Peru’s status improved from Partly Free to Free because the successful election of a new president and Congress served to ease, at least temporarily, a pattern of institutional clashes between the executive and legislative branches that had disrupted governance for a number of years.
Peru has established democratic political institutions and undergone multiple peaceful transfers of power. However, high-profile corruption scandals have eroded public trust in government, while bitter divides within a highly fragmented political class have repeatedly produced political turmoil. Indigenous groups suffer from discrimination and inadequate political representation.
- Pedro Castillo of the leftist Peru Libre party was elected president in June, narrowly defeating right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori in a runoff with 50.13 percent of the vote. The official election results were not released until July, due to allegations of electoral fraud made by Fujimori; the National Board of Elections (JNE) ultimately dismissed Fujimori’s claims, and the election was deemed free and fair by both local and international election monitors.
- A new Congress was elected in April polls that international observers reported to be competitive and peaceful. Though no party won a majority of seats, Castillo’s Peru Libre became the largest party in the legislature, taking 37 seats, followed by Fujimori’s previously dominant, right-wing Fuerza Popular (FP) party, which took 24.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The president is chief of state and head of government. Presidents are directly elected to a five-year term and may serve nonconsecutive terms. Prior to 2021, the last president to be seated through a national election was Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. In 2016, Kuczynski won by a historically small margin of 0.2 percent over Keiko Fujimori. The elections took place peacefully, and stakeholders accepted the close result.
Kuczynski resigned in March 2018 as lawmakers prepared to hold an impeachment vote against him over corruption allegations. Vice President Martín Vizcarra was quickly sworn in to replace him, in accordance with legal procedures. Vizcarra repeatedly clashed with legislators, and used his authority to dissolve Congress in September 2019 following a vote of no confidence in his government. Vizcarra was ousted in November 2020 after congressional opponents invoked the constitution’s controversial “moral incapacity” clause; many outside observers characterized the removal as an abuse of a vague constitutional clause.
Vizcarra was replaced by Manuel Merino, from the center-right Acción Popular party, who selected a conservative cabinet and signaled an aggressive policy agenda. An initial wave of protests in Lima were met with violent police repression, which provoked even larger protests across the country. After less than a week and the resignation of several cabinet members, Merino was forced to resign.
After Merino’s resignation, Francisco Sagasti, who had been elected as president of Congress just days earlier, acceded to the presidency with a mandate of seeking unity and shepherding the country to general elections in April 2021.
Elections were held as planned in April 2021, followed by a second-round vote in June. The preliminary results of the runoff showed Pedro Castillo of the leftist Peru Libre party winning 50.13 percent of the vote, defeating Keiko Fujimori, who received 49.87 percent of the vote. The election, which saw a voter turnout of over 70 percent, was deemed free and fair by both local and international election monitors. However, Fujimori challenged the initial results, accusing Castillo of vote tampering, prompting electoral authorities to delay releasing the official results of the election. The JNE ultimately dismissed Fujimori’s claims of electoral fraud, and officially declared Castillo’s victory in July.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Members of the 130-member unicameral Congress are elected for five-year terms; reelection is not permitted. Congressional balloting employs an open-list, region-based system of proportional representation, with a 5 percent vote hurdle for a party to enter the legislature.
Ten parties entered Congress following the 2021 general elections, which were deemed competitive and peaceful by international observers. Castillo’s Peru Libre won 37 seats, becoming the largest party represented in Congress, followed by Keiko Fujimori’s previously dominant, right-wing FP party, which took 24. No party won a majority of seats.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
The JNE has taken steps to improve transparency surrounding the electoral process, but insufficiently regulated campaign financing remains a serious issue. International observers praised the conduct of the JNE and the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) during the 2021 elections, reporting that both bodies had operated efficiently and transparently.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Peruvian parties, while competitive, are both highly fragmented and extremely personalized. Though there are limits on individual donations, there are no constraints on spending by political parties, offering an outsized advantage to parties able to secure abundant funds.
Since the party system collapsed during Alberto Fujimori’s authoritarian regime in the 1990s, the political system in Peru has been described by academic observers as a “democracy without parties.” Traditional political parties have been replaced by fragile and opportunistic political organizations that often have a very short life and little dedication to democratic practices.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Opposition political parties have a realistic chance of winning power through elections, and the outcomes of elections at both the national and regional levels are subject to effective competition. Fragmentation, rather than lack of political opportunities, is the biggest obstacle faced by political actors attempting to gain and exercise power.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||3.003 4.004|
While voters and candidates are generally able to exercise their political choices without undue influence, businesses regularly seek to bribe or otherwise influence political candidates’ positions.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
The concerns of members of ethnic and cultural minority groups, especially in remote mountain and Amazonian areas, remain inadequately addressed in politics. The 2011 Law of Prior Consultation attempted to improve the participation of Indigenous groups by guaranteeing consultation before mining and other development projects are undertaken. However, Indigenous groups have criticized the law, as the process gives Indigenous representatives no veto power, and there are ambiguities as to what qualifies a community as Indigenous.
