Peru | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2006

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Despite Peru's sustained economic growth, President Alejandro Toledo reached the end of his presidential term in 2005 with the lowest approval rating of any Latin American leader and lacking in effective authority, in part because of allegations of corruption. Meanwhile, ousted strongman president Alberto Fujimori was detained in Chile pending an extradition request by Peru on charges of corruption and human rights abuse.

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 guerrilla group launched a vicious two-decades-long insurgency. 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 the Congress. In November, he held elections for an 80-member Constituent Assembly to replace the Congress, which his candidates won overwhelmingly after the opposition made a strategic decision to boycott the election. The Assembly created a constitution-which established a unicameral Congress more closely under presidential control-that was approved in a state-controlled referendum following the capture of the Shining Path leader, Abimael Guzman. Congress passed a law in August 1996 allowing Fujimori to run for a third term, despite a constitutional provision limiting the president to two terms.

In the April 2000 presidential election, Fujimori outpolled against Alejandro To-ledo-a U.S.-educated economist who had been raised in one of the many urban squatter settlements populated by former peasants-49.9 percent to 40.2 percent. Toledo refused to participate in a second-round runoff, saying that he had been victimized by election-day voting irregularities, been repeatedly assaulted by Fujimori supporters in the earlier campaign, suffered constant death threats and phone taps, been virtually blacked out of media coverage, and been the target of smear campaigns in the press.

In early September 2000, a videotape was released showing Vladimiro Montesinos, the de facto head of the national intelligence service, 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. After other similar videos (labeled "Vladivideos") were exposed, the scandal raised suspicions that Fujimori had secured a congressional majority by bribing opposition members of Congress to change sides. As a result, in late November, Fujimori was driven from office; opposition forces assumed control of Congress; and a respected opposition leader, Valentin Paniagua, was chosen as interim president. Following Fujimori's overthrow, the new opposition-controlled Congress began a process of renewing the constitutional tribunal, which had been gutted because some of its members had opposed the third-term law, and reforming the constitution. At the end of 2000, Fujimori announced that he was availing himself of his dual citizenship to remain in Japan.

In the April 2001 congressional elections, Toledo's Peru Posible party won 25 percent of the votes, compared to 19 percent garnered by its closest competitor, the Peruvian Aprista Party. Running on the slogan "Toledo Trabajo" (Toledo Means Jobs), Toledo bested former Aprista president Alan Garcia (1985-1990) in runoff presidential elections held in June. In August, 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 that had long been the province of the central government. However, Toledo's standing suffered from a host of personal scandals, and Peru Possible suffered a serious setback at the polls in elections for 25 new regional governments.

In August 2003, Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission-which Paniagua had appointed in July 2001-presented its report on the scope and origins of the political violence that had wracked the country from 1980 to 2000. While it concluded that the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla group was the "principal perpetrator of the human rights violations," which included 69,000 people killed, the commission also accused the military and security forces of serious and repeated atrocities. The report shocked many observers by more than doubling the number of deaths estimated to have occurred during the protracted insurgency; nearly three-fourths of the victims of both the guerrillas and the military were residents of Andean highland villages, rural poor who have long suffered neglect from the central government.

Toledo's popularity appeared to decline further by late 2003, as Peruvians took to the streets in increasing numbers in anger over his questionable ethics and failure to make good on campaign promises of more jobs. The popular disenchantment grew despite the country's posting an annual inflation rate of just 1.5 percent, the lowest in decades, and holding its position as Latin America's economic growth leader.

In 2004, Toledo's personal popularity plummeted and his Peru Posible party appeared on the verge of disintegration. At mid-year, Peru Posible lost control of the leadership of Congress after the resignation from the party of two of its founding members, which reduced its congressional representation to 36, 11 fewer than in 2001. By midyear, one public opinion survey showed that 70 percent of those polled felt that Toledo-considered on the basis of comparative polling data to be the most unpopular president in Latin America-was himself personally corrupt, and half said they wanted him to leave office early. In June, a special anticorruption court found former intelligence chief Montesinos guilty on charges of corruption, sentencing him to 15 years in prison. Nonetheless, in September, the self-exiled Fujimori, wanted in Peru on charges including murder and kidnapping, declared that he would run for president in 2006-despite being legally banned from holding public office.

In early 2005, Toledo's vice president was forced to resign over a tax scandal, his personal lawyer was arrested for attempting to influence the justice system, and two cabinet ministers were forced to resign on corruption charges. Meanwhile, human rights advocates complained of a lack of progress in bringing institutional changes-beyond a partial demilitarization of the police and the inclusion of human rights courses in the military academies-recommended two years earlier by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In addition, the commission's chairman, Salomon Lerner, who is a practicing Catholic but has a Jewish father and brother, faced eight lawsuits filed by Peruvian military officers accused of rights violations as well as anti-Semitic death threats. On July 29, a law went into effect granting nonmonetary reparations to survivors and the families of victims of the armed conflict.

In November, Fujimori, who had been living in Tokyo, suddenly reappeared in Chile. After again declaring his intention to run for president despite a congressional ban on his holding office until 2011, he was detained by authorities there, who held him as Peru requested his extradition to face more than 20 criminal charges. However, some analysts cautioned that as Fujimori supporters are likely to emerge from the upcoming elections winning 15 to 20 of the 120 congressional seats, a new president might have to negotiate with Fujimori in order to run the country. At the end of 2005, public opinion polls showed Lourdes Flores Nano, of the National Unity Party, remained the frontrunner in the presidential contest, followed by former president Alan Garcia and Peruvian Nationalist Party candidate Ollanta Humala.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Peru can change their government democratically. 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 at least some attention from the state and from political parties, which traditionally have ignored them.

