Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Peru's political rights rating improved from 3 to 1, and its status changed from Partly Free to Free, due to the holding of free and fair presidential elections and a general, widespread improvement in the country's political and civil liberties outlook.
The year 2001 marked the first time in nearly a decade that Peruvians did not have to worry much about guerrilla insurgencies, or about elected officials stealing tens of millions from the state, or that the elections that put their leaders in office were fraudulent. The victory of populist Alejandro Toledo in June in free and fair presidential elections--the first Native American ever to win a country's presidency through real elections in the Americas--came after a tightly fought contest in which a once disgraced former president, Alan Garcia, appeared poised for a comeback. Toledo, a peasant's son turned World Bank economist, embraced his indigenous heritage on the campaign trail, calling himself the "Rebel Indian." Former strongman President Alberto Fujimori, who fled to Japan in November 2000 at the height of a corruption scandal, faced homicide charges in Lima for his responsibility in two massacres by paramilitary squads in the early 1900s. His shadowy intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who is accused of hiding an ill-gained $270 million, was arrested in Venezuela in June. It was the public release in September 2000 of a secretly recorded videotape of Montesinos bribing an opposition politician that brought down his long-ruling boss. In August, Toledo sacked Peru's top military chiefs and promised to thoroughly restructure the armed forces.
Since independence in 1821, Peru has seen alternating periods of civilian and military rule, with elected civilians holding office since a 12-year-old dictatorship ended in 1980. However, that same year, the Maoist Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorist group launched a guerrilla war that killed 30,000 people over the next two decades.
Fujimori, a university rector and engineer, defeated the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa in the 1990 election. In 1992 Fujimori, backed by the military, suspended the constitution and dissolved congress. The move was popular because of people's disdain for Peru's corrupt, elitist political establishment and fear of the Shining Path.
Fujimori held a state-controlled election for an 80-member constituent assembly to replace the congress. The assembly drafted a constitution that established a unicameral congress more closely under presidential control. The constitution was approved in a state-controlled referendum following the capture of the Shining Path leader, Abimael Guzman.
Fujimori's principal opponent in the April 9, 1995, election was former United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who vowed to end Fujimori's "dictatorship." Fujimori crushed his opponent with a vote of about three to one, with a massive public-spending and propaganda campaign that used state resources. The National Intelligence Service, under de facto head Vladimiro Montesinos, a one-time legal counsel to drug kingpins, was employed to spy on and discredit Perez de Cuellar and other opposition candidates.
In August 1996 congress passed a law allowing Fujimori to run for a third term, despite a constitutional provision limiting the president to two terms. The law evaded this restriction by defining Fujimori's current term as his first under the 1993 constitution.
On April 22, 1997, the seizure of the Japanese ambassador's residence came to a violent end when a commando raid liberated all but one of the 72 hostages and killed all 14 of the insurgents. In March 1998 the National Magistrates Council resigned en masse four months after Fujimori's congress altered the National Elections Commission so as to give the president increased influence. In late 1999, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution criticizing Fujimori for interfering with the judiciary, harassing the press, and manipulating Peruvian institutions in order to stay in power.
In the April 9, 2000, presidential elections, Fujimori beat Alejandro Toledo, a U.S.- educated economist who grew up in an Indian shantytown, by 49.9 percent to 40.2 percent. Fujimori, however, came in 20,000 votes short of an outright win, and a runoff election was slated for May 28. Toledo refused to participate in the second round, pointing out that in addition to election-day voting irregularities, he had been routinely assaulted by Fujimori supporters in the earlier campaign, had suffered constant death threats and phone taps, was virtually blacked out from media coverage, and was the target of smear attacks in the press. In late July 2000, Fujimori sought to refurbish his democratic credentials by naming a former opposition presidential candidate as prime minister. U.S. efforts to take a strong line with Fujimori in support of reforms, however, were sandbagged in the Organization of American States, which had earlier refused to certify the elections as free and fair. However, U.S. pressure also flagged when the Clinton administration decided isolating Fujimori internationally could cripple the regional war on drugs.
In early September 2000 a videotape was released that showed Montesinos bribing an opposition congressman, at the same time that the spy chief was also being linked to the illegal shipment of arms to Colombian guerrillas. Coming after one of the most widely questioned elections the region had seen in decades, the ensuing scandal raised suspicions that Fujimori had secured a parliamentary majority--after having failed to win one outright in the April 9 general elections--by bribing opposition congressmen to change sides. On September 16 a weakened Fujimori agreed to call new elections for 2001 in which he would not run. During October, Montesinos and Fujimori engaged in a running battle to see who would control the military; when Montesinos lost, he hurriedly went into exile, only to return several weeks later and go into hiding, pursued unsuccessfully by a military manhunt led personally by his former boss. In late November 2000, President Alberto Fujimori was removed from office; opposition forces assumed control of congress; and a highly respected opposition leader, Valentin Paniagua, was chosen as interim president of Peru. In early December 2000, Fujimori claimed that Montesinos--a one-time U.S. Central Intelligence Agency asset--was still wielding power from behind the scenes by blackmailing congressmen to force them to do his bidding after having videotaped them taking bribes.
