After Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra dissolved the Congress as a part of his “anti-corruption” agenda in September, Peru held elections on January 26th. Peruvian people replaced the entire Congress and gave 15 congressional seats to the Agricultural People’s Front of Peru (FREPAP) with 1 million votes, after 40 years. The party is known for its ties to the religious group called the Israelite Mission of the New Universal Pact. This messianic sect was founded in 1968 by Ezequiel Ataucusi Gamonal who called himself the “Christ of the West.” The religious group is known for promoting the communal agricultural practices of the Incas and the Ten Commandments. According to Andina news, some of the party’s proposals are eliminating parliamentary immunity, reducing work hours from 48 to 44 hours without lowering the salary, change in prison privileges and fight against citizen insecurity. While it seems like the party focused on labor laws and congressional accountability, according to Reuters, many followers confirmed that the party’s mission is religious at heart which raises concern for secularist structure of the Congress.
While many were content with the result, some scholars were worried due to the lack of information on the religious sect and their leader. Supporters saw this new opportunity as a way to spread their religion. A preacher, Juan Caceres said to Reuters, that entering politics was a way to expand their religious influence. Another member of the sect emphasized on how getting in the Congress made the sect known to the world. Even though they received 8.9% of the votes, supporters believe that their leader will become president in next year’s presidential elections. Maria Eugenia Ulfe, an anthropology professor explains their success with Peruvian people thinking ‘a person with a religious vocation is not going to rob you or be corrupt.’ Even though the party had much presence before the elections, according to Adriana Urrutia from the Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University, the party ran an effective “mouth-to-mouth, door-to-door” campaign. Like Ulfe, Urrutia believes that Peruvian people’s discontent with traditional parties with links to corruption led FREPAP in the Congress. Yet there are concerns raised due to Congressman-elected Wilmer Cayllahua’s statements. In a radio interview Cayllahua rejected any alliance or deals with other political parties, in the same interview he mentioned that he does not agree with gender equality. When Cayllahua was asked about LGBTQ rights by the Peruvian newspaper, La Republica, he mentioned that he does not agree with their way of living and believed that queer and trans people “have evil in their blood.”
Peruvian’s exhaustion with corrupt governments is understandable. FREPAP seems to take advantage of this exhaustion through their “anti-corruption” policies and worker friendly proposals to get a seat in the Congress. Yet Wilmer Cayllahau’s description of queer and trans people as having “evil in their blood,” is alarming. This shows that all the efforts made by previous political leaders’ progress made to legalizing same-sex marriages are at risk of being erased. Because the religious group believes in gender roles, this also risks women’s empowerment and LGBTQ rights. Human rights and secularization are under threat in Peru. Even though FREPAP has tied to the Israelites, they should not forget the secular quality of the state and try to keep their religious beliefs that limit human rights of others out of the Congress and the decision-making process.
The religious group was founded in 1968 by Ataucusi, a Peruvian worker who claimed to receive a revelation that Peru was the new Jerusalem, and the Peruvians were the Israelites. According to their beliefs, the Promised Land is in the Peruvian Amazon and Ataucusi received revelations from God at Machu Picchu. This new religion mixes the Old Testament with Inca traditions. But it is not exclusive to Peru, the group has many followers in Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. Followers live in agricultural cooperatives where they wait for the apocalypse that will restore the Inca empire. In order to attract followers and be known, in 1989 Ataucusi founded the political party FREPAP with the slogan “Power to the Farmer,” but because most Peruvians saw them as pagans, Ataucusi lost in presidential elections in 1990. He passed away in 2000, during his second presidential campaign and now he is considered a prophet. Ataucusi’s son became his successor and in 2006, FREPAP entered the Peru’s general election but won less than 1% of the vote.
From 1% in 2006 to 8.9% in 2020, FREPAP increased their supporters significantly. This new Congress will take office on March 15th and will function for 14 months until 2021 presidential and legislative elections. The party showed their determination to not work with other parties by turning down the invitation to meet with the President Vizcarra. Not cooperating with other parties in the Congress can hurt the functioning of the Congress and decision-making process. Even though some of their proposals are promising to improve workers’ rights, their view on gender equality and LGBTQ community is concerning.