Peru - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

Read about Peru: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...



Peru (country), country in west central South America, bordering the Pacific Ocean. Peru is a land of sharp contrasts, of barren deserts and green oases, snowcapped mountains, high bleak plateaus, and deep valleys. The Andes mountains cross the country from northwest to southeast. Beyond the Andes, in the interior of the country, is a thinly settled area covered with dense tropical forests. Lima, situated along the Pacific coast, is the country’s capital and chief commercial center.

Peru was once the center of an extensive South American empire ruled by the Inca. This empire fell to conquerors from Spain in the 16th century. Attracted by the gold and silver mines of the Andes, the Spaniards quickly converted Peru into the seat of their wealth and power in South America. Peru remained a Spanish colony until the early 19th century.

Mining has remained the basis of Peru’s wealth, although agriculture, fishing, and tourism also contribute. Many tourists visit Peru to see the remains of the Inca empire, especially the Inca stronghold at Machu Picchu high in the Andes.

Many of Peru’s people are descended from the Inca or other Native American groups. Quechua, the language of the Inca, and Aymara, a related Indian language, rank with Spanish as official languages of the country. However, sharp class and ethnic divisions that developed during the colonial period persist to this day. In this divided society a wealthy elite of largely Spanish descent has long dominated Peru’s larger population of Native Americans and mestizos—people of mixed European and Native American ancestry.


Peru is bounded on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil and Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. The area of Peru, including several offshore islands, is 1,285,216 sq km (496,225 sq mi). It ranks third in size among South American countries, after Brazil and Argentina, and is three times as large as the state of California. Peru may be divided into three main topographical regions: the coastal plain, the sierra, and the montaña.

The coastal plain is an arid, elongated stretch of land extending the entire length of the country and varying in width from about 65 to 160 km (about 40 to 100 mi). It is a northern extension of the Atacama Desert of Chile. The plain has few adequate harbors. Most of the desert is so dry that only 10 of the 52 rivers draining the Andean slopes to the Pacific Ocean have sufficient volume to maintain their flow across the desert and reach the coast. However, the coast is the economic center of Peru. Most of the nation’s leading commercial and export crops grow in the 40 oases of the region.

Parallel to and lying east of the coastal plain is the sierra, an upland region with towering mountain ranges of the Andes, lofty plateaus, and deep gorges and valleys. The main range is the Cordillera Occidental; other ranges include the Cordillera Oriental, the Cordillera Central, and a number of lesser chains. The sierra, which covers some 30 percent of the country’s land area, traverses the country from southeast to northwest and varies in width from about 400 km (about 250 mi) in the south to about 240 km (about 150 mi) in the north; the average height is some 3,660 m (some 12,000 ft).

Several of the highest peaks in the world are located in the various sierran cordilleras and plateaus, notably Huascarán (6,768 m/22,205 ft), the highest in Peru. Lake Titicaca is in the southeast. The rainy eastern slopes of the Andes are deeply carved by rivers into a chaotic maze of sharp crests, canyons 3,000 m (10,000 ft) deep, and V-shaped valleys through which emerge several major tributaries of the Amazon River. This rugged border is the principal barrier to trans-Andean travel. Earthquakes occur in the sierra.

In the northeast the sierra slopes downward to a vast, flat tropical jungle, the selvas, extending to the Brazilian border and forming part of the Amazon Basin. The forested sierran slopes and a somewhat less elevated region are collectively designated the montaña. The montaña attains a maximum width of about 965 km (about 600 mi) in the north and constitutes some 60 percent of the Peruvian land area; it is covered with thick tropical forests in the west and with dense tropical vegetation in the center and east. As a result, the region remains largely unexplored and undeveloped.

Rivers and Lakes in Peru

Peru has three main drainage systems. One comprises about 50 torrential streams that rise in the sierra and descend steeply to the coastal plain. The second comprises the tributaries of the Amazon River in the montaña region. In the third the principal feature is Lake Titicaca, which drains into Lake Poopó in Bolivia through the Desaguadero River.

The Napo, Tigre, and Pastaza rivers rise in Ecuador and flow into Peru. The latter two streams are tributaries of the Marañón River, and the Napo empties into the Amazon River. The border between Peru and Colombia is delineated by the Putumayo River.

Climate in Peru

The climate of Peru varies widely, ranging from tropical in the montaña to arctic in the highest mountains of the Andes. Average temperatures decrease about 1.7 Celsius degrees (about 3 Fahrenheit degrees) with every 450-m (1,500-ft) increase in elevation. Permanent snow and ice fields cover peaks more than 5,000 m (16,500 ft) above sea level, and the highest elevation at which the land is suitable for agriculture is about 4,400 m (14,500 ft).

In the coastal plain the temperature is normally equable, averaging about 20°C (about 68°F) throughout the year. The coastal climate is moderated by winds blowing from the cool offshore current known as the Peru, or Humboldt, Current. The coast receives less than 50 mm (2 in) of precipitation each year, largely because the cordilleras receive most of the rain carried by the trade winds from the east. Mist-laden clouds known as garúa shroud many of the slopes of the sierra from June to October, providing enough moisture to support grasslands.

In the sierra the temperature ranges seasonally from about -7° to 21°C (about 20° to 70°F). Rainfall is usually scanty, but in some localities heavy rains fall from October to April. In Cuzco, in the southeastern sierra, annual rainfall averages some 815 mm (32 in). The exposed eastern slopes of the Andes receive more than 2,500 mm (100 in) of rain annually, but sheltered locations receive much less. Rainfall amounts diminish rapidly southward, causing many changes in the vegetation.

The montaña region is extremely hot and humid, although at higher elevations it is less so. The prevailing easterly winds blowing across that region gather moisture that is later deposited on the eastern Andean slopes. Annual rainfall in some districts averages as much as 3,810 mm (150 in). Most of this rain, which principally falls from November through April, eventually drains back to the montaña.

Peru’s climate periodically experiences a weather pattern known as El Niño. El Niño occurs every three to seven years when unusually warm ocean conditions appear along the western coast. During El Niño the wet weather conditions normally present in the western Pacific move to the east, bringing heavy rains that can cause extensive flooding.

Natural Resources of Peru

The primary resources of Peru are petroleum, found on the northwestern coast and in the Amazon Basin, and the country’s many mineral deposits. The minerals include copper, found in northwestern Peru, and substantial deposits of silver, iron ore, gold, lead, and zinc found throughout the cordilleras. Also important are the forests, especially the stands of cedar, oak, and mahogany. Fish are plentiful in the waters off Peru’s coast.

Plants and Animals in Peru

The plant life of the three main geographical regions varies widely. The vast, fertile montaña contains a rich profusion of trees, plants, and jungle vines, including mahogany, cedar, rubber, and cinchona trees, sarsaparilla and vanilla plants, and a variety of exotic tropical flowers. The rugged sierra supports a relatively sparse plant life. Sierra vegetation is largely xerophytic—that is, adapted to survival on a restricted supply of water. Such growths include mesquite, cactus, scrub and fodder grasses, and eucalyptus plants. The dry, sandy reaches of the coastal plain support mainly desert vegetation, such as shrubs, grasses, and tuberous plants.

