Peru | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2011

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Local elections held in October 2010 were largely free and fair, though a slow vote count in the Lima mayoral contest raised concerns about electoral bodies. Episodes of social conflict continued throughout the year, and progress in achieving accountability for a June 2009 massacre involving police and indigenous protesters, among other human rights cases, remained limited. President Alan García issued a set of decrees on the military in September, but objections from civil society led to the reversal of the most controversial measure, which would have applied a statute of limitations to human rights abuses committed during the country’s 1980–2000 internal conflict.

Since achieving independence from Spain 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. The conflict led to the deaths of some 69,000 people, nearly three-fourths of whom were residents of poor highland villages.
Alberto Fujimori, a university rector and engineer, was elected president in 1990. In 1992, backed by the military, he suspended the constitution, took over the judiciary,and dissolved Congress. A new constitution featuring a stronger presidency and a unicameral Congress was approved in a state-controlled 1993 referendum. Congress passed a law in 1996 that allowed Fujimori to run for a third term, despite a constitutional two-term limit.
According to official results, 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 widespread doubts about the first-round vote count and a campaign of smears, threats, and assaults by Fujimori supporters linked to the 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 Valentín Paniagua was chosen as interim president.
Toledo’s Perú Posible party led the April 2001 congressional elections with 25 percent of the vote, and he bested former president Alan García (1985–90) in a runoff presidential election 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 2004, a special anticorruption court convicted Montesinos in the first of many cases against him, sentencing him to 15 years in prison. Fujimori flew to Chile from Japan in 2005 in the hopes of mounting a 2006 presidential bid in Peru, but he was immediately detained as Peru requested his extradition.
Ollanta Humala of the Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP) won the first round of the presidential election in April 2006, with García placing second. The PNP, allied with the Union for Peru (UPP) party, led the congressional elections with 45 seats, followed by García’s Peruvian Aprista Party (APRA) with 36 and the right-wing National Unity party with 17. The pro-Fujimori Alliance for the Future party won 13 seats. García won the June presidential runoff with 52.5 percent of the vote. Once in office, García focused on macroeconomic growth and stability, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) faced harassment and hostility from his administration.
Fujimori was extradited from Chile in September 2007, and in December he was sentenced to six years in prison for ordering an illegal search in 2000. In April 2009, after another trial on more serious charges, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for overseeing death-squad killings and twokidnappings. International observers and local rights groups characterized the trial as fair and transparent, and hailed the verdict as an unprecedented example of a democratically elected leader convicted of human rights violations in his home country.
In June 2009, a violent confrontation between police and a group of protesters consisting mainly of members of indigenous groups left 10 protesters and 23 police officers dead and over 200 people injured. The protesters had objected to government decrees issued in June 2008 that they said violated their land rights. The disputed decrees were rescinded within weeks of the violence, and the government acknowledged its failure to consult with locals, but it maintained its claim—eventually discredited—that outside agitators were responsible for raising tensions. A commission appointed to produce an official report on the incident was unable to reach consensus. A version backed by four of the seven members, issued in December 2009, blamed nonindigenous groups for radicalizing the protests and faulted the government merely for communication failures. In April 2010, the panel’s other members released a minority report placing responsibility for initiating the violence with the government. Judicial investigations resulted in the conviction of three police officers in November 2010, but indigenous groups regarded the one- to three-year prison sentences as insufficient.
Separately, rights groups in 2010 expressed disappointment that the Fujimori trial had failed to create momentum in other cases involving rights violations, and that in fact the number of acquittals increased, including in cases where the prosecution’s evidence appeared preponderant.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Peru is an electoral democracy. Elections in 2006 were generally free and fair, 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 who lacked identification documents.
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 representationwith a4 percent vote hurdle for a party to enter the legislature. While Peru remains relatively centralized, regional presidents have become important actors. Regional and local elections in October 2010 were considered generally free and fair, though several local officeholders and candidates were killed during the campaign period. In addition, the extremely slow vote count in the tight Lima mayoral race led to questions about the competence of electoral authorities. Center-left candidate Susana Villarán ultimately won by a margin of less than 1 percent of the vote, defeating veteran center-right politician Lourdes Flores Nano.
