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UK residents flying back from Covid hotspots face hotel quarantine

UK residents flying back from Covid hotspots face hotel quarantine

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A limited system of hotel quarantine will be introduced in England this week but initially only for British residents returning from countries with new, more virulent forms of coronavirus, including Portugal, South Africa and Brazil.

Whitehall sources said Downing Street would “reserve the right” to go further by requiring all visitors from anywhere in the world to isolate for 10-days at their own expense.

The decision to limit the requirement at first to certain countries came after travel industry executives warned that imposing mandatory hotel quarantine on all arrivals immediately could prompt a rush of UK citizens returning home in days, making it hard to find sufficient hotel rooms near airports.

The move effectively means only British residents will be affected. Bans had already been put in place over recent months on visitors entering the UK from South Africa, Portugal, Brazil and other South American countries in an attempt to control the spread of new variants of the virus that scientists fear could be resistant to existing vaccines.

Senior ministers on the “coronavirus operations committee” will meet on Tuesday to finalise the quarantine policy for new arrivals.

Direct flights to the UK from South Africa, Brazil and other South American countries are already banned but British residents have been able to return home through indirect routes and then self-isolate.

The prospect of tougher restrictions in England and other European countries prompted a plunge in the share price of airlines and tourism operators on Monday.

Boris Johnson, the prime minister, said he wanted “maximum possible protection against reinfection from abroad” to prevent importing any new variants.

Matt Hancock, health secretary, alluded to the new plans at a press conference on Monday evening. “It is important that we protect from new variants should they have vaccine evasion and it is also reasonable to take a precautionary principle to protect this country,” he said.

With coronavirus travel restrictions in place around the world, visitor numbers are running at just 2.5 per cent of pre-pandemic levels equating to 12,000 people coming through UK airports daily.

A mandatory hotel quarantine for new arrivals, a policy used by other countries, would act as a further deterrent as it would impose a £1,000 cost per head for the 10-day stay.

The prime minister’s allies said no decision had been taken “in principle on any further extensions” of the quarantine requirement to other countries. Rishi Sunak, chancellor, is among those said to be sympathetic to a blanket policy for all arrivals.

Ministers first introduced a system of self-quarantine last June, three months after the start of the pandemic, although they maintained “travel corridor” exemptions for countries with low incidence of the virus.

They have tightened entry restrictions further in recent weeks, including the introduction of mandatory pre-departure testing for anyone arriving from abroad.

The aviation industry on Monday said the government needed to provide a plan for how it will roll back any new rules to allow travel to restart. 

“Less than two weeks ago the UK introduced some of the highest levels of restrictions in the world . . . there must be a road map out of these restrictions as soon as it is safe,” the Airport Operators Association and Airlines UK said in a joint statement. 

Many smaller airports, including London Southend, Cardiff and Newquay, have stopped all scheduled flights, leaving the vast majority of passengers passing through London’s Heathrow. 

Industry figures had warned there would be difficulty finding hotel space for so many people given that there are only about 10,000 hotel beds close to Heathrow — even before some temporary coronavirus-related closures.

The UK’s largest airport said that if ministers opted for a blanket hotel quarantine it would mean “effectively the closure of our borders which carries huge ramifications for Britain and its aviation sector, already on its knees”.

 

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US Treasury sanctions Cuban officials, military unit over violence

US Treasury sanctions Cuban officials, military unit over violence
Cuban activist protest. MIAMIHERALD

The US Treasury Department said on Friday (Aug 13) it was imposing sanctions on two Cuban Ministry of Interior officials and a military unit over the Cuban government’s crackdown on protesters last month.

The department said it was sanctioning Romarico Vidal Sotomayor Garcia and Pedro Orlando Martinez Fernandez and the Tropas de Prevencion of the Cuban Ministry of Revolutionary Armed Forces.

“Today’s action shines a spotlight on additional perpetrators responsible for suppressing the Cuban people’s calls for freedom and respect for human rights,” said Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The Cuban Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request to comment.