Peru has an enormous variety of wildlife. The coastal waters and offshore islands support gulls, terns, albatrosses, petrels, skuas, and pelicans. Sea lions and many kinds of birds, including Humboldt penguins, can be seen on the Ballestas Islands off the southern coast.

Peruvian ocean waters abound in anchovy, pilchard, haddock, sole, mackerel, smelt, flounder, lobster, shrimp, and other marine species. The fish are preyed upon by millions of birds. The ecological balance of life offshore is periodically upset when warm equatorial water displaces the cooler waters of the Peru Current. When this phenomenon, known as El Niño, occurs, the fish migrate and many birds perish. At the same time, tremendous clouds build up over the ocean and bring torrential rains to the coastal desert.

The coastal plain has little wildlife except for lizards, insects, tarantulas, scorpions, and visiting seabirds. In the sierra are found the llama, alpaca, vicuña, chinchilla, and guanaco. In addition to being a beast of burden, the llama furnishes wool for clothing and blankets. The alpaca and vicuña also provide wool. Birds of the sierra region include the giant condor, phoebe, flycatcher, finch, partridge, duck, and goose. Lake Titicaca and other sierran bodies of water teem with fish. Animals of the tropical montaña include the jaguar, cougar (see puma), armadillo, peccary, tapir, anteater, several dozen species of monkey, caiman, turtle, and a variety of snakes and insects; among the birds are the parrot, the flamingo, and other tropical species.

Environmental Issues in Peru

Peru’s biodiversity is tremendous: The country contains over three-quarters of all the types of life zones found on Earth. Human impact on the environment is severe in places, however, and some key habitats are endangered—particularly the tropical and temperate coastal deserts and the puña, a type of high-elevation grassland. The spectacled bear, the giant otter, and the jaguar are just three species of Peru’s vast animal life that are considered threatened.

The rapidly growing population of Peru is unevenly distributed, concentrated in the mountains and in coastal areas. Water pollution and air pollution are problems in urban areas. Human health is a major concern, and access to safe water and basic facilities is poor in rural areas. Outbreaks of cholera occur periodically.

National parks and other reserves cover more than 10 percent of Peru’s land. UNESCO has designated three national parks in Peru as World Heritage Sites and established three biosphere reserves under its Man and the Biosphere Program. New environmental laws in Peru provide for limited sustainable resource use in place of earlier policies that encouraged aggressive industrial development in the Amazon Basin. The spread of agriculture, especially the widespread cultivation of coca, is a major threat to fragile protected environments. Coca plantations are frequently hacked out of delicate vegetation and treated with fertilizers and pesticides that ultimately contaminate streams. Soil erosion is also widespread due to intensive cultivation and livestock overgrazing. Desertification is consuming significant amounts of once-productive land.

Peru has ratified the Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, the Antarctic Treaty, and international conservation agreements concerning biodiversity, climate change, desertification, endangered species, hazardous wastes, nuclear test ban, ozone layer, ship pollution, tropical timber, and wetlands. Regionally, Peru participates in several international agreements on conservation and sustainable land use in the Amazon Basin.


The majority of Peru’s people have Native American ancestors. Native Americans make up 45 percent of the population, and mestizos, people of mixed Native American and European ancestry, account for another 37 percent. About 15 percent of Peruvians are of European descent, and there are small groups of African, Japanese, and Chinese background.

Many of Peru’s Native Americans are descended from the Inca, who ruled a great civilization in South America from the Peruvian highlands before their conquest by Spaniards in the 16th century. Some still speak Quechua, the language of the Inca, or the related language of Aymara. Some have moved to Lima and other coastal cities, especially since the outbreak of guerrilla warfare in the highlands in the 1980s, but many continue to live in the sierra where they farm and herd animals. About 100 other indigenous groups live in the rain forest of eastern Peru. The Indians of eastern Peru live in virtual isolation from the rest of Peru’s population, speaking traditional languages and surviving by hunting, fishing, and agriculture.

Peru’s population was once largely rural. In 1960, 42 percent of the people lived in urban areas. Today, 75 percent of the people are urban residents. The majority of city dwellers live along the Pacific coast, territory that represents the heart of Peru’s political and economic life. Peru’s cities grew rapidly in the last decades of the 20th century as people migrated from the sierra and settled in shantytowns on the outskirts of Lima and other urban areas. Migration to the cities had slowed by the late 1990s.

Politically and economically, Peru is a divided society. At the top of the social structure is a minority of Spanish-speaking Europeans living on the coast, especially in Lima. They control most of the country’s wealth and political power. At the bottom are Quechua- and Aymara-speaking Native Americans living in the highlands and in the shantytowns surrounding Arequipa, Lima, and other coastal cities. In between is a largely mestizo middle class of professionals, business people, army officers, and government employees.

The military government that ruled from 1968 to 1980 carried out several reforms to curtail the power of wealthy Peruvians and benefit people in the middle and lower-middle classes. These reforms redistributed land to highland Native Americans, turned sugar plantations over to worker cooperatives, and extended the government’s role in all sectors of the economy. In the end, however, soaring inflation and unemployment left the mass of Peruvians as poor as they were before the reforms, and the majority still have a very low standard of living. Much of rural Peru lacks electricity, safe drinking water, adequate sanitary facilities, and accessible health care, as do most of the shantytowns to which former rural residents emigrated during the later decades of the 20th century.

The population of Peru (2009 estimate) is 29,546,963, giving the country an estimated overall population density of 23 persons per sq km (60 per sq mi). The distribution of people across the country is uneven, however. About 50 percent of the people inhabit the sierra region and about 40 percent inhabit the coastal plain. The remainder live in the dense forests of the east.

Principal Cities of Peru

The largest city in Peru by far is Lima (population, 2005 estimate, 8,153,618), the country’s capital and chief commercial center. More than a quarter of Peru’s inhabitants live in the capital. Other important cities include Arequipa (710,103), an industrial center in the southern coastal plains; Trujillo (276,921), a commercial center in the coastal plains of northwestern Peru; Callao (389,579), a major port located near Lima; and Chiclayo (251,407), in the sugar-growing plains of northwestern Peru. Iquitos (157,529), a port on the Amazon River, is the only city in the tropical montaña region. The largest cities in the Andean sierra are Huancayo (305,039), a commercial center, and Cuzco (103,836), famous for its Inca ruins.

Language and Religion in Peru

Spanish, spoken by some 70 percent of the people, was the sole official language of Peru until 1975, when Quechua, one of the principal languages of the Native Americans, also was made an official language. Another Native American language, Aymara, was declared official in 1980. English is also spoken in Peru.

