Peru | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2007

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Former president Alan Garcia returned to power in 2006 after narrowly defeating outsider candidate Ollanta Humala in a runoff election. Congressional and local elections were also held, all under generally free and fair circumstances. At year’s end, Peru waited to find out whether former president Alberto Fujimori would be extradited from Chile to face trial. In December, President Garcia signed a bill that required the registration of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), raising the ire of domestic and international observers.

Since independence in 1821, Peru has seen alternating periods of civilian and military rule. Elected civilians have held office since a 12-year dictatorship ended in 1980. However, that same year, a Maoist guerrilla group known as the Shining Path launched a vicious two-decade-long insurgency. Alberto Fujimori, a university rector and engineer, defeated the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa in the 1990 presidential 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, which his candidates won overwhelmingly after the opposition made a strategic decision to boycott the voting. The assembly created a constitution establishing a unicameral Congress that would be more closely controlled by the president, and the new charter was approved in a state-controlled 1993 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 Alejandro Toledo—a U.S.-educated economist who had been raised in one of Peru’s 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 cheated by election-day voting irregularities as well as repeatedly smeared, threatened, and assaulted by Fujimori supporters.

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, the spy chief was also being linked to the illegal shipment of arms to Colombian guerrillas. After other, similar videos (labeled “Vladivideos”) were revealed, the scandal raised suspicions that Fujimori had secured a congressional majority by bribing opposition members 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. 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 with 19 percent garnered by its closest competitor, the Peruvian Aprista Party (APRA). Running on the slogan “Toledo Trabajo” (Toledo Means Jobs), Toledo bested former APRA president Alan Garcia (1985–1990) in a runoff presidential election held in June. 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 concentrated in the central government. However, Toledo’s standing suffered from a host of personal scandals, and Peru Posible suffered a serious setback 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 racked the country from 1980 to 2000. While it concluded that the Shining Path was the “principal perpetrator of the human rights violations,” 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; of the 69,000 dead, 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 from neglect by the central government.

Throughout 2003 and 2004, Toledo’s personal popularity plummeted and his Peru Posible party appeared on the verge of disintegration, all despite strong macroeconomic growth. In mid-2004, Peru Posible lost control of Congress after the resignation from the party of two of its founding members. One public opinion survey at the time showed that 70 percent of those polled felt that Toledo—the most unpopular president in Latin America, according to comparative polling data—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, the 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 recommended two years earlier by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In May, Congress voted to send the attorney general a report accusing Toledo of directing a fraudulent signature campaign 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.

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 Chilean authorities as Peru requested his extradition to face more than 20 criminal charges. By the end of 2005, opinion polls indicated that the presidential contest was shaping up as a three-way race between frontrunner Lourdes Flores Nano of the right-wing National Unity Party (UN), former president Garcia of the populist APRA party, and Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP) candidate Ollanta Humala.

Much of the attention during the 2006 presidential campaign focused on the rise of Humala, an outsider candidate whose family was notorious for strongly nationalistic, intolerant views; his brother Antauro had led an abortive uprising at the beginning of 2005, during which several police officers were killed. Humala’s platform called for state control of “strategic” sectors such as energy and mining, and advocated the formation of a constituent assembly to write a new constitution. A rich vein of disillusionment with the existing system was certainly available to be tapped; in March the UN Development Program released a survey showing that over 90 percent of Peruvians believed that politicians prevented democracy from working in the country, while over 70 percent favored an authoritarian government.

Largely on the strength of his outsider status and nationalist appeals, Humala was victorious in the first round of the election on April 9, with Garcia narrowly edging out Flores for second place. Humala’s PNP, allied with the Union for Peru (UPP) party, captured the most seats in Congress, with 45, while Garcia’s APRA followed with 36 and Flores’s UN garnered 17. Notably, the pro-Fujimori Alliance for the Future party won 13 seats, giving it influence in a divided Congress.