While the political participation of women has increased over recent years, women hold few leadership roles in local and regional governments. In June 2020, Congress passed a law requiring moves toward full gender parity on party lists. After the 2021 elections, women make up 40 percent of the legislature, with 52 women holding seats in Congress.
Peru’s first openly LGBT+ congressperson, Susel Paredes, was elected in 2021.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
Elected leaders and representatives are the key agents in creating and implementing policy. However, businesses and special interest groups influence officials through bribes and other illicit payments. Several former presidents and longtime opposition leader Keiko Fujimori have all been accused of accepting illegal funds.
Interparty battles, frequently conducted on behalf of party leaders with private stakes in public policy, have disrupted normal government functions in recent years. During his time in office, President Vizcarra constantly battled with Congress over his political and legislative agenda, especially regarding anticorruption reforms. Congress ultimately voted to remove Vizcarra in November 2020, a decision that was roundly rejected by the Peruvian public.
Though clashes between the executive and legislative branches remain common, large-scale interparty conflict, such as that which led to the removal of Vizcarra, mostly subsided in 2021. However, tension between the two branches was present throughout the year, largely due to Castillo’s cabinet picks, including his controversial appointment of Guido Bellido as prime minister in July. Tensions eased somewhat in October, when Bellido, who was under criminal investigation for “defending terrorism” at the time of his appointment, resigned and was replaced by the more moderate Mirtha Vasquez. In both August and November, the opposition-led Congress narrowly passed a vote of confidence in Castillo’s cabinet, allowing the executive to continue to function and preventing ongoing interbranch clashes from escalating to a constitutional crisis. The stability of the government was again threatened in October, when Keiko Fujimori introduced impeachment proceedings against Castillo; however, further political turmoil was averted when Congress voted against impeachment in December.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because interparty conflicts have not interfered in the functioning of government to the degree they have in past years.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Government corruption remains a critical problem in Peru, though law enforcement authorities frequently investigate and prosecute corruption allegations. Recent years have seen scandals involving allegations of illicit deals between the Brazilian firm Odebrecht and a number of the country’s most senior political figures.
In a 2018 referendum, three anticorruption reforms introduced by President Vizcarra—including a ban on consecutive reelection for lawmakers, limits on campaign contributions, and an overhaul of the judicial appointment process—were approved by more than 85 percent of voters. However, Vizcarra’s ouster followed allegations that he had received bribes for public works contracts while governor of Moquegua in 2014. Vizcarra’s proposal to end parliamentary immunity for criminal prosecution was a key point of tension between the president and Congress; 68 of the 130 lawmakers elected in 2020 were subject to open criminal investigations as of November of that year.
Since taking office in July 2021, President Castillo has been the subject of several corruption allegations. Though Castillo has repeatedly denied the accusations, critics have questioned his commitment to fighting corruption, citing his ties to Vladimir Cerrón, the president of the Peru Libre party, who at the time of Castillo’s election was serving a four-year suspended prison sentence for corruption. While Castillo has distanced himself from Cerrón since becoming president, several more of the president’s associates were placed under investigation by Peru’s Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office during the year; the investigations remained ongoing at year’s end.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
Some government agencies have made progress on transparency, but much information related to defense and security policies remains classified under a 2012 law.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
Peru’s dynamic press is mostly privately owned, and ownership is highly concentrated. Defamation is criminalized, and journalists are regularly convicted under such charges, though their sentences are usually suspended. In September 2020, criminal proceedings began for investigative journalist Paola Ugaz, who had written a book about alleged physical and psychological abuse within the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae, a Catholic organization. The criminal case against Ugaz remained ongoing at the end of 2021.
During the November 2020 political crisis, multiple press freedom watchdogs denounced an attempt by Manuel Merino’s short-lived government to curtail the ability of state-run media outlets to cover protests against his administration. Journalists also protested dozens of acts of violence, mainly perpetrated by police, against reporters covering the protests. While murders of journalists have declined in recent years, numerous incidents of intimidation and assault are registered each year.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
The Peruvian constitution guarantees freedom of religion and belief, and these rights are generally respected.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is unrestricted.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
People are generally free to engage in private discussion without fear of retribution or surveillance.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
The authorities generally recognize the constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceful assembly. Local disputes and protests—notably those related to extractive industries, land rights, and resource allocation among marginalized populations—at times result in instances of excessive use of force by security personnel. Efforts in recent years by the state ombudsman and the National Office of Dialogue and Sustainability (ONDS) have contributed to a reduction in protest-related violence during social conflicts.
In contrast to the antigovernment protests of November 2020—which were violently repressed by the police and included violence by protesters—protests were generally allowed to proceed peacefully in 2021. Demonstrations both in support of and against President Castillo were held throughout the year, including in August, when hundreds of people gathered in Lima to protest against the appointment of Guido Bellido as prime minister. Numerous demonstrations were also held between September and November by activists protesting against the negative environmental and health impacts of the mining sector on communities in Peru’s “mining corridor.”