In July, the Biden administration imposed sanctions on the Cuban police force and two of its leaders.

The protests erupted in July amid Cuba’s worst economic crisis since the fall of its old ally, the Soviet Union, and a record surge in coronavirus infections. Thousands took to the streets, angry over shortages of basic goods, curbs on civil liberties, and the authorities’ handling of the pandemic.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel has blamed the unrest on the United States, which in recent years has tightened its decades-old trade embargo on the island. He has said many protesters were sincere but manipulated by US-orchestrated social media campaigns.

The US Treasury earlier announced sanctions on Cuba’s defense minister and an interior ministry special forces unit over allegations of human rights abuses in the crackdown that followed the protests, in which hundreds of activists were detained. REUTERS

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If You Grew Up With the U.S. Blockade as a Cuban, You Might Understand the Recent Protests Differently

If You Grew Up With the U.S. Blockade as a Cuban, You Might Understand the Recent Protests Differently
Amid the campaign being waged against Cuba on social media and fueled by protests in response to food shortages and electricity cuts, hundreds took to the streets to defend the revolution. GETTY IMAGES

During the early morning of July 17, Johana Tablada joined tens of thousands of Cubans as they gathered along the Malecón boulevard in Havana to stand with the Cuban Revolution. “We are human beings who live, work, suffer, and struggle for a better Cuba,” she told us. “We are not bots or troll farms or anything like that.” She referred to what has been called the Bay of Tweets, a social media campaign developed in Miami, Florida, that attempted to inflame Cuba’s social problems into a political crisis.

The social problems, Tablada told us, derive from the U.S. blockade of Cuba that began in the 1960s but has been deepened by former U.S. President Donald Trump’s 243 coercive measures. “The United States has criminalized Cuban public services,” she said, “including our public health system and our public education system.” These sanctions make it impossible for Cubans to visit their families in the United States. They make it impossible for remittances to be sent into Cuba, and they make it impossible for Cuba to access essential goods and services (including fuel). On top of everything else, Trump designated Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” a decision which U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy called “frivolous.” The U.S. government claims that the blockade and these coercive measures are to punish the government, but—says Tablada—they “criminalize the country.”

Amid the campaign being waged against Cuba on social media and fueled by protests in response to food shortages and electricity cuts, hundreds took to the streets to defend the revolution. GETTY IMAGES

The Miami Mafia

Tablada keeps a close eye on the Cuban policy being shaped by Washington, D.C., and Miami, where right-wing Cuban exiles effectively drive the agenda. She does this in her role as the deputy director-general in the Cuban Foreign Ministry in charge of U.S. affairs. There is a cast of characters in this story that is little known outside the world of U.S. right-wing politics and the Cuban exile community. Of course, four well-known elected officials lead the attempt to overthrow the government in Cuba: Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida, as well as Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Representative María Elvira Salazar of Florida. Beside them are other politicians such as Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez and a range of Cuban American businessmen and professionals such as Emilio Braun of the Vulcan Funds and the lawyer Marcell Felipe.

These men are at the core of a set of organizations that lobby U.S. politicians to harden the U.S. blockade on Cuba. Felipe runs the Inspire America Foundation, which Tablada describes as the “heir to the most anti-Cuban, reactionary, and pro-[former military dictator of Cuba Fulgencio] Batista traditions from South Florida.” This foundation works with the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance—a coalition of anti-communist groups that calls for a U.S. invasion of Cuba. At the center of these men is Mauricio Claver-Carone, a former head of the Cuba Democracy Advocates, who was Trump’s main adviser on Cuba and is now president of the Inter-American Development Bank based in Washington, D.C. Claver-Carone, Tablada tells us, “has been nothing short of the leading lobbyist of the groups acting politically against Cuba in the United States, in the U.S. Congress, representing those entities who benefit from this policy of hatred and aggression against my country.” “If you ever mentioned [Fidel] Castro, he’d go berserk,” recalled Claver-Carone’s friend about his attitude in the 1990s.