More than 90 percent of Peruvians are Roman Catholic. In 1915 a law was passed that made Roman Catholicism the established religion of the country. However, the constitution of 1979 ended Roman Catholicism’s status as the established religion, although it recognized Catholicism “as an important element in the historical, cultural, and moral formation of Peru.” Other religions are permitted and tolerated, and small numbers of Protestants, Jews, and Muslims live in Peru.

Education in Peru

School enrollment and the literacy rate in Peru have increased substantially as a result of greater emphasis on education. According to estimates, the adult literate population rose from 42 percent in 1940 to 90 percent in 2007. Public basic education in Peru is free and compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 16. Many children in rural areas do not attend secondary school, however, because of a lack of facilities. In 2006 some 4 million pupils attended elementary schools, and 2.8 million students were enrolled in secondary and vocational schools.

Peru has more than 45 institutions of higher education, including the National University of San Marcos, in Lima (1551); the National University of Central Peru (1962), in Huancayo; the National University of San Agustín (1828), in Arequipa; the National University of San Antonio Abad (1962), in Cuzco; the National University of La Libertad (1824), in Trujillo; the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (1917), and La Molina National Agrarian University (1902), both in Lima. The National School of Music (1908) is in Lima.

Culture of Peru

The Native American heritage of Peru is one of the richest in South America. Although Spain gave Peru its language, religion, and rulers, the civilization of the Inca has left its traces throughout Peruvian culture. Archaeological excavations have uncovered monumental remains of Native American societies. The Inca in particular were skilled in stonework, engineering, weaving, and gold and silver work. The Nazca and Moche people, who inhabited Peru before the Inca, created textiles, pottery, and jewelry. Examples of their art can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Lima. Architecture of the Spanish colonial period, a fusion of Spanish and Native American forms, is called Creole. In art, painters known as nativists pointedly interpreted 20th-century Peru in a Native American mode. See also Latin American Architecture; Latin American Literature; Latin American Music; Latin American Painting; Latin American Sculpture.

The descendants of the Quechua and Aymara peoples populate the Andean highlands of Peru. Many do not speak Spanish and have preserved the customs and folklore of their ancestors. Along the coast and in the highland cities, white, mestizo, and black Peruvians live in a modern Western style. In contrast to these settlements are the jungles of eastern Peru, where more isolated groups of Native Americans retain lifestyles similar to those of their ancestors.

Music in Peru

The pentatonic scale used by the ancient peoples of Peru still survives, and instruments whose origins date from the pre-Columbian period (before the arrival of Europeans) are widely used today. They include the reed quena or flute, the antara or panpipes, conch shells, the ocarina, and various percussion devices. The Spaniards brought stringed instruments to Peru. The violin, the harp, the guitar, and the charango, a mandolin-like instrument, are very popular. Among the most popular folksongs and dances are the yariví, a love song; the huayno, a rapid dance of the highlands; the cashua, a circle dance; and the marinera or zamacueca, a handkerchief dance.

Lima has a national music conservatory and a symphony orchestra, the latter organized in 1938 by Austrian-born Theo Buchwald. The orchestra encourages Peruvian composers by performing their compositions. The most distinguished 20th-century Peruvian composer was the Paris-born André Sas, who founded a music school in Lima in 1929. His compositions reflect the influence of native music. Sas was also an authority on folk music.

Literature and Drama in Peru

Peruvian literature began during the 16th century when Garcilaso de la Vega, son of a Spanish conqueror and an Inca princess, wrote his Comentarios reales de los Incas (1609; Royal Commentaries of the Incas, 1869), a vivid historical chronicle about the Inca culture and empire. Another important writer of the colonial period was 17th-century satirist Juan del Valle y Caviedes. The foremost writers of the 19th century were Manuel González Prada, who wrote social criticism, and Ricardo Palma, who composed a collection of historical and legendary tales about Peru’s past.

In the 20th century there was an abundance of poets and prose writers. Among them are Ventura García Calderón, a diplomat who was also an essayist; José Carlos Mariátegui, a Marxist political essayist; and the poets José Santos Chocano, César Vallejo, and José María Eguren. Ciro Alegría, in his famous El Mundo es ancho y ajena (1941; Broad and Alien is the World, 1973), has produced one of the finest novels treating the plight of the indigenous peoples in Latin America. Novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the leading experimental writers in Latin America, has an international reputation.

The theater has played an important role in the cultural life of Peru since 1568, when the first play in the country was presented in the plaza of San Pedro in Lima. During the colonial period, the Jesuits promoted dramatic productions, and 18th-century viceroy Manuel de Amat was a leading patron of the theater. The country’s leading playhouse and concert hall is Lima’s Municipal Theater. Sebastián Salazar Bondy and Enrique Solari Swayne were the most important 20th-century playwrights.

Art and Architecture of Peru

Native American themes are strong in painting. During the colonial period the Cuzco school was famous throughout Spanish America for its religious canvases. During the 19th century there were four major artists—Francisco Lazo, forerunner of the indigenous school of painting and a portrait painter; Luis Montero, known for his huge canvas Atahualpa’s Funeral (1867); Pancho Fierro, a caricaturist of popular social types and customs; and Carlos Becaflor, a portrait painter.

In the 1930s, following the lead of the great Mexican muralists, a Peruvian movement—led by José Sabogal and Julia Codesido—reflected deep sympathy for the indigenous Peruvian people. Later, a reaction against the use of native themes took place. In the 1950s abstract painting became dominant. The Institute of Contemporary Art encourages new movements in art, while the long-established National School of Fine Arts is more conservative. As the economy picked up in the late 20th century, more money went into the arts.

In addition to the many monumental Inca ruins, many examples of colonial architecture survive, particularly religious and public buildings located mostly in Lima, Arequipa, Cuzco, and Trujillo. In the Andean area the Spaniards often built on top of Inca remains, and in Cuzco one can see both types of construction. In colonial buildings, Spanish and indigenous modes often fuse, blending into what was called the Creole style. Moorish influence, which traveled from Arab North Africa to Spain and then to the Americas, is visible in what is known as the Mudejar style. Lima has many fine examples of modern architecture.

Libraries in Peru

Some of the most important libraries in Peru are located in the larger cities and are affiliated with the major universities. Within the various libraries of the National University of San Marcos in Lima are more than 450,000 volumes. The National Library (1821), in Lima, houses more than 3.2 million books and other items.

Museums in Peru

Museums throughout the country display Peruvian art and archaeological artifacts. Many of Peru’s colonial buildings, such as the Torre Tagle Palace and the cathedral in Lima, contain valuable artifacts. Notable museums in Lima include the Museum of Art (1961), the Rafael Larco Herrera Archaeological Museum (1926), the Javier Prado Natural History Museum, and the National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology (1822), which displays collections of pre-Columbian artifacts. Other important museums include the Military History Museum of Peru (1946), in Callao; and archaeological museums in Arequipa, Cuzco, Huancayo, and Trujillo.