The president and the 120 members of the unicameral Congress are elected by popular vote for five-year terms. Twenty-eight parties had registered by the February 2005 deadline to participate in the 2006 elections. This political pluralism, as well as the fact that 70 percent of Peruvians polled say they do not ally themselves with a single party, foreshadow a fragmented result at the polls. In May 2005, Congress voted to send the attorney-general a report accusing President Alejandro Toledo of directing a campaign to force signatures to register his Peru Posible party for the 2000 elections. Forensic analysis showed that 77 percent of the 1.2 million signatures presented were false.

Peruvian prosecutors estimate that $1.8 billion was stolen from the state during Alberto Fujimori's presidency, which ended in 2000. However, by mid-2005, of the 399 criminal cases related to his terms in office, sentence had been passed on only 39 of them. Public opinion polls revealed in 2005 that although practiced on a much smaller scale than during the Fujimori government, corruption was considered by 56 percent of those surveyed to be Peru's most serious problem. Peru was ranked 65 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The press is largely privately owned and is now considered to be free. Although the number of threats, including death threats, against journalists has fallen since Fujimori's presidency, the practice still persists, especially in the provinces. Some media observers claim that, at least in part, the upswing in public complaints about corruption reflect a tendency by the press, newly freed from the controls and interference of the Fujimori era, to engage in denuncialogia-an obsession with denun-ciations-that trivializes investigative journalism and helps to poison both political debate and public confidence. Radio and television are both privately and publicly owned. The government does not limit access to the internet.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. However, the Roman Catholic Church receives preferential treatment from the state. Peru's 3,000-member Jewish community is suffering from a rise in anti-Semitic verbal attacks, and there has been an increase in the number of small, but vocal, neo-Nazi groups. The government does not restrict academic freedom.

The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, and the authorities generally respect this right in practice. Freedom of association is also generally respected. The human rights community has reported that the Toledo administration continues to work toward strengthening relations between the government and civil society. The government permits numerous nongovernmental organizations dedicated to monitoring and advancing human rights to operate freely. In recent years, these groups reported no harassment or other attempts by the authorities to hinder their operations.

The law recognizes the right of public and private sector workers to organize and bargain collectively but limits their rights to those exercised in harmony with broader social objectives. Although workers exercise the right to strike, as provided by law, unions that represent workers in public services deemed essential by the government are restricted from striking, and strikers are required to notify the Ministry of Labor in advance of their intention to carry out a job action. Only about 5 percent of the formal sector workforce belong to labor unions, which reflects a legacy of hostility by the Fujimori regime, cuts in the public sector workforce, more flexible labor policies, and other market reforms. In July 2004, national labor unions called the first general strike in Peru since 1999, in protest against alleged public corruption. It received only tepid support and failed to shut down commercial activity in Lima, as had been intended.

During his period in office, Fujimori conducted a purge of the judiciary that removed 70 percent of judges. He replaced them with new appointees having "provisional" status, meaning that they lacked job tenure and thus were potentially unduly responsive to the government in cases where it had an interest. Since Toledo assumed office in July 2001, the Ministry of Justice has worked to put into place a broad anticorruption effort. However, popular perceptions of the justice system- that it is an inefficient, overloaded bureaucracy riddled by political influence and greed-have not changed. Scant resources have resulted in most of Peru's more than 3,000 judges being overworked and underpaid, and Toledo's unpopularity results in part from continuing public skepticism about any possibility of institutional reform.

Crime is spiraling out of control, driven by the country's economic woes. The National Statistics Institute reports that over half of the population still lives in poverty, which recent economic growth has done little to alleviate. Public safety, particularly in Lima, is threatened by gang warfare and an increase in violent crime; police estimate that there are now more than 1,000 criminal gangs in the capital alone. Conditions remain deplorable in prisons for common criminals. Torture and ill treatment on the part of the military and security forces remain concerns.

Under Toledo, the government has retained firm control over the military but has yet to embark on a comprehensive reform program to address the serious professional deformations promoted by Vladimiro Montesinos, their de facto head under Fujimori. Peru lacks the codified distinction between national defense and internal security that is characteristic of modern, democratic states, and responsibility for internal security is shared between the military and the Peruvian National Police. Recommendations by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, such as the implementation by the military of an ethics code stating that its members have a duty to disobey orders that run contrary to rights standards, have not been put into action.

Racism against Peru's large Native American population has been prevalent among the middle and upper classes, although the Fujimori government made some effort to combat it. The election of Toledo, who boasted of his indigenous heritage, is considered a watershed; in 2005, he told reporters that one of his government's most important accomplishments was having empowered impoverished indigenous communities by setting up social investment funds and cultural institutes. However, the provisions of the 1993 constitution, as well as subsequent legislation regarding the treatment of native lands, are less explicit about the lands' inalienability and protection from being sold off than were earlier constitutional and statutory laws. The failure of the government to codify aspects of customary law (derecho consuetudinario) into positive law has been accompanied by recent incidents of vigilante violence, including lynchings, in the predominantly indigenous highlands.

In recent years, women primarily from the upper and upper-middle classes have advanced into leadership roles in various companies and government agencies; by law, they are to receive equal pay for equal work. Spousal abuse is a serious problem, although recently the government has taken some steps to address the issue. Forced labor, including child labor, exists in the gold-mining region of the Amazon. Discrimination against homosexuals, including occasional acts of violence, is a problem. In July, several hundred lesbians, homosexuals, and bisexuals marched in downtown Lima for the fourth consecutive year, protesting what they called extensive discrimination.