“The main goal of these people,” Tablada said, “is to overthrow the Cuban Revolution.” Their plan for Cuba, it seems, is to revert it to the days of Batista when U.S. corporations and gangsters ran riot on the island.

Lester Mallory’s Memorandum

In 1960, the U.S. State Department’s Lester Mallory wrote a memorandum on Cuba. Mallory said that most “Cubans support Castro” and there is “no effective political opposition.” Mallory said that there was only one way to go: “The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.” There has been no change in policy. The entire embargo is based on Mallory’s memorandum.

In 2019, Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton gave a speech to the veterans of the Bay of Pigs. He said that the U.S. government would use every instrument to suffocate tourism to Cuba. The Trump-era coercive measures are intended to deprive Cuba of any means to conduct normal trade and commerce not only with the United States but also with other countries and firms. Sixty-three companies that sell oil do not want to challenge the U.S. embargo, Tablada said.

Let Cuba Live

The Trump policy continues into the Biden administration. “There are 22 signed agreements that Trump didn’t revoke,” Tablada told us. “They could be implemented. Today, we could’ve been cooperating against COVID. Nobody knows why Biden excluded Cuba from one of his first executive orders in which he instructed a complete review of the sanctions that hindered the capacity of states to respond to COVID-19.” In fact, on February 24, Biden signed an executive order to continue the national emergency with respect to Cuba (which prevents traffic between the countries).

While the economic stranglehold has been severe, the information war against Cuba has been equally vicious. Certainly, Cubans migrate to other countries, as the weight of the blockade is difficult to bear. But there is a higher migration rate from Central American countries and other Caribbean islands into the U.S., Tablada said. The U.S. government’s embargo costs Cuba $5 billion per year, Tablada told us, while the U.S. spends “tens of billions of dollars trying—and failing—to drive us to defeat.” There is cruelty in these policies.

Tablada considers what it would mean if Biden ended Trump’s 243 coercive measures against Cuba. As a result of the blockade, she said, Cuba produced 90 percent of its medications. It is out of this tradition that Cuba’s scientists were able to develop five COVID-19 vaccine candidates. “If Trump’s measures were lifted,” she said, “Cuba would be able to buy necessary inputs to produce medication.” In which case, Cuba’s medical internationalism would be enhanced.

“Even if Biden does nothing,” Tablada said, “we’ll still pull through. It may cost us a bit more, but we have a plan, we have a strong social consensus. None of these plans include giving up socialism. The ordinary Cuban—all of us—is capable of sacrificing our individual interests because we know that it is essential for us to have a sovereign homeland [that is]free [and] independent, and that might be as far as we go.”


By Manolo De Los Santos and Vijay Prashad for Telegraf

Manolo De Los Santos is a researcher and a political activist. For 10 years, he worked in the organization of solidarity and education programs to challenge the United States’ regime of illegal sanctions and blockades. Based out of Cuba for many years, Manolo has worked toward building international networks of people’s movements and organizations. In 2018, he became the founding director of the People’s Forum in New York City, a movement incubator for working-class communities to build unity across historic lines of division at home and abroad. He also collaborates as a researcher with Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and is a Globetrotter/Peoples Dispatch fellow.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

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Let Cuba Live The Movement Standing Up to Biden’s Maximum Pressure Campaign

Let Cuba Live The Movement Standing Up to Biden’s Maximum Pressure Campaign
Protests broke out this week with people demanding the resignation of President Cuba. AFP

On July 22, U.S. President Joe Biden and his Vice President Kamala Harris released a “fact sheet” on U.S. “measures” against Cuba. The release from the White House said that Cuba was a “top priority for the Biden-Harris administration.” On March 9, Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “A Cuba policy shift is not currently among President Biden’s top priorities.” On July 12, NBC News reporter Kelly O’Donnell asked Psaki if Biden had reassessed his priorities regarding Cuba after the protests on the island the previous day. “In terms of where it ranks in a priority order,” Psaki replied, “I’m not in a position to offer that, but I can tell you that we will be closely engaged.”