Peru’s estimated gross domestic product (GDP) in 2007 was $107.3 billion. GDP is a measure of the value of all the goods and services a country produces. Although Peru’s economy remains primarily agricultural, the mining and fishing industries have become increasingly important. Peru relies primarily on the export of raw materials—chiefly minerals and petroleum, farm products, and fish meal—to earn foreign exchange for importing machinery and manufactured goods.

During the late 1980s, guerrilla violence, rampant inflation, chronic budget deficits, and drought combined to drive the country to the brink of fiscal insolvency. However, in 1990 the government imposed an austerity program that removed price controls and ended subsidies on many basic items and allowed the inti, the national currency at that time, to float against the United States dollar. Although some prices rose rapidly, inflation overall was brought down, and tax reforms helped reduce the national deficit. By the mid-1990s foreign investment was fueling economic growth. The economy again picked up steam after a period of stagnation around the turn of the 21st century. Few of the benefits of economic growth reached poorer Peruvians, however, and unemployment and underemployment remained high.

Agriculture of Peru

Some 1 percent of Peru’s working population is engaged in farming, forestry, or fishing. Most of the coastal area is devoted to the raising of export crops; on the montaña and the sierra are mainly grown crops for local consumption. Many farms in Peru are very small and are used to produce subsistence crops; the country also has large cooperative farms. The chief agricultural products, together with the yield (in metric tons) in 2007, were sugarcane (8.2 million), root crops such as potatoes (5 million), rice (2.5 million), corn (1,361,656), seed cotton (213,266), coffee (230,000), and wheat (181,367). Peru is one of the world’s leading growers of coca, from which the drug cocaine is refined. Coca leaves were used for years as a stimulant and appetite-suppressant by Native Americans of the sierra.

The livestock population included 5.3 million cattle, 15 million sheep, 2 million goats, 3 million hogs, 730,000 horses, 290,000 mules, and 100 million poultry. Llamas, sheep, and vicuñas provide wool, hides, and skins.

Forestry and Fishing in Peru

Forests cover 53 percent of Peru’s land area. Forest products include balsa lumber and balata gum, rubber, and a variety of medicinal plants. Notable among the latter is the cinchona plant, from which quinine is derived. The roundwood harvest in 2007 was 9.4 million cu m (334 million cu ft).

The fishing industry contributes to the country’s economy and to its export revenues, although the government periodically imposes limits on fishing to prevent overfishing. Investment in processing plants during the 1960s turned Peru into a leading producer of fish products, especially fish meal. The fish catch in 2007 was 7 million metric tons. More than three-fifths of the catch is typically anchovies, used for making fish meal, a product in which Peru leads the world. Fish meal is used in animal feed and fertilizer.

Mining in Peru

The extractive industries figure significantly in the Peruvian economy. Peru ranks as one of the world’s leading producers of copper, gold, silver, lead, and zinc. Petroleum, natural gas, and iron ore are also extracted in significant quantities. Production in 2006 included 4.9 million metric tons of iron ore; 1,035,574 metric tons of copper; 3,471 metric tons of silver; 203,269 kg (448,100 lb) of gold; and 1,201,794 metric tons of zinc. Some 31.9 million barrels of crude petroleum were produced, along with 560 million cu m (19.8 billion cu ft) of natural gas.

Manufacturing in Peru

Much manufacturing in Peru is on a small scale, but a number of modern industries have been established since the 1950s along the Pacific coast. Traditional goods include textiles, clothing, food products, and handicrafts. Items produced in large modern plants include steel, refined petroleum, chemicals, processed minerals, motor vehicles, and fish meal.

Tourism of Peru

Tourism has contributed significantly to Peru’s revenues. However, political unrest, guerrilla activity in the sierra, and cholera outbreaks slowed tourism during the 1980s and 1990s. It began to pick up again in the early 2000s.

Many tourists come to see the remains of Peru’s Inca and pre-Inca civilizations. The Inca stronghold at Machu Picchu high in the Andes is a major attraction. Ruins of pre-Inca societies are found around Lake Titicaca. Archaeological museums in Lima and other Peruvian cities display pre-Columbian art—art objects from cultures that flourished before the arrival of the Spanish conquerors. Scenic villages in the Andes provide opportunities for visitors to observe Native American traditions and culture today.

Cuzco, a picturesque city in southern Peru, reflects both the country’s Inca heritage and its Spanish colonial past and is also popular with tourists. Francisco Pizarro built his palace at Cuzco, which had been the capital of the Inca Empire. Despite many earthquakes, the historic center of Lima still has buildings of interest from the period when Spain’s empire in the Americas was ruled from Peru.

Energy in Peru

In 2006 Peru produced 24.9 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. Some 78 percent of the total electricity produced was generated in hydroelectric facilities.

Currency and Foreign Trade in Peru

The unit of currency in Peru is the nuevo sol, divided into 100 céntimos (3.10 nuevo sols equal U.S.$1; 2007 average). The nuevo sol replaced the previous currency, the inti, in 1991 (1 nuevo sol equaled 1 million inti), as the government fought to tame runaway inflation. The inti had replaced the sol in 1985 at a rate of 1,000 to 1. The Banco Central de Reserva del Perú (1922) is the central bank and bank of issue. All private domestic banks were nationalized in 1987. The largest of these, Interbanc, was reprivatized in 1994.

Exports are more diversified in Peru than in most South American countries. The principal exports are petroleum, gold, copper, fish meal, textiles, zinc, lead, coffee, and petroleum products. The chief export markets are the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and Switzerland. Exports earned $27.7 billion in 2007. The leading imports of Peru include electrical and electronic items, foodstuffs, machinery and mining equipment, chemicals, and transportation equipment. The principal sources of these goods are the United States, Argentina, Brazil, China, and Colombia. Imports cost $19.6 billion in 2007. Peru is a member of two international trade organizations, the Latin American Integration Association (LAIA), which replaced the former Latin American Free Trade Association in 1980; and the Andean Community. The LAIA works to integrate the economies of all of Latin South America while the Community does the same for its members, which also include Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

Transportation in Peru

Peru’s system of railroads, highways, and airports was expanded considerably in the second half of the 20th century. The country’s mountains make surface transport difficult, however. In 2004 Peru had about 78,829 km (about 48,982 mi) of roads, of which 14 percent were paved. The main artery is a section of the Pan-American Highway, which traverses Peru from Ecuador to Chile, covering a distance of about 2,495 km (about 1,550 mi). The Central Highway links Lima and Pucallpa. Peru also has about 2,177 km (about 1,353 mi) of railroads. One trans-Andean line, the Central Railroad, ascends to some 4,815 m (15,800 ft) above sea level, the highest point reached by any standard-gauge line in the world.

The most notable inland waterway is the Amazon River, which is navigable by ship from the Atlantic Ocean to Iquitos in Peru. Lake Titicaca also serves as a waterway. Leading Peruvian seaports include Callao, Salaverry, Pacasmayo, Paita, and San Juan. Callao, the port for nearby Lima, is the most important by far. The country’s main international airports are situated near Lima, Cuzco, Iquitos, and Arequipa. Aeroperú, the national airline, offers domestic and international service.

