LIMA (Reuters) - Pedro Pablo Kuczynski took office as Peru’s president on Thursday, asking the opposition-controlled Congress to help him fight income inequality and ensure all Peruvians have access to running water, health care and free primary education.
The 77-year-old Oxford-educated former investment banker, deemed “elitist” by opponents in last month’s tight election, said he would modernize Peru with policies aimed at raising the incomes of the poorest while fighting racism, sexism and corruption.
“I want a social revolution for my country! I long for Peru in five years to be more modern, more just, more equal,” Kuczynski said before lawmakers, his American family and heads-of-states in the region.
Peru’s economy has more than doubled since the start of the century, helped by high prices for its mineral exports during a decade-long commodity boom. But one in four Peruvians still lives in poverty and scores of towns lack basic services.
“The progress we have made is undeniable, but we all know we need to do more, much more,” said Kuczynski, who replaces outgoing President Ollanta Humala, a former military officer.
Following his inauguration, Kuczynski waved and blew kisses to supporters as he walked through Lima’s historic center wearing the red-and-white presidential sash.
Kuczynski was sworn in by the new president of Congress, Luz Salgado, a member of the right-wing populist party, headed by Kuczynski’s defeated run-off rival Keiko Fujimori, that now holds 56 percent of seats in Congress.
Applause from lawmakers in Fujimori’s party was light throughout Kuczynski’s speech, even as he put more emphasis on social issues than the business-friendly economic policies he is better known for as a former finance minister and World Bank economist.
The son of European immigrants who grew up in Peru before spending years in the United States, Kuczynski praised Peru’s heritage as the birthplace of the Incan Empire and previous cultures which farmed and built cities and roads long before the Spanish conquest.
“Let’s not forget this is a millennial country and a cradle of civilization,” Kuczynski said as he called for an end to discrimination against the indigenous and mixed-blood majority.
By 2021, Kuczynski said Peru would be a member of the developed-nation club the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). He reiterated plans to cut red tape holding back private investments and lower the Value Added Tax rate to encourage informal businesses to pay taxes and provide benefits to workers.
Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Sandra Maler