Not a priority, closely engaged, top priority: matters have moved rapidly from March 9 to July 22. What moved the Biden-Harris administration to focus so quickly on Cuba? On the morning of July 11, some people in Cuba—notably in the town of San Antonio de los Baños—took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the social and economic problems created by the U.S.-imposed blockade and by the global pandemic. The reaction to these events in Havana and in Washington, D.C., is instructive: Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel heard the news of the protests, got into a car, and drove the 40 miles to San Antonio de los Baños, where he met with the people; while in Washington, Biden used the protest to call for the overthrow of the Cuban government. U.S. government-funded nongovernmental organizations and Cuban American groups hastened to take advantage of the frenzy, excited by the possibility of regime change in Cuba.

On the evening of July 11, tens of thousands of Cubans rallied across Cuba to defend their revolutionary process. Since that Sunday evening, Cuba has been calm.

Maximum Pressure

Eleven days after those events, the Biden administration announced its “measures” for the island. There are two kinds of pressure engineered by the United States government: tightening the blockade and lies.

The Biden administration deepened the U.S. blockade that has been in place since 1960. Elements of this deepening include the continued ban on the freedom of people in the United States to make remittance payments to relatives and friends on the island. In October 2020, the United States forced the closure of 400 Western Union offices in Cuba. By this act, the United States denied Cuba between $2 billion and $3 billion in annual remittance payments (Cuba is not among the top 10 Latin American countries that rely on such income).

In December 1950, the U.S. government created the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which manages the sanctions programs. Sanctions are a key element in the U.S. government’s “maximum pressure” campaign against its adversaries. Cuban banks and Cuban businesses as well as Cuban government officials populate the OFAC list alongside businesses and officials from about 30 other countries. In the “fact sheet,” the U.S. government mentioned the addition of “one Cuban individual,” namely Cuba’s minister of defense. He is accused of “facilitating the repression of peaceful, pro-democratic protests in Cuba.” The term “repression” is used loosely. In 2020, police officers in the United States killed 1,021 people, almost three people per day. There is no state violence at this scale anywhere in the world, let alone in Cuba.

Who Is Álvaro López Miera?

Cuba’s minister of defense is Álvaro López Miera, who took this post in April 2021. In 1957, at the age of 14, López Miera went up to the Sierra Maestra to join the rebels against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. He was motivated by his parents, who had been partisans in the Spanish Civil War, and who fled to Santiago de Cuba when the Spanish Republic was defeated by the fascists in 1939. López Miera was allowed to participate in the Second Front led by Raúl Castro, but only in the education department. He spent the next two years teaching peasants in the Sierra how to read and write.

Subsequently, López Miera worked in the Cuban military, volunteering to be part of the anti-colonial Operation Carlota in Angola in 1975 (where he returned in 1987) and to be part of the defense of Ethiopia against Somalia in the Ogaden War in 1977-78. He is now sanctioned by the U.S. government.

Diplomacy of Lies

The “fact sheet” casually repeats several accusations against Cuba that are simply not true. For one, the U.S. government accuses Cuba of the “intentional blocking of access to the Internet.” Countless reports make this accusation, but their evidence is scant (for instance, the Open Observatory of Network Interference found that as of July 23, the Cuban government had blocked 86 websites, many of them U.S. government-funded regime change sites, while the United States had blocked 2,661 sites); in fact, many U.S. internet corporations—such as Zoom—prevent Cubans from using their technology. Secondly, Biden’s administration repeats the fantasy of a 2017 “sonic attack” on the U.S. diplomatic officials in Havana.

After the July 11 events, the U.S. government circulated a one-page “Joint Statement on Cuba” among members of the Organization of American States (OAS) to get them to condemn Cuba. On July 21, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, who released the leaked draft on Twitter, strongly criticized the “interventionist maneuvers” of the United States “to intensify the blockade” against Cuba.