Communications in Peru

Peru’s telephone system, which was nationalized in 1970 and reprivatized in 1994, has 81 mainlines for every 1,000 of Peru’s residents. The country is served by more than 300 radio stations and 8 television stations. In 1997 there were 273 radios and 140 television sets in use for every 1,000 people. In the same period the country had 73 daily newspapers. Dailies with large circulations included El Comercio, Expreso, Ojo, and La República, all published in Lima.

Labor in Peru

In 2007 Peru’s labor force was 14.1 million people. The largest sectors are services and government, manufacturing, commerce, and construction. However, many of those included in the services sector barely eke out a living as street vendors or by driving taxis. The main labor group is the Democratic Syndical Front, which includes the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers.


Peru is a republic governed by a constitution promulgated in 1993. This constitution replaced the 1980 constitution, which was suspended in 1992. The new constitution increased the power of the executive and allowed for the reelection of the president to a second term. It also unified the formerly bicameral legislature.

Executive of Peru

Executive power is vested in a president elected by universal suffrage to a five-year term. Presidents may serve no more than two consecutive terms. Two vice presidents are also elected. The president is assisted by an appointed Cabinet of Ministers.

Legislature of Peru

A single-chamber congress serves as Peru’s legislature. It comprises 120 members elected to five-year terms.

Judiciary in Peru

The Peruvian Supreme Court, which sits in Lima, consists of a president and 12 other judges. The judiciary also includes superior courts as well as courts of first instance.

Political Parties of Peru

Presidential and legislative elections in the 1990s were dominated by candidates of the center-right Change 90 movement, formed in 1989 to support the presidential candidacy of Alberto Fujimori; the Democratic Front, known as Fredemo, established in 1988 as a center-right coalition; and the leftist American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), founded in 1924. In 1999 Change 90 allied with several other pro-Fujimori parties to form Peru 2000. Possible Peru, a center-left party led by Alejandro Toledo, emerged as an important group in 2000.

Local Government of Peru

Peru is divided for administrative purposes into 25 regional departments, each with a president who resides in the departmental capital.

Health and Welfare in Peru

In 2009 the average life expectancy at birth in Peru was 73 years for women and 69 years for men; the infant mortality rate was 29 per 1,000 live births. Although the government has made some progress in improving medical facilities, sanitation remains inadequate. Cholera outbreaks occur periodically, and a cholera epidemic in 1991 killed more than 1,000 Peruvians and sickened another 150,000.

Defense of Peru

All males aged 20 to 25 years are liable for two years’ service in the Peruvian military. The country’s armed forces in 2006 included an army of 40,000 members, a navy of 25,000, and an air force of 15,000.


Evidence of settlement in Peru dates back thousands of years. Recent archaeological findings in the Norte Chico region north of Lima suggest that the earliest civilizations in the Americas developed in Peru as early as 3000 BC. The Norte Chico people built step pyramids of stone and irrigation systems and appear to have grown cotton and traded with neighboring peoples. By around 1800 BC they abandoned Norte Chico but likely influenced later cultures in Peru. In about 1250 BC groups such as the Chavín, Chimú, Nazca, and Tiwanaku migrated into Peru from the north. The Chimú built the city of Chan Chan about AD 1000, ruins of which remain today.

Inca Empire

The Inca, sometimes called peoples of the sun, were originally a warlike tribe living in a semiarid region of the southern sierra. From 1100 to 1300 the Inca moved north into the fertile Cuzco Valley. From there they overran the neighboring lands. By 1500 the Inca Empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean east to the sources of the Paraguay and Amazon rivers and from the region of modern Quito in Ecuador south to the Maule River in Chile. This vast empire was a theocracy, organized along socialistic lines and ruled by an Inca, or emperor, who was worshiped as a divinity. Because the Inca realm contained extensive deposits of gold and silver, it became in the early 16th century a target of Spanish imperial ambitions in the Americas.

In November 1995 anthropologists announced the discovery of the 500-year-old remains of two Inca women and one Inca man frozen in the snow on a mountain peak in Peru. Scientists concluded that the trio were part of a human sacrifice ritual on Ampato, a sacred peak in the Andes mountain range. Artifacts from the find unveiled new information about the Inca and indicated the use of poles and tents rather than traditional stone structures. The arrangement of doll-size statuettes dressed in feathers and fine woolens provided clues about Inca religious and sacrificial practices.

Spanish Rule

In 1532 Spanish soldier and adventurer Francisco Pizarro landed in Peru with a force of about 180 men. Conditions were favorable to conquest, for the empire was debilitated by a just-concluded civil war between the heirs to the Inca throne, Atahualpa and Huascar, each of whom was seeking to control the empire. This internal dissension, plus the terror inspired by Spanish guns and horses—unknown to the indigenous peoples until then—made it relatively easy for only a handful of Spaniards to conquer this vast empire.

The Spaniards met Atahualpa, the victor in the civil war, and his army at a prearranged conference at Cajamarca in 1532. When Atahualpa arrived, the Spaniards ambushed and seized him, and killed thousands of his followers. Although Atahualpa paid the most fabulous ransom known to history—a room full of gold and another full of silver—for his freedom, the Spaniards murdered him in 1533.

The Spanish destroyed many of the irrigation projects and the north-south roads that had knit the empire together, speeding the disintegration of the empire. By November 1533 Cuzco had fallen with little resistance. In addition, the indigenous population declined rapidly as a result of new diseases brought by the Spaniards, diseases to which the Inca had no immunity. Members of the Inca dynasty took refuge in the mountains and were able to resist the Spaniards for about four decades. However, by 1572 the Spaniards had executed the last Inca ruler, Tupac Amarú, along with his advisers and his family.

In 1535 Pizarro founded on the banks of the Rímac River the Peruvian capital city of Ciudad de los Reyes (Spanish for “City of the Kings”; present-day Lima). Subsequently, disputes over jurisdictional powers broke out among the Spanish conquerors, or conquistadors, and in 1541 a member of one of the conflicting Spanish factions assassinated Pizarro in Lima.

The Inca civilization had unified what are now Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia and created an integrated society. The Spanish, whose main aims were plunder and the conversion of native tribes to Christianity, stopped the development of the indigenous civilization. The Spaniards treated the Inca ruthlessly, using their labor to produce the minerals needed in Spain. The result was the creation of a psychic chasm between the Inca and the Europeanized population, a chasm that has endured for more than 400 years.

The Spanish introduced a system of land tenure consisting of European landlords and indigenous workers. This system succeeded in solidly establishing a privileged and wealthy landed aristocracy early in the colonial period. Little was done to educate the rest of the people. As a result, colonial Peru was a divided society, consisting of a small class that owned the land and controlled education, political, military, and religious power, and of a large, mostly indigenous class (about 90 percent of the total population) that remained landless, illiterate, and exploited.