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of association is generally respected. However, efforts by environmental activists to discourage land development have been met with intimidation.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
Peruvian law recognizes the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. Strikes are legal with advance notification to the Ministry of Labor, but few strikers abide by this regulation. Lengthy processes involved in registering a new union create a window in which labor leaders and activists can be easily dismissed from their jobs. Short-term contracts in many industries make unionization difficult. Less than 10 percent of the formal workforce is unionized.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||2.002 4.004|
The judiciary has been perceived as one of the most corrupt institutions in the country. In 2018, Congress approved a reform leading to the creation of a new National Board of Justice (JNJ) in charge of selecting, evaluating, and disciplining judges. The establishment of the JNJ was widely praised by civil society organizations as well as academia.
Peru’s seven-member Constitutional Court has maintained sufficient autonomy to serve as a check on the other branches, and the constant tension between Congress and the executive heightens the importance of both the Court’s composition and its decisions. Indeed, observers pointed to the process of appointing six new justices as a key driver of interbranch tensions leading up to the November 2020 political crisis. However, in July 2021, a Peruvian court ordered the selection of new Constitutional Court members to be suspended due to alleged irregularities in the selection process. Despite the ruling, Congress announced that the selection process would go ahead as planned, prompting the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to urge the legislature to abide by judicial rulings.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
Constitutional guarantees of due process are unevenly upheld. Lawyers provided to indigent defendants are often poorly trained, and translation services are rarely provided for defendants who do not speak Spanish. Impunity for violence against environmental activists who challenge land development remains a problem.
In 2009, former authoritarian president Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment for human rights abuses committed while in office. Former president Kuczynski issued a controversial medical pardon in 2017, but in 2018 Peru’s Supreme Court ordered him back to prison. Police officially returned him to prison in January 2019, where he remained throughout 2021.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
While Peru’s murder rate is lower than many of its regional peers, violent criminal organizations operate in the narcotics and illegal mining industries, and street crime is rampant. A report published in 2021 by the National Statistics Institute (INEI) indicated that between November 2020 and April 2021, 18.6 percent of Peruvians aged 15 and over in urban areas were victimized by crime and 82.3 percent nationwide believed they would be victims of a crime.
Abuses committed by the security forces are rarely punished. In March 2020, Congress passed a law that international rights groups criticized as generating additional barriers to police accountability.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
Discrimination against Indigenous populations and Afro-Peruvians is pervasive. LGBT+ people face discrimination, hostility, and violence. Indigenous Peruvians, who often live vast distances from under-resourced health services, were severely afflicted by COVID-19, while transgender Peruvians were subjected to police abuse during the lockdown.
After Colombia, Peru has received the highest number of migrants from Venezuela. While the country was initially welcoming, public opinion shifted against tolerance, and a 2019 report by the Ministry of the Interior found that more than half of the Venezuelans residing in Peru have felt or experienced discrimination. Disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic posed additional problems for Venezuelan migrants, who were not eligible for key forms of state assistance. In January 2021, the government militarized the northern border with Ecuador in an attempt to prevent undocumented immigrants from entering the country.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
Peru does not place formal restrictions on movement. Although the use of road blockages as a protest tactic continued in 2021, such actions have generally decreased in recent years, easing movement around the country. People are able to freely change their place of employment or education. While Peru’s COVID-19 lockdown was one of the most stringent in Latin America and included significant restrictions on movement, there were fewer accusations of arbitrary or abusive enforcement than in many neighboring countries.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||3.003 4.004|
The rights to own property and establish business are mostly respected, though tensions persist between extractive industries and Indigenous communities who demand inclusion in land use policy decisions. The Prior Consultation Law is designed in part to better protect Indigenous rights. Its implementation has resulted in some positive outcomes for communities that have taken part in consultation processes—though prior consultation still does not always take place, nor are the requests of Indigenous groups binding.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Gender-based violence is widespread in Peru, with more than half of Peruvian women reporting instances of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. More than 146 femicides were recorded in 2021.
Proposals to recognize civil unions for same-sex partners have been repeatedly introduced and rejected in Congress, and in November 2020 the Constitutional Court ruled against recognition of a same-sex marriage performed in Mexico by a Peruvian citizen. Abortion is permitted only in instances where a woman’s health is in danger.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
The large share of Peruvians working in the informal sector leads to widespread economic precarity. Dependence on daily earnings—and the state’s inefficiency in distributing aid—contributed to the depth of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Peruvian women and girls, especially from the Indigenous community, are vulnerable to sex trafficking. According to the US State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report, while the Peruvian government has not met the minimum standards for effectively combating trafficking, its antitrafficking efforts increased “significantly” in 2021. However, impunity for traffickers remains common.
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Global Freedom Score72 100 free