On July 24, after Biden’s “fact sheet” and “joint statement” made the rounds, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that the Washington-dominated OAS needed to be replaced by an organization that is not “a lackey of anyone.” These comments were made on the birthday of Simón Bolívar, known in Latin America as the Liberator. From the port of Veracruz, Mexico, two ships—Liberator and Papaloapanleft laden with food, medicines and other goods for Cuba. Russia sent 88 metric tons of supplies on two aircraft.

Let Cuba Live

On July 23, a full-page statement appeared on page 5 of the New York Times under the headline, “Let Cuba Live.” The advertisement, paid for by the Peoples Forum, was signed by more than 400 prominent people including Susan Sarandon, Emma Thompson, Noam Chomsky, Mark Ruffalo, Jane Fonda, and Danny Glover. It was an open letter to Biden asking him to end Trump’s “coercive measures” and “begin the process of ending the embargo.”

Most of the 193 member states of the United Nations made public statements to defend Cuba against the “maximum pressure” campaign. In a statement, the 120 members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) “strongly condemn[ed] the international campaign organized… with the purpose of destabilizing the Republic of Cuba.” The NAM called for an end to the U.S. blockade.

The White House has so far responded neither to the open letter nor to the NAM statement.


By Manolo De Los Santos and Vijay Prashad / Globetrotter for Telegraf

Manolo De Los Santos is a researcher and a political activist. For 10 years, he worked in the organization of solidarity and education programs to challenge the United States’ regime of illegal sanctions and blockades. Based out of Cuba for many years, Manolo has worked toward building international networks of people’s movements and organizations. In 2018, he became the founding director of the People’s Forum in New York City, a movement incubator for working-class communities to build unity across historic lines of division at home and abroad. He also collaborates as a researcher with Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and is a Globetrotter/Peoples Dispatch fellow.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

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Sportscaster Commentates His COVID-19 Vaccination Like It’s An Epic Soccer Goal

Sportscaster Commentates His COVID-19 Vaccination Like It’s An Epic Soccer Goal

The SBT Brasil journalist commentated on receiving the shot as if it was a soccer game. And he celebrated the needle going into his arm as if it was an epic goal, to the laughter of the woman administering the jab.

It was the “most important and emotional” commentary of his life, Chaves wrote on Twitter, where he also hailed Brazilian science, journalism and the country’s publicly-funded health care system.

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US places sanctions on head of Cuban military over protest crackdown

US places sanctions on head of Cuban military over protest crackdown

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The US has imposed economic sanctions on the head of Cuba’s military in response to Havana’s crackdown on protesters, in an effort by Joe Biden to increase pressure on the communist regime.

The sanctions announced by the Treasury department on Thursday targeted Alvaro Lopez Miera, Cuba’s defence minister, for “serious human rights abuses” in connection with the protests, as well as the “Black Berets”, a unit of the interior department that was deployed to curb the unrest.

Thousands of people took to the streets on July 11 in Cuba’s biggest anti-government protests in decades, in what appeared to be spontaneous demonstrations in multiple towns and cities to protest against shortages of food and medicine and call for greater freedoms.

The government responded by sending out police in large numbers to disperse the demonstrators and restricting internet access in most of the island. Human Rights Watch later said that about 400 people had been detained.

“I unequivocally condemn the mass detentions and sham trials that are unjustly sentencing to prison those who dared to speak out in an effort to intimidate and threaten the Cuban people into silence,” Biden said in a statement on Thursday.

“The Cuban people have the same right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as all people. The United States stands with the brave Cubans who have taken to the streets to oppose 62 years of repression under a communist regime,” the US president added.

Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s president, has repeatedly blamed exiles in the US for encouraging and organising the protests. Like Cuban leaders before him, he has pointed the finger at the American embargo for causing shortages and economic hardships, although independent economists say the country’s state-dominated economy and inefficient central planning play big roles.