In 1542 a Spanish imperial council promulgated statutes called New Laws for the Indies, which were designed to put a stop to cruelties inflicted on the Native Americans. In the same year Spain created the Viceroyalty of Peru, which comprised all Spanish South America and Panama, except what is now Venezuela.

The first Spanish viceroy arrived in Peru in 1544 and attempted to enforce the New Laws, but the conquistadors rebelled and, in 1546, killed the viceroy. Although the Spanish government crushed the rebellion in 1548, the New Laws were never put into effect.

In 1569 Spanish colonial administrator Francisco de Toledo arrived in Peru. During the ensuing 14 years he established a highly effective, although harshly repressive, system of government. Toledo’s method of administration consisted of a government of Spanish officials ruling through lower-level officials made up of Native Americans who dealt directly with the indigenous population. This system lasted for almost 200 years. See also Spanish Empire.

Revolts for Independence

In 1780 a force of 60,000 Native Americans revolted against Spanish rule under the leadership of Peruvian patriot José Gabriel Condorcanqui, who adopted the name of an ancestor, the Inca Tupac Amarú. Although initially successful, the uprising was crushed in 1781. The Spanish tortured and executed Condorcanqui and thousands of his fellow revolutionaries. The Spanish suppressed another revolt in 1814.

Subsequently, however, opposition to imperial rule grew throughout Spanish South America. The opposition was led largely by Creoles, people of Spanish descent born in South America. Creoles grew to resent the fact that the Spanish government awarded all important government positions in the colonies to Spaniards born in Spain, who were called peninsulares.

Freedom from Spanish rule, however, was imported to Peru by outsiders. In September 1820 Argentine soldier and patriot José de San Martín, who had defeated the Spanish forces in Chile, landed an invasion army at the seaport of Pisco, Peru. On July 12, 1821, San Martín’s forces entered Lima, which had been abandoned by Spanish troops. Peruvian independence was proclaimed formally on July 28, 1821. The struggle against the Spanish was continued later by Venezuelan revolutionary hero Simón Bolívar, who entered Peru with his armies in 1822. In 1824, in the battles of Junín on August 6 and of Ayacucho on December 9, Bolívar’s forces routed the Spanish. See Ayacucho, Battle of; Junín, Battle of; See Latin American Independence.

Succession of Rulers

Independence brought few institutional changes to Peru aside from the transfer of power. Whereas before independence peninsulares held the important government posts, after independence Creoles monopolized power. The economic and social life of the country continued as before, with two groups–Europeans and indigenous people–living side by side but strongly divided. In 1822 leaders of the colony’s independence movement created a centralized government consisting of a president and a single-chambered legislature. However, Spain’s refusal to allow Peruvian-born citizens a voice in the colonial administration had done little to prepare Peru for democracy.

The years following independence were extremely chaotic. Bolívar left Peru in 1826, and a series of military commanders who had served under him ruled over the nation. Andrés Santa Cruz served until 1827, when he was replaced by José de La Mar, who was in turn supplanted by Agustín Gamarra in 1829. Gamarra ruled until 1833. In the meantime Santa Cruz had become president of Bolivia, and in 1836 he invaded Peru, establishing a confederation of the two countries that lasted three years. After that, Gamarra took power again.

The country, however, enjoyed no peace until 1845, when Ramón Castilla seized the presidency. Fortunately, he proved to be an able ruler, who during his two terms in office (1845 to 1851 and 1855 to 1862) initiated many important reforms, including the abolition of slavery, the construction of railroads and telegraph facilities, and the adoption in 1860 of a liberal constitution. Castilla also began exploitation of the country’s rich guano and nitrate deposits, which were highly valued as an ingredient in fertilizer. In 1864 these deposits involved Peru in a war with Spain, which had seized the guano-rich Chincha Islands. Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile aided Peru, defeating the Spanish forces in 1866. The resulting treaty of 1879 constituted the first formal Spanish recognition of Peruvian sovereignty.

In 1873 Peru signed a secret defensive alliance with Bolivia, the purpose of which was to defend Bolivia’s nitrate interests against Chile. When a quarrel arose between Chile and Bolivia over the Atacama nitrate fields along the disputed border of the two nations, Peru was drawn into the War of the Pacific, fighting against Chile on the side of its ally, Bolivia.

Chile defeated its opponents, occupied Lima, and, under the Treaty of Ancón (1884), was awarded Peru’s nitrate province of Tarapacá. Chile also occupied the provinces of Tacna and Arica. A plebiscite was supposed to decide ten years later which country would get these provinces, but the Tacna-Arica Dispute did not end until 1929, with Chile keeping Arica and Peru regaining Tacna. The war severely depleted Peruvian financial reserves and placed continuing strain on subsequent relations between the two countries. For the next 25 years Peru was ruled by a succession of dictators.

Foundation of APRA

In 1908 a program of economic reform was instituted by President Augusto Leguía y Salcedo. After his first term, from 1908 to 1912, Leguía traveled in the United Kingdom and the United States, where he learned methods of banking and finance, which he later applied in Peru, and made many friends in the business community. He regained the presidency in 1919 by means of a military coup and thereafter ruled as virtual dictator. Leguía preserved the country’s old class organization. However, he brought material progress to Peru, broadened education, and improved labor conditions.

In 1924, during Leguía’s rule, some exiled Peruvian intellectuals founded the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), which Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre led for more than 40 years. APRA called for basic reforms—especially in the conditions of the Native Americans. Leguía banned APRA, but the alliance managed nevertheless to become the most influential of Peru’s political parties.

Leguía stayed in power until 1930, when the world depression ended the flow of foreign investments. He was deposed and jailed by an army revolt. On April 9, 1933, a new constitution was adopted. Shortly thereafter Leguía’s successor, Luis Sánchez Cerro, was assassinated. The next chief executive, General Óscar Raimundo Benavides, followed the new pattern of harsh political rule combined with marked economic advances. When the APRA won the election of 1936, Benavides ignored the results and extended his own term in office. In 1939, in controlled elections, he installed Manuel Prado as president. Prado was forced, however, to make concessions to the powerful reform sentiment fostered by APRA.

World War II and After

During World War II (1939-1945) Peru gave limited support to the Allied cause. It broke off relations with the Axis powers in January 1942, but declared war against Germany and Japan only in February 1945 in order to be accepted as a charter member of the United Nations.

In 1945 the National Democratic Front, a coalition of liberal and leftist parties, including APRA, supported José Luis Bustamante y Rivero, who won the presidential election. The National Democratic Front also won a majority in both houses of the legislature. The new government instituted numerous liberal reforms, strengthened civil rights and freedom of the press, and passed a constitutional amendment abolishing certain dictatorial powers formerly held by the president.

In 1948, however, rightist revolutionary leaders unseated Bustamante, seized the government, and outlawed APRA. In 1950, Manuel A. Odría, the leader of the 1948 coup d’état, won the presidential election. Odría’s chief opponent was not placed on the ballot.

