the government

Among the seven ministers removed by the Peruvian president is the prime minister, Guido Bellido, who was replaced by Mirtha Vásquez, former president of Congress
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FP PHOTO / PERUVIAN PRESIDENCY/ALBERTO ORBEGOSO  -   Peruvian President Pedro Castillo delivering a speech during his symbolic presidential inauguration ceremony in Pampa de la Quinua in Ayacucho, southern Peru, 29 July 2021

The president of Peru, Pedro Castillo, on Wednesday staged a distancing from the ruling Peru Libre party, by reshuffling his government without the ministers closest to the controversial leader of this Marxist party, Vladimir Cerrón, and reinforcing the more moderate wing of the cabinet.

Among the seven ministers removed by Castillo was the prime minister, Guido Bellido, who was replaced by Mirtha Vásquez, former president of Congress during the transition period following the political crisis of November 2020.

Seventy days into Castillo's term, he asked Bellido to resign and hours later was swearing in Vásquez and the new cabinet at the Government Palace in Lima.

Although Bellido declared that he did not know the reasons for his departure from the government, the opposition in Congress welcomed his resignation in unison due to the confrontation he had with the Parliament, especially after the interpellation of the former Minister of Labour, Iber Maraví, for his alleged links with the Shining Path.

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PHOTO/REUTERS - Guido Bellido

Bellido himself had been under investigation for allegedly defending terrorism for having praised Edith Lagos, a deceased militant of the Shining Path terrorist group, on his social networks.

He also had a restraining order against opposition congresswoman Patricia Chirinos for alleged sexist violence.

"Betrayal" for Perú Libre

The government reshuffle was considered a "betrayal" by Perú Libre, whose congressmen went as a group to the government palace to demand that Castillo, with 37 legislators in parliament, be represented in the executive.

The party rejected the departure of Bellido, a man of Cerrón's full confidence, and rejected the presence of "conservatives, 'caviars' (well-off leftists) and traitors".

"It is time for Perú Libre to demand its share of power, guaranteeing its real presence or the bench will take a firm position," Cerrón said in a message on Twitter, in what could be interpreted as an eventual break with the executive.

Cerrón, a doctor trained politically in Cuba, should have been Peru Libre's presidential candidate in the last elections, but was unable to run because he was convicted of corruption during his time as governor of the central Andean region of Junín.

Castillo, a Peruvian teachers' union leader, was therefore invited to be Peru Libre's candidate with the aim of getting over the electoral fence and gaining representation in Congress, without imagining that he would end up becoming president, as he was not initially among the favourites.

Leftist lawyer as prime minister

After several weeks in which various sectors called for a more pluralistic cabinet with a greater female presence, Castillo named lawyer Mirtha Vásquez, who was a legislator for the leftist Frente Amplio movement and president of Congress until last July, to head the cabinet.

Vásquez took the oath of office "for this country of women and men who fight every day to live with dignity, without discrimination and who promote real change".

In the new cabinet, Foreign Minister Oscar Maúrtua, Economy Minister Pedro Francke, Health Minister Hernando Cevallos, Justice Minister Aníbal Torres and Defence Minister Walter Ayala were ratified in their posts.

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AFP/ERNESTO BENAVIDES - Peruvian left-wing presidential candidate for the Peru Libre party, Pedro Castillo

Likewise, Roberto Sánchez in Foreign Trade and Tourism, Juan Francisco Silva in Transport and Communications, Geiner Alvarado in Housing, Construction and Sanitation, Anahí Durand in Women and Vulnerable Populations, and Vice-President Dina Boluarte in Development and Social Inclusion continue.

Portfolio for members of Congress critical of Cerrón

Meanwhile, among the changes made in the cabinet are the entry of pro-government legislator Betssy Chávez to replace Iber Maraví in the Ministry of Labour, after the Peru Libre congresswoman had been one of the most critical figures against Cerrón and Bellido.

Likewise, Luis Barranzuela replaced Juan Carrasco in the Ministry of the Interior, Carlos Gallardo replaced Juan Cadillo in the Ministry of Education, and Gisela Ortiz replaced Ciro Gálvez in the Ministry of Culture.

As established in the Peruvian Constitution, Vásquez will have a period of one month to present his work plan to Congress and request the confidence of the legislature.