However, several factors combined to limit Humala’s chances in the June 4 run-off election. Fears of possible authoritarianism led most Flores voters to support Garcia. In addition, Garcia adroitly used Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s endorsement of Humala to frighten centrist voters who were disinclined to import the Venezuelan model of polarized politics and state-centric policies. Finally, charges of human rights violations stemming from Humala’s stint in the military fighting Shining Path rebels in the 1980s further discredited him. Garcia triumphed in the end, but by the slim margin of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent. Furthermore, 15 of Peru’s 24 departments (provinces) voted for Humala, and he won by an overwhelming margin in many areas of the highlands, thereby underlining the rift between Lima and the impoverished interior. The nation’s political fragmentation was further illustrated in November, when locally based independent candidates were victorious in the vast majority of departments and provinces, with APRA and Humala-linked candidates performing poorly.

Once in office, Garcia quickly moved to increase his appeal through populist measures such as salary cuts for government officials (including himself and members of Congress) and the proposed introduction of the death penalty for child rapists and terrorists. Meanwhile, he attempted to buttress relations with the United States by denouncing Chavez, expressing his concern regarding the “Andean fundamentalism” practiced by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and promising to extradite drug traffickers. However, his top foreign policy priority, the ratification of the free-trade agreement Toledo had signed with the United States, remained in limbo due to internal U.S. political obstacles. In December Garcia signed a controversial law requiring NGOs to register and detail their funding sources to a government agency or face penalties including fines and even suspension of their registration. Many elements of civil society and the media strongly condemned the new measure, as did international organizations. The measure, initiated by the Fujimorista bloc, passed through Congress with the support of that group as well as the APRA party and Flores’s UN. The law’s backers claimed the new law was necessary to ensure NGO transparency, while its opponents claimed that the law gave the government a powerful legal tool for harassment and would be wielded arbitrarily. At year’s end opponents were preparing to challenge the law’s constitutionality in court.

In late December, relations between civil society and the ruling party were inflamed further by a judgment rendered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights calling for reparations to be paid to the families of inmates killed in a prison battle in 1992. Most of the victims were accused members of the Shining Path, and politicians reacted with outrage, with some legislators and party functionaries even calling for Peru to withdraw from the Court’s jurisdiction. Most human rights NGOs conversely accepted the judgment and accused the politicians of demagoguery.

Other reminders of the Fujimori era remained abundant in 2006. In September, Montesinos was sentenced to an additional 20 years in prison for selling rifles to Colombian rebels. Meanwhile, Chilean authorities completed their investigation and Peruvians waited anxiously to find out whether Fujimori would return to Peru for trial.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Peru is an electoral democracy. All elections in 2006 were conducted in a generally free and fair atmosphere, according to international observers; complaints focused on poor logistics and information distribution in rural areas, as well as the disenfranchisement of the roughly one million Peruvians lacking official identification papers.

The president and the 120 members of the unicameral Congress are elected by popular vote for five-year terms. Congressional balloting is based on an open-list proportional representation system, with seats allotted to the various departments based on population. Thirty parties participated in the 2006 elections; however, in an effort to combat party fragmentation, an “electoral hurdle” was introduced that prevented any party receiving less than 4 percent of the total vote from holding congressional seats. The two bodies charged with administering the elections disagreed over candidate eligibility, ballot format, and other issues, complicating the electoral process. Additionally, checks on campaign financing were weak, and allegations surfaced that drug money played a role in multiple campaigns, particularly during local elections.

The Peruvian political system is open to the rise and fall of new political parties—too open, according to many political observers. Lack of programmatic coherence and constant party switching by politicians have discredited political parties in the eyes of Peruvians, which further reinforces the trend toward fragmentation.

Indigenous groups, which account for nearly half of the Peruvian population by some measures, have not unified for political purposes nearly as much as in neighboring Andean countries. Peruvians have generally sought political expression through nationalism more than through ethnic solidarity. However, rural social protests are often carried out by indigenous workers, and several political parties have attempted to capture the support of both jungle- and mountain-dwelling indigenous groups.

