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 declined from 1 to 2 due to slippage on government pledges on openness and transparency.
The government of President Alejandro Toledo suffered a serious setback at the polls in November 2002, as voters selected Peru's main opposition party and a group of independents in elections for 25 new regional governments, whose establishment was meant to end Lima's top-down monopoly on political control. The no-confidence vote against Toledo's 16-month-old government was a huge boost for former president Alan Garcia, the once-discredited head of the center-left American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), and positioned the center-left populist as the early favorite for the 2006 presidential election. Peru has one of Latin America's highest economic growth rates. Nevertheless, Toledo's Peru Possible Party, which won only 1 of the 25 contests, was hampered by voter disillusionment of perceived disarray and cronyism in the government, as well as by cynicism about the government's efforts to spur the economy by selling off state enterprises as part of a free-market reform.
Since independence in 1821, Peru has seen alternating periods of civilian and military rule, with elected civilians holding office since a 12-year dictatorship ended in 1980. However, that same year, the Maoist Shining Path terrorist group launched a guerrilla war that killed 30,000 people over the next two decades. Alberto 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. In April 1995, Fujimori was reelected president, besting former UN 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 onetime legal counsel to drug kingpins, was employed to spy on and discredit 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.
In the April 9, 2000, presidential elections, Fujimori beat 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 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. In late November 2000, 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.
Following Fujimori's overthrow, the new opposition-controlled congress began a process of renewing the constitutional tribunal and reforming 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. An agreement was also reached to restart a judicial reform program that had been 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 former president Alan 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 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 having been kidnapped.) In August 2001, Toledo sacked Peru's top military chiefs and promised to thoroughly restructure the armed forces.
The 2002 reform of Peru's highly centralized political structure gave new regional governments almost a quarter of the national budget and a range of powers long the province of the central government. However, Toledo's standing suffered due to a host of personal incidents, ranging from his having allegedly procured a sweetheart job for his wife at Peru's second-largest bank, and to his long denial, later reversed, of having fathered a child out of wedlock in the 1980s--a stance that led opponents to accuse him of manipulating the judiciary to his advantage. In June, antigovernment riots protesting the selling off of state-owned companies left two people dead and nearly $100 million in damages. In 2002, the Shining Path also made a small comeback, killing 10 people in a car bomb attack outside the U.S. embassy in March and making a limited effort to disrupt the November election. On a positive note, in November authorities captured the head of an army death squad whose arrest could shed light on the still-exiled Fujimori's role in human rights atrocities.
Peruvians can change their government through free and fair elections, and the November 2002 elections were held largely without incident. 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 the four largest cities, and guaranteed them some attention from the state and from political parties, which traditionally have ignored them.
Since Alejandro Toledo assumed office in July 28, 2001, the Justice Ministry has worked to put in to 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. Toledo's own personal behavior meant that transparency promises by his government were jeopardized in the public's opinion. 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 by opposing gangs--some of whom 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. Express kidnappings, in which people are held for a short time and forced to withdraw cash from bank accounts or automatic teller machines, are a serious problem in Lima. Conditions remain deplorable in prisons for common criminals.
The press is largely privately owned and is now considered to be free. Radio and television are both privately and publicly owned.
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 legislation regarding the treatment of native lands, are less explicit about their inalienability and protection from being sold off than were earlier constitutional and statutory laws.
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.