Peru | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2009

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The trial of former president Alberto Fujimori for a litany of abuses committed during his authoritarian rule continued throughout 2008. Also during the year, strong economic growth proved insufficient to dampen rising instances of social conflict, and a major influence-peddling scandal led to a cabinet shuffle in October.

Since independence in 1821, Peru has experienced alternating periods of civilian and military rule. Civilians have held office since a 12-year dictatorship ended in 1980. However, that year, a Maoist guerrilla group known as the Shining Path launched a vicious two-decade 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. A new constitution featuring a stronger president and a unicameral Congress was approved in a state-controlled 1993 referendum following the capture of Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman. Congress passed a law in 1996 that allowed Fujimori to run for a third term, despite a constitutional two-term limit.

Fujimori outpolled Alejandro Toledo—a U.S.-educated economist who had been raised in one of Peru’s urban squatter settlements—in the first round of the 2000 presidential election. Toledo boycotted the runoff, pointing to voting irregularities and a campaign of smears, threats, and assaults by supporters linked to the Fujimori government.

Beginning in September 2000, a series of videotapes emerged showing intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos bribing opposition congressmen and other figures. As a result, in late November, opposition forces assumed control of Congress, Fujimori fled to Japan and resigned, and respected opposition leader Valentin Paniagua was chosen as interim president.

In the April 2001 congressional elections, Toledo’s Peru Posible party won 25 percent of the votes, followed by the Peruvian Aprista Party (APRA) with 19 percent.Toledo bested former president Alan Garcia (1985–90) of APRA in a runoff presidential election held in June. A 2002 decentralization process gave new regional governments almost a quarter of the national budget and a range of powers that had long been concentrated in the capital.

In August 2003, Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported that the Shining Path was the “principal perpetrator of the human rights violations” during the 1980–2000 civil conflict, but it also accused security forces of serious and repeated atrocities. The report more than doubled the estimated death toll; of the 69,000 killed, nearly three-fourths were residents of poor highland villages.

By mid-2004, polling data showed Toledo to be the least popular president in Latin America, despite steady macroeconomic growth. In June, a special anticorruption court convicted Montesinos, sentencing him to 15 years in prison. Fujimori declared in September that he would run for president in 2006, despite being banned from holding office until 2011. He had remained in Japan, where he had dual citizenship, and was wanted in Peru on charges including murder and kidnapping. In November 2005, Fujimori flew to Chile, where he was immediately detained as Peru requested his extradition.

Much of the 2006 presidential campaign focused on the rise of Ollanta Humala of the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP), whose platform appealed to poor, rural, and indigenous groups by calling for state control of “strategic” sectors such as energy and mining and advocating a constitutional overhaul. Humala won the April first round, with Garcia in second place. The PNP, allied with the Union for Peru (UPP) party, led the congressional elections with 45 seats, followed by APRA with 36 and the right-wing National Unity Party (UN) with 17. The pro-Fujimori Alliance for the Future party won 13 seats, giving it influence in a divided Congress.

Humala’s chances in the June presidential runoff were hurt by concerns over his perceived authoritarian bent and his human rights record during the internal conflict. In addition, Garcia used Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s endorsement of Humala to frighten centrist voters. Although 15 of Peru’s 24 regions voted for Humala, Garcia garnered overwhelming support in Lima and won with 52.5 percent of the vote. In November regional elections, locally based independent candidates won in the vast majority of regions.

Once in office, Garcia focused on macroeconomic growth and stability, while also undertaking populist measures such as salary cuts for public officials. In December 2006 he signed a controversial law, originally proposed by the Fujimori bloc, requiring nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to register with a state agency and detail their funding sources or face fines or suspension. The Constitutional Court in September 2007 struck down key provisions of the law, but relations between the government and civil society remained highly strained.

Fujimori was extradited from Chile in September 2007, and by the end of the year, he had already been sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for his role in ordering an illegal search of Montesinos’s home. His trial on more serious charges of having overseen a death squad began in December amid disruptions by his supporters and continued throughout 2008 in a manner that international observers and local rights groups characterized as fair and transparent.

Also during 2008, remnants of the Shining Path, in league with drug traffickers, carried out a series of attacks that left over two dozen police officers dead. The violence, which was focused in the Apurimac-Ene River Valley (VRAE) zone, caused consternation regarding the lack of progress in controlling cocaine production and distribution, as well as controversy over the militarized nature of the government’s anticoca efforts in the region.

According to the national ombudsman’s office, social conflict, often involving protests driven by the grievances of local communities, increased dramatically in 2008, with nearly 200 active and latent disputesregistered by year’s end. The largest number were related to environmental issues, but conflicts regarding local and national governments were also frequent. Analysts observed that the government’s response generally relied on reaction rather than mediation and early intervention.

In October, evidence of favoritism in the awarding of oil exploration blocks to a Norwegian company triggered a major corruption scandal. The evidence, which consisted largely of illegally taped telephone conversations, suggested a broader pattern of improper deals between officials and private interests. The scandal earned the moniker “Petrogate” and led the entire cabinet to offer resignations; while most ministers kept their posts, Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo, an APRA stalwart, was replaced by the independent, center-left president of Lambayeque region, Yehude Simon. Investigations concerning both the acts of corruption and the illegal recordings were ongoing at year’s end.