Díaz-Canel’s administration had hoped that Biden would revive the Obama-era policy of detente with Havana. Despite promises from the US president on the campaign trail to alleviate some of the embargo’s humanitarian consequences, these hopes have so far been frustrated.

Cuba’s crackdown on the protesters further limits Biden’s political space for making any moves towards dialogue with Havana.

Biden said the US would “continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people” while working with “civil society organisations and the private sector to provide internet access to the Cuban people that circumvents the regime’s censorship efforts”.

He said the US was also “reviewing our remittance policy to determine how we can maximise support to the Cuban people” and was committed to “restaffing our embassy in Havana” to “provide consular services to Cubans and enhance our ability to engage with civil society”.

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Leftist Pedro Castillo finally confirmed as Peru’s next president

Leftist Pedro Castillo finally confirmed as Peru’s next president

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Leftwing candidate Pedro Castillo has finally been confirmed as Peru’s next president and will be sworn in to office next week after one of the longest and most bitter electoral battles in the country’s history.

The National Electoral Jury confirmed Castillo’s victory in a televised address on Monday night, more than six weeks after a second-round poll. Keiko Fujimori, Castillo’s only rival for the presidency, grudgingly acknowledged defeat, saying she would “recognise the results because that’s what the law and the constitution I swore to defend order”.

However, Fujimori described the JNE’s announcement as “illegitimate” and said that electoral fraud that she claimed tipped the vote in Castillo’s favour “will come to light”.

In a swipe at Castillo and Vladimir Cerrón, the hardline Marxist leader of his political party, Fujimori, the daughter of the country’s former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori, warned that Peru was embarking on a dangerous new chapter.

“It will be difficult because communism doesn’t assume power only to then give it up,” she said. “But I am totally sure that the Peruvians will not allow Pedro Castillo and Vladimir Cerrón to turn Peru into Cuba or Venezuela.”

Peru’s electoral authorities said weeks ago that Fujimori lost the June 6 run-off by 44,000 votes, or a margin of 49.9 per cent to 50.1 per cent. The EU, the Organization of American States and the US described the elections as fair. Washington as far as calling the poll “a model of democracy in the region”.

But in an echo of Donald Trump in last year’s US presidential election, Fujimori insisted the victorious Perú Libre party had cheated. Her lawyers bombarded the JNE with objections, forcing the body to painstakingly review ballot papers from across the country and delaying the formal announcement of the winner.

Analysts consulted by the Financial Times said the lawyers had produced some evidence of irregularities, but not enough to meaningfully affect the result.

“There is no evidence of fraud. Nothing,” said David Sulmont, professor of political science at Lima’s Pontifical Catholic University. “In a world in which everyone has a cell phone, if there was fraud it would have surfaced on social media by now and it hasn’t. Her narrative is 100 per cent fake news.”

Castillo, 51, is rural primary school teacher who emerged from obscurity to win the election by appealing to Peru’s poor, particularly in remote villages in the Andes and the Amazon basin. His campaign slogan — “no more poor people in a rich country” — resonated with many.

The prospect of his victory pushed Peru’s currency, the sol, to unprecedentedly low levels against the dollar. It has depreciated 9 per cent since Castillo emerged as a potential election winner in April despite repeated interventions from the central bank. Wealthy Peruvians have shifted money out of the country.

Castillo denies that he is a Marxist but his critics point to Cerrón’s influence over the party.

A Cuban-trained doctor who was barred from running himself because of a corruption conviction, Cerrón was the author of a notorious manifesto that praised Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. It warned foreign companies in Peru that they would have to hand over most of their profits to the state and would face expropriation if they refused.

Castillo has since distanced himself from the document and moved closer to more moderate leftists, although he insisted that he would try to rewrite the country’s 1993 constitution.

His party will have only 37 of the 130 seats in Peru’s fragmented Congress and may find it hard to govern. The country’s constitution also lends itself to politicians impeaching the president — Castillo will be the fifth leader in five years.

He will take office on July 28, the 200th anniversary of Peru’s independence from Spanish rule.

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