Peru - The Country

On paper, Peru has been a democracy since 1980. The political reality, however, is marked by poverty, corruption and power struggles. Almost 70,000 people were killed in civil war-like conflicts in the 1980s and 1990s. The indigenous rural population suffered the most from this situation.

 

Between Terror and Democracy

Peru – officially: the Republic of Peru – is a country in the west of South America. Some 32 million people live here on nearly 1.3 million square kilometers, about a quarter of them in Lima, the country’s capital. Indigenous groups make up 25 to 30 percent of the population, which is comparatively high, and only six percent describe themselves as white. More than three quarters of the population are Catholic, however. The country has been shaken by several serious political conflicts.

The first settlers arrived to what is today Peru in around 14,000 BC – which is relatively late. Stone structures were built there more than 5,000 years ago. Remains of 3,000-year-old pyramids have been found at other sites. Peru, however, is best known for the architectural legacy of the Inca Empire, which ruled large parts of the west coast of South America from the 13th to the 16th century. The world-famous mountain city of Machu Picchu and other excavation sites still bear witness to this today.

The Spaniards, who invaded the area in 1532, defeated the Incas and founded the Viceroyalty of Peru. It existed for nearly 300 years before becoming independent in 1824 during the South American wars of independence. After that, the country continued to experience political strife and remain unstable. It also became embroiled in wars with its neighbors, Chile (1879-1884) and Ecuador (1941). Due to the electoral system (women and illiterates were denied the right to vote), for decades the political elite represented only a small fraction of the population. The mostly conservative presidents ruled in an authoritarian manner and some came to power by coup d'état.

In the 1980s, the guerrilla organization "Shining Path" (Sendero Luminoso) - a Maoist offshoot of the Communist Party – managed to bring considerable parts of Peru under its control. Its leader, the university professor Abimael Guzmán, strove to achieve a peasant revolution modelled on China. But President Alberto Fujimori, who won the election in a surprise upset in 1990, managed to recapture the territories through massive military force. In 1992 Guzmán was arrested and by the mid-1990s, the partisan movement had been largely crushed. Most of the fighters of the "Revolutionary Movement Túpac Amaru" relinquished their weapons following an offer of amnesty.

The civil war-like conflicts of that time cost the lives of an estimated 70,000 people, mostly members of the indigenous rural population. A truth commission concluded in 2003 that leftist guerrilla organizations were responsible for almost 50 percent of the deaths. The military was responsible for 30 percent of the killings, while other actors accounted for 24 percent. Fujimori's actions also included the forced sterilization of nearly 300,000 women in the countryside.

Fujimori's policies were highly controversial in Peru. In 1992, with the support of the military, he executed a coup against his own government. He was nevertheless re-elected in 1995 because of his effective economic policies and his successes in the fight against the guerrillas. In defiance of the Peruvian constitution, he ran for a third term five years later and again won the majority. But when major allegations of corruption were raised against him, he resigned and moved abroad. He was later sentenced to nearly 40 years in prison, for the use of death squads, among other things.

Even today, allegations of corruption frequently lead to political crises. In November 2020, President Martín Vizcarra was removed from office for this reason. Two unsuccessful impeachment proceedings have been brought against the current left-wing populist president Pedro Castillo. The last time, in April 2022, riots broke out over rising inflation, during which at least five people died. Guzmán, the former leader of the "Shining Path," died in prison in 2021.

Republic of Peru

Area:

1,285,216 km²

Inhabitants:

32.8 million (2020, estimated)

Population growth:

1.4 % annually (2020, estimated)

Population density:

25 inhabitants per km²

Seat of government:

Lima

Official language:

Spanish, also Quechua and Aymara

Political system:

Presidential democracy (de jure: semi-presidential)

Head of state:

President Pedro Castillo (since 2021)

Head of government:

Prime Minister Aníbal Torres (since 2022)

Freedom status:

72/100

BIP per capita:

11,881 USD (adjusted for purchasing power, 2020)

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