Following Fujimori's overthrow, the new opposition-controlled congress began a process of renewal of the constitutional tribunal and reform of the constitution, so as to eliminate consecutive reelection and to forestall the rise of another Fujimori. The notorious National Intelligence Service, the key to Montesinos's sinister reach, was abolished. The attorney general, a Fujimori loyalist who had blocked investigations into corruption and abuses of power by high government officials, was fired and replaced by a respected independent. An agreement was also reached to restart a judicial reform program aborted by Fujimori in 1999. At the end of 2000, Fujimori announced he was availing himself of his dual citizenship to remain in Japan. In July 2001, Paniagua announced the appointment of a truth-and-reconciliation commission to investigate two decades of rebel and state-sponsored violence.
Running on the slogan "Toledo Trabajo" (Toledo means jobs), the ebullient Toledo bested Garcia, a gifted orator whose 1985--1990 administration was wracked by mismanagement, hyperinflation, and guerrilla violence, in runoff elections held June 3, 2001, that were internationally heralded as free and fair. During the campaign, Toledo, a one-time shoe-shine boy who won a scholarship to Stanford University, was accused of using cocaine in a 1998 orgy with five prostitutes, and of repeatedly lying about his past. (Toledo claimed he was forced to take the drug after being kidnapped.)
Throughout 2001, a veritable who's who of Peru's business elite--including the heads of six of seven television stations, the head of one of the region's fastest-growing airlines, and leaders from banking and industrial sectors--had come under suspicion or had been formally accused of collusion in corrupt practices with Montesinos. In August, the new attorney general accused Fujimori of paying Montesinos $15 million to flee the country; in October she accused Fujimori of embezzling more than $372 million. Montesinos's arrest in Venezuela proved something of an embarrassment for the government of President Hugo Chavez, which repeatedly said that the Peruvian fugitive was not in the country. The appearance of scores of hand grenades throughout Lima, some of which have caused casualties, is believed to be part of a campaign by police and military officers loyal to Fujimori who have sold the artifacts to gang members in hopes that rising violence would undermine the new administration. Although the threat of a possible guerrilla resurgence is viewed as unlikely by most observers, on August 7 some 100 members of a Shining Path splinter group ambushed an elite police unit in a remote jungle area, killing four policemen.
Peruvians can change their government through free and fair elections. Both the April 8 presidential contest and the June 3 runoff elections were hailed by international election observation teams as being relatively free and fair, although many voters were reportedly turned off by the campaigns' negative tone. In preparation for the 2001 vote congress reformed the constitution, replacing a single nationwide district for congressional elections with a system of multiple districts based on the departments (provinces) into which the country is divided for administrative purposes. The move provided fair representation for the almost 50 percent of the population who live outside of the four largest cities, and guaranteed them some attention from the state and from political parties, which traditionally have ignored them.
On the eve of President Alberto Fujimori's removal from office, reforms designed to guarantee judicial independence were undertaken by the former opposition. Since Alejandro Toledo assumed office in July 28, 2001, his justice ministry has worked hard to put into place a broad anticorruption effort. Senior Peruvian officials promised to strip the veil of immunity from corrupt politicians, by using independent courts, respect for human rights, and exemplary punishment for those who merit it. Popular perceptions of the justice system--that it is a swamped bureaucracy riddled by political influence and greed--will be hard to change, however. Scant resources have meant that most of Peru's more than 3,000 judges are overworked and underpaid.
Peru's financial woes are the most notable factor contributing to spiraling national crime. The National Statistics Institute estimates that rapid increases in poverty have now placed fully half the population in need, with one-third of the indigent population of 12 million living in extreme poverty. Public safety, particularly in Lima, is threatened by vicious warfare among opposing gangs--some of which use body armor and high-powered weapons--and violent crime. Police estimate that there are more than 1,000 criminal gangs in the capital alone. Kidnappings are a serious problem in Lima. Conditions remain deplorable in prisons for common criminals.
The press is largely privately owned. Radio and television are both privately and publicly owned. Under Fujimori, Peru had one of the worst records on press freedom in the world. Government tactics ran from abductions, death threats, libel suits and the withholding of advertising, to police harassment, arbitrary detention, physical mistreatment, and imprisonment on charges of "apology for terrorism." Ironically, it was the media and journalists whose exposes of widespread corruption and abuse of power ended up toppling his "infotatorship." In October 2001, Ernesto Schutz, president of Peru's leading television station, Panamericana, was arrested in Argentina on corruption charges linked to ex-spy-chief Montesinos. A video obtained by prosecutors in Lima allegedly showed Schutz receiving $350,000 in cash from the one-time "Rasputin of the Andes."
Racism against Peru's large Indian population has been prevalent among the middle and upper classes, although the Fujimori government made some effort to combat it and Toledo's election is considered a watershed. However, the provisions of the 1993 constitution and subsequent implementing legislation regarding the treatment of native lands are less explicit about the inalienability and unmarketability of these lands than were earlier constitutional and statutory protections.
In 1996 the International Labor Organization criticized the labor code for failing to protect workers from anti-union discrimination and for restricting collective bargaining rights. Forced labor, including child labor, is prevalent in the gold-mining region of the Amazon. Violence is perhaps the greatest problem facing women in Peru today, although recently the government has taken some steps to deal with it.