Along with Chile and Ecuador, Peru extended the country’s territorial waters to 320 km (200 mi) off the mainland. This action brought sharp protests from the United States, as many U.S. fishing vessels operated in South American waters.

The Odría administration disbanded Peru’s labor unions, outlawed all opposition, and imposed tight censorship. It also strengthened Peru’s defenses, initiated a large public-works program, and concluded a series of economic and cultural pacts with Brazil that provided for closer cooperation between the two countries. The demand for a return to civilian rule was so great, however, that in 1956 free elections were held.

Liberal Period

In the elections of 1956, former president Prado was again victorious. He immediately effected sweeping liberal reforms, but was soon hampered by strikes and riots occasioned by economic instability and runaway inflation. In 1959 the government introduced a program to restrict the outflow of dollars and encourage domestic industries by various means, including facilitating the import of capital goods. By May 1960 the economy had improved markedly, and foreign capital flowed into Peru in the form of loans and development contracts. In October of that year the government won approval of its policy of gradual nationalization of most Peruvian oil-production facilities.

In the presidential elections of 1962 none of the three major candidates, Haya de la Torre of APRA, Fernando Belaúnde Terry of the Popular Action Party, and Manuel Odría, received the necessary one-third of the votes to win the election. The task of choosing a president thus went to the newly elected congress. The military, which favored Belaúnde, overthrew the government to forestall an agreement between Odrístas and the APRA to elect Odría president with an APRA vice-president. A military junta took control. To appease the Peruvian people and foreign governments, the junta promised new elections. The junta installed General Ricardo Pío Pérez Godoy as president in July 1962, but deposed him in March 1963.

Elections in 1963 brought Belaúnde to the presidency. President Belaúnde and the APRA, which dominated congress, competed to introduce reforms. Progress was made in public works and social benefits. However, the government’s programs resulted in budgetary deficits and a spiraling inflation. Belaúnde was also unable to create a stable government coalition.

Military Rule

A long dispute over the claims of the International Petroleum Company (IPC), a subsidiary of the Standard Oil Company (New Jersey), in the operation of the rich La Brea y Pariñas oil fields was finally settled by the Belaúnde government in August 1968. Widespread disapproval of this settlement, however, forced the resignation of the Cabinet on October 1, and two days later the armed forces ousted Belaúnde and suspended the constitution. A military junta formed, headed by General Juan Velasco Alvarado. His government expropriated the IPC’s assets, seriously straining relations with the United States. Relations deteriorated still further in February 1969, when a Peruvian gunboat accosted two U.S. fishing vessels off the Peruvian coast, claiming they were poaching in Peruvian waters. In 1970, despite these differences, U.S. relief supplies were quickly sent to Peru following an earthquake that killed about 67,000 people and left some 600,000 homeless.

In the early 1970s the Velasco government began a radical reform of the social and economic system. Among the major actions were seizure of foreign-owned ranchlands, the imposition of price controls on basic goods and services, and a sweeping land-reform law. The anchovy fishing industry, seriously hurt in 1972 by alteration of ocean currents, was nationalized in 1973. The 1973-1974 budget provided a 35 percent increase in spending to build up and diversify private industry. In 1973 the World Bank extended credits of $470 million to Peru, and the Inter-American Development Bank lent Peru $30 million. Relations with the United States and with U.S. investors were largely normalized, but U.S. economic aid was sharply reduced.

Return to Democracy

Another military coup toppled the Peruvian government in 1975, after a series of strikes and demonstrations expressed popular discontent with the ailing President Velasco. General Francisco Morales Bermúdez, who had been prime minister and minister of war under Velasco, was sworn in as president. His government announced that the country would be returned to democratic rule in 1980. Morales pledged to continue the “revolutionary process” begun in 1968. However, the military government was unable to cope with Peru’s deepening economic crisis, which was marked by an immense national debt, rampant inflation, and massive unemployment. In 1978 it received a loan from the International Monetary Fund to ease its debt burden, but only in exchange for imposing economic austerity measures, which worsened the lot of most Peruvians.

In 1980, as promised, presidential elections were held. The winner, former president Belaúnde, took office in July, when a new constitution came into effect. Belaúnde immediately adopted a conservative program that aimed to reverse many of the reforms of the Velasco era, and he began a series of extravagantly costly large-scale construction projects in the rain forest region. Belaúnde was immediately overtaken by political crisis and economic disaster. An extreme left-wing guerrilla movement, Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), began activity in the highlands and gained strength. At the United States’ behest the government tried to suppress production of coca, further alienating the Native Americans whose main source of income it was. Output of the anchovy fisheries collapsed as a result of ecological devastation from earlier overfishing. The country entered a deep depression accompanied by runaway inflation, and it had to suspend payments on its enormous foreign debt. By the time presidential elections were held in 1985, Belaúnde and his government were completely discredited. His party got only 5 percent of the vote.

In the 1985 presidential elections, voters chose the APRA candidate, Alan García Pérez. García tried to reverse the economic decline. He introduced policies that attempted to reduce imports and limit annual payments on foreign debts. Despite some temporary success, by 1987 Peru had been cut off from international financing, and inflation again began to increase. In an attempt to limit inflation, García nationalized private banks and insurance companies and tightened government controls over the economy, but by 1990 the annual rate of inflation was approaching 3,000 percent. Meanwhile, despite unabated repression by the security forces, the Shining Path remained powerful.

The Fujimori Years

In an upset in the 1990 presidential election, Alberto Fujimori, an agricultural economist of Japanese descent, defeated novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. Fujimori, who ran in the runoff with left-wing support, imposed an austerity program to deal with hyperinflation and to restore Peru’s ability to borrow money internationally. Economic hardship led to an escalation of violence by the Shining Path.

In April 1992 Fujimori, alleging that congress and the judiciary had blocked his efforts to suppress the drug trade and the guerrillas, suspended parts of the constitution and took full control of the government. In September several key Shining Path guerrillas were captured, including Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán, and in November Fujimori’s supporters won a solid majority in a legislative election. In 1993 the United States and other creditor nations resumed loans to Peru. In October 1993 Peruvians voted to accept a new constitution, signed by Fujimori in December, that increased presidential power, changed the legislature from a bicameral body to a unicameral one, and allowed Fujimori to run for a second term.

By 1994 Peru’s economy had revived dramatically. Fujimori’s effort to privatize the economy moved forward with the sale of Interbanc, the largest national bank, and the national telephone service to private interests. The country also rejoined the Andean Community just as that group began negotiations to reduce tariffs among member nations. At the same time, the Fujimori government upheld its promise to crush the Shining Path movement, capturing several high-ranking members of the organization’s central committee.

In June 1994 former UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar announced that he would run for the presidency. As presidential elections neared, Fujimori lost momentum after feuding publicly with his wife, Susana Higuchi, a critic of his policies, and relieving her of her duties as first lady. In response she formed an opposition party and announced her intention to run for office in 1995. She was denied candidacy when her party failed to assemble the necessary number of signatures.