Economic expansion continued in 2008, with gross domestic product (GDP) growth of over 9 percent, although the global economic crisis later in the year raised doubts about future progress.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Peru is an electoral democracy. 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-member, unicameral Congress are elected for five-year terms. Congressional balloting employs an open-list, region-based system of proportional representation. A measure introduced in 2006 required parties to garner at least 4 percent of the total vote to win seats. Checks on campaign financing were weak, however, and allegations surfaced that drug money played a role in multiple campaigns, particularly during the local elections.

A lack of programmatic coherence and occasional party-switching by politicians have discredited political parties in the eyes of Peruvians, which reinforces the broader trend toward political fragmentation. A series of scandals in 2008 brought Congress’s approval rating to below 10 percent.

Indigenous groups, which account for nearly half of the Peruvian population by some measures, have generally sought political expression through nationalism or class-based ideologies rather than ethnic solidarity. However, several political parties have attempted to capture the support of both jungle- and mountain-dwelling indigenous groups.

Corruption is a serious problem. According to an October 2008 survey, 92 percent of Peruvians characterized corruption as “generalized” in politics. A National Anticorruption Office established in October 2007 was disbanded in August 2008, although Prime Minister Yehude Simon announced a new anticorruption plan in November following the Petrogate revelations. Corruption was blamed in part for slow reconstruction following an August 2007 earthquake in Pisco that killed over 500 people. Peru was ranked 72 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The press is for the most part privately owned and lively. However, journalists face significant limitations and are at times intimidated and even attacked by local officials and private interests. According to the local watchdog Press and Society Institute (IPYS), incidents of violence, intimidation, and other violations of press freedom declined to 106 in 2008, from 121 the previous year. Magaly Medina, the hostess of a television gossip program, received a five-month prison sentence for defamation in October. Low pay leaves journalists susceptible to bribery, while media outlets remain dependent on advertising by large retailers. 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. 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. However, in the wake of protests in July 2007, the executive branch issued several decrees that were viewed as impinging on assembly rights, particularly by limiting police responsibility in the event of injury or death during demonstrations. In 2008, eight people were killed by security forces during protests. Freedom of association is also generally respected, but President Alan Garcia and other APRA leaders criticize NGOs for hindering economic development and for a perceived lack of transparency. Some activists also faced questionable legal charges during the year, including antimining activists in the Piura region and seven citizens who were accused of links to Colombian rebels after participating in a “Bolivarian” regional gathering in Ecuador.

Peruvian law recognizes the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. Although workers exercise the right to strike, strikers are required to notify the Ministry of Labor in advance, with the result that nearly all strikes are categorized as illegal. Less than 10 percent of the formal-sector workforce is unionized, reflecting a legacy of antiunion hostility by the Alberto Fujimori regime, cuts to public-sector jobs, more flexible labor policies, and other free-market reforms.

The judiciary is among the most distrusted Peruvian institution. After Alejandro Toledo became president in 2001, the Ministry of Justice worked to undo some of the damage wrought by Fujimori, implementing a broad anticorruption campaign and reducing the number of provisional judges. In recent years, investigations of judicial misdeeds have soared, and in 2008, a new Judicial Career Law that improves the entry, promotion, and evaluation system for judges was enacted. However, access to justice, particularly for poor Peruvians, remains problematic. Although the Constitutional Tribunal has earned respect for its independence, it was criticized in 2008 for a decision that evaded the question of whether crimes against humanity—specifically a massacre of Shining Path prisoners during Garcia’s first term—can be subject to the statute of limitations.

An estimated 70 percent of inmates are in pretrial detention, and many prisons are severely overcrowded. Since 2006, an adversarial justice system has been gradually introduced with the hope that it will speed up and ensure greater fairness in judicial proceedings. In 2008, police were blamed for a series of extrajudicial killings of presumed criminals in Trujillo. Citizens in the VRAE denounced cases of displacement, torture, and forced disappearances by the military as it sought to eliminate Shining Path remnants in the area.

Peru’s military is civilian-controlled but has made uneven progress toward fighting corruption and respecting human rights. The military continues to stall on providing information to investigators regarding human rights violations committed during the internal conflict. In 2008, several APRA lawmakers proposed amnesty measures for security personnel accused of past abuses, but domestic and international criticism stymied the projects.

The election of Toledo, who emphasized his indigenous heritage, was considered a watershed given the prevalent racism among the country’s middle and upper classes. However, Garcia’s calls to step up exploitation of natural resources have raised indigenous groups’ concerns about the environmental effects of mining, logging, and hydrocarbons exploration. In August 2008, Amazonian native groups launched fierce protests against a series of government decrees that would have eased the process of gaining approval for resource exploitation in indigenous communal territories. Congress subsequently repealed two of the most hotly contested decrees.

In recent years, women have advanced into leadership roles in various companies and government agencies. Although legal protections have improved, domestic violence is epidemic, with over half of Peruvian women reporting instances of physical or emotional violence. Forced labor, including child labor, persists in the gold-mining region of the Amazon.