Corruption is a severe problem; according to a September 2006 survey, 49 percent of Peruvians deemed it the principal impediment to development. Hundreds of millions of dollars disappeared during the Fujimori era; although a significant amount has been recovered, much more presumably remains untraced. In November 2006, the attorney general’s office opened a corruption investigation into government of former president Toledo. Peru was ranked 70 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The press is for the most part privately owned and lively, but journalists face significant limitations. Especially in the provinces, journalists are frequently intimidated and even attacked; 2006 witnessed a notable surge in the number of reported attacks, partly due to tensions caused by the national and local elections. Journalists also face harassment through defamation lawsuits. Some media observers claim that the upswing in public complaints about corruption reflects, at least in part, ethical laxity in the press and a tendency to engage in denuncialogia —an obsession with denunciations that trivializes investigative journalism and helps to poison both political debate and public confidence. Broadcasts from both publicly owned and privately owned radio and television stations are available. The government does not limit access to the internet.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects it in practice. However, the Roman Catholic Church receives preferential treatment from the state. Peru’s 3,000-member Jewish community strongly opposed Humala’s 2006 presidential candidacy due to a history of anti-Semitic remarks by members of his family. The government does not restrict academic freedom.

The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, and the authorities uphold this right for the most part. Freedom of association is also generally respected. The Toledo government permitted the unhindered operation of numerous NGOs dedicated to monitoring and advancing human rights. However, shortly after entering office, President Garcia and other APRA leaders criticized NGOs for hindering economic development and for a perceived lack of transparency. The November 2006 passage of restrictive legislation intensified antagonism between APRA and civil society, with many leading newspapers joining domestic and international NGOs in condemning the new law.

Peruvian law recognizes the right of public and private sector workers to organize and bargain collectively but requires them to exercise their rights in harmony with broader social objectives. Although workers exercise the right to strike, as provided by law, those employed in public services deemed essential by the government are restricted from striking, and strikers are required to notify the Ministry of Labor of their intention to carry out a job action, with the result that nearly all strikes are categorized as illegal. Only about 5 percent of the formal sector workforce is unionized, reflecting a legacy of hostility by the Fujimori regime, cuts to public sector jobs, more flexible labor policies, and other free-market reforms.

The judiciary is the single most distrusted Peruvian institution. During his period in office, Fujimori conducted a purge that removed 70 percent of judges. He filled the open positions with appointees on a “provisional” basis, meaning they lacked job tenure and were effectively beholden to the government. After Toledo assumed office in July 2001, the Ministry of Justice worked to implement a broad anticorruption effort and lower the number of provisional judges. However, popular perceptions of the justice system—that it is an inefficient, overloaded bureaucracy riddled with political influence and greed—have changed little. In September 2006, a Supreme Court justice was caught taking a $300 bribe, setting off a new round of recriminations and turf battles, with Garcia and Congress threatening to legislate reform while the judiciary asserted its autonomy. Throughout 2006, more than 100 judges who had previously been suspended due to suspicions of corruption or incompetence were reinstated.

Although crime in Peru is not high by regional standards, it continues to increase in much of the country despite macroeconomic gains. In the wake of attacks by Shining Path between December 2005 and December 2006, which took the lives of more than two dozen police officers, many Peruvians indicated mounting fears of a return of political violence. The National Statistics Institute reports that around half of the population still lives in poverty, which recent economic growth has done little to alleviate. Conditions remain deplorable in prisons for common criminals. An estimated 70 percent of the prison population is in pretrial detention, and many prisons are severely overcrowded. In July 2006, an adversarial justice system was introduced in the district of Huaura with the hope that it will speed up and ensure greater fairness in judicial proceedings. Torture and ill-treatment by the military and security forces remain concerns.

Under Toledo, the government retained firm control over the military but did not embark on a comprehensive reform program to address the serious professional deformations promoted under Fujimori and Montesinos. Peru lacks the codified distinction between national defense and internal security that is characteristic of modern, democratic states; the military shares responsibility for internal security with the Peruvian National Police. Under Garcia’s new Defense Minister, Allan Wagner, the military has expressed its desire to more clearly define its rules of engagement. Recommendations by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, such as an ethics code obliging members of the military to disobey orders that are contrary to human rights standards, have not been put into action. However, in April 2006, the Constitutional Court ruled that active military officers cannot serve as military justices.

Racism against Peru’s large indigenous 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, was considered a watershed. In 2005, he told reporters that one of his government’s most important accomplishments was empowering poor indigenous communities by setting up social investment funds and cultural institutes. However, the government’s failure 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, women must receive equal pay for equal work. Domestic violence is epidemic, with over half of Peruvian women reporting instances of physical or sexual violence. 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 2006, Lima police were accused of entering several bars frequented by homosexuals and beating and insulting patrons.