In January 1995 a series of skirmishes erupted along a contested section of the Ecuadorian border. Fujimori capitalized politically on the situation, gaining wide approval for his refusal to compromise with Ecuador. A cease-fire accord was signed in Montevideo, Uruguay, in March 1995. Peru and Ecuador entered into negotiations in 1998 and, toward the end of the year, signed a treaty settling the border dispute.

Prior to the 1995 elections Fujimori’s opponents attempted to undercut his popularity by challenging his human rights record. Despite those challenges, Fujimori’s accomplishments overwhelmed his critics at the polls, where he won the presidential elections outright, gaining more than 60 percent of the vote.

Fujimori declared a blanket amnesty in 1995 for all human rights abuses that may have been committed by members of the Peruvian military or police forces between 1980 and 1995. He pushed the measure through the Peruvian congress without a debate, outraging human rights activists and many Peruvian citizens, and provoking condemnation from governments around the world. The law absolved military personnel or civilians who had already been convicted, who were under investigation, or who were in the process of being tried for alleged crimes.

In November 1995 Peruvian authorities arrested 23 people, including a U.S. citizen, and alleged that they were members of the Tupac Amarú Revolutionary Movement and that they had been planning a terrorist attack on the Peruvian Congress. Tupac Amarú was never as powerful as the Shining Path, but it had been responsible for numerous guerrilla attacks in Peru in the 1980s and 1990s. The trials were conducted in secret, and the accused were unable to cross-examine witnesses, challenge government evidence, or call witnesses on their behalf. All 23 defendants were convicted and many of them were given life sentences. International human rights groups and the U.S. government condemned the trials, saying that they illustrated a lack of justice and due process in Peru’s legal system.

In December 1996 Tupac Amarú rebels seized the residence of the Japanese ambassador in Lima, taking hundreds of hostages, including foreign diplomats and Peruvian government officials. The rebels demanded the release of imprisoned comrades, and freed all but 72 of their hostages while negotiating with the government. After a four-month-long standoff, Fujimori ordered a military raid on the mansion to free the hostages. Commandos killed all of the rebels, and one hostage and two soldiers died in the attack.

A series of government scandals damaged the public’s perception of Fujimori’s government during mid-1997. In May Fujimori replaced three Constitutional Court justices who ruled that the congress acted unconstitutionally when it declared him eligible to run for a third consecutive presidential term despite a constitutional prohibition. Evidence also emerged that the government authorized telephone wire-tapping of prominent political opponents and paid Fujimori’s unofficial head of the intelligence service a salary of $600,000.

Fujimori’s public image was further damaged after a television station released information showing that the intelligence service had tortured two female intelligence agents who leaked information to the press about a government campaign to harass journalists. Fujimori’s approval rating dropped to 20 percent as a result of the scandals and the controversy surrounding the replacement of the justices on the Constitutional Court.

A particularly fierce El Niño struck Peru in late 1997. El Niño, which occurs periodically, caused severe rain and flooding that killed more than 200 Peruvians and caused extensive damage in many regions of the nation. Fujimori’s public image improved after he became personally involved in the crisis, making whirlwind tours to areas of the country that had been ravaged by storms and personally directing measures to control damage. The conflict between the government and the Shining Path continued into 1998, with Shining Path guerrillas engaging in sporadic acts of urban terrorism and attempting to establish or strengthen their bases in rural areas. In March 1998 police in Lima arrested four important leaders in the Shining Path organization.

In his bid for a third term in 2000, Fujimori drew international criticism for alleged campaign abuses and faced a surprisingly strong challenge from Alejandro Toledo, a business school professor. In the April elections neither of the two front-running candidates won 50 percent of the vote, and a runoff was scheduled for May. However, Toledo boycotted the race because of concerns about election fraud, and Fujimori was reelected. In the legislative elections Fujimori’s coalition, Peru 2000, won the most congressional seats but fell short of a majority.

Fujimori’s presidency began to unravel in September 2000 after his intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, was linked to a corruption scandal. After firing Montesinos, Fujimori called an early presidential election for April 2001 and promised not to run in it. By mid-November Fujimori faced a groundswell of political opposition as new charges of corruption and fraud continued to surface. While Fujimori was abroad for a trade summit of Pacific Rim nations, opposition parties took control of congress and elected a centrist legislator, Valentín Paniagua, as the leader of congress. Fujimori announced from Japan that he would resign as president, and Paniagua was chosen to lead an interim government pending new presidential and legislative elections. In a public rebuke of Fujimori, the legislature rejected the former president’s resignation and voted to remove him from office for being morally unfit.

Toledo’s Presidency

Alejandro Toledo was elected president in June 2001 after a runoff with former president Alan García Pérez. Toledo vowed to reform Peru’s criminal justice system, promote foreign investment, and reduce unemployment. In legislative elections, held alongside the presidential election, Toledo’s Possible Peru Party emerged as the largest party in the congress, although it did not attain a majority. The American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), led by García, became the second largest party.

In 2003 a government-appointed Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued the results of a two-year investigation into human rights abuses committed during Peru’s 20-year struggle with the Shining Path guerrillas. The commission found that nearly 70,000 people were killed or had disappeared from 1980 to 2000, twice as many as previously believed. Nearly 75 percent of those killed were Quechua-speaking Indians. Shining Path guerrillas caused most of the deaths by massacring villagers who refused to support them. However, Peru’s military, which attacked Indian villages in counterinsurgency operations, was found responsible for about 30 percent of the deaths and disappearances.

Unrest continued during Toledo’s presidency as he failed to deliver on an election promise to create jobs, and strikes and demonstrations against government policies became frequent. Corruption scandals undermined his administration, and he shuffled his cabinet several times in efforts to reclaim public support.

The June 2006 presidential elections required a runoff between APRA candidate Alan García Pérez and populist candidate Ollanta Humala, a former army officer. Regional politics played a significant role in the runoff as García used an endorsement of Humala by Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez to discredit Humala. Chávez was reportedly unpopular with most Peruvians, and García was said to have made gains by linking Humala to Chávez. García also sought to portray himself as a moderate and promised that he had learned the lessons of his first administration, which was economically disastrous for Peru.

The 2006 elections were also notable for the attempted political comeback of Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s president from 1990 to 2000 when he went into exile in disgrace. Fujimori’s supporters sought to place his name on the presidential ballot, but he was ruled ineligible. After Fujimori was extradited from Chile, where he had been placed under arrest, a Peruvian court found him guilty in December 2007 of ordering an illegal search and sentenced him to six years in prison. The same month he went on trial again on more serious charges of murder and forced disappearance, stemming from his alleged use of a secretive death squad that targeted leftists. In April 2009 a three-judge panel of Peru’s Supreme Court found Fujimori guilty of those charges and sentenced him to 25 years in prison.

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