A lack of programmatic coherence and occasional party-switching by politicians have discredited political parties in the eyes of voters, reinforcing a broader trend toward political fragmentation. However, the October 2010 elections resulted in a moderately increased consolidation of regional political movements, which generally remain separate from the parties represented in Congress.
Corruption is a serious problem. Checks on campaign financing are weak, particularly at the local level, where drug traffickers’ influence is perceived to have grown in recent years. Public officials and judges are often dismissed or investigated for graft, and Congress is considered the most corrupt institution. Investigations into a 2008 scandal over the improper awarding of oil exploration blocks continued at a slow pace in 2010, with the focus shifting from the alleged corruption to the illegal recording of telephone conversations that exposed it. As in previous years, accusations of corruption in government procurement processes led to the suspension of contracts. In May Congress passed a law that boosted protection for whistleblowers. Peru was ranked 78 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The lively press is for the most part privately owned. Officials and private actors sometimes intimidate or even attack journalists in response to negative coverage. Low pay leaves reporters susceptible to bribery, and media outlets remain dependent on advertising by large retailers. Radio station La Voz de Bagua, which was closed in 2009 for allegedly inciting violence during that June’s deadly clashes between police and protesters, had its license restored in August 2010. The controversialDecember 2009 pardon of former television station owner José E. Crousillat, who had been serving a prison term for selling his station’s editorial line to former intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, was rescinded in March, but Crousillat remained a fugitive at year’s end. The government does not limit access to the internet, though a blogger was among the several journalists convicted of criminal defamation during the year.
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 to peaceful assembly, and the authorities uphold this right for the most part. However, the executive branch has issued several decrees in recent years that limit police and military responsibility in the event of injury or death during demonstrations. At least 16 protesters were killed in 2010, continuing a pattern of protest-related violence during the administration of President Alan García. In addition, by the end of 2010 nearly 2,000 citizens faced charges for protest-related incidents. In July, British priest Paul McAuley was issued an expulsion notice for supposedly encouraging protests. According to the national ombudsman’s office, social conflict, often involving protests driven by local grievances, reached a peak of 288 active and latent disputesin September 2009 before declining to 246 by the end of 2010. The largest share involved environmental issues. Analysts observed that the government’s approach typically relied on reaction rather than mediation and early intervention.
Freedom of association is generally respected, but García and other APRA leaders allege that NGOs hinder economic development. Antimining activists have faced questionable legal charges in recent years, and NGOs accuse the government’s international cooperation agency of selective investigation.
Peruvian law recognizes the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. Workers must notify the Ministry of Labor in advance of a strike, with the result that nearly all strikes are categorized as illegal in practice. Less than 10 percent of the formal-sector workforce is unionized. Parallel unionism and criminal infiltration of the construction sector in Lima led to several murders in 2009 and 2010.
The judiciary is widely distrusted and prone to corruption scandals. While the Constitutional Court is relatively independent, its autonomy has undergone a mix of setbacks and advances in recent years, and it has produced inconsistent jurisprudence on important issues. A 2008 Judicial Career Law improved the entry, promotion, and evaluation system for judges, and the judiciary’s internal disciplinary body has been highly active. However, in February 2010 a bribery scandal within the body that selects judges and prosecutors halted a process to select new high prosecutors.
An estimated 70 percent of inmates are in pretrial detention, and the inmate population is far above the system’s intended capacity. In October 2010, a shortage of funds led the government to suspend the introduction—ongoing since 2006—of an adversarial justice system designed to improve the speed and fairness of judicial proceedings. Access to justice, particularly for poor Peruvians, remains problematic.
The military has improved its human rights training, but it continues to place numerous obstacles in the path of investigators regarding past violations. The García government has made almost no efforts to prioritize justice for cases of human rights abuses by state actors during the 1980s and 1990s. In June 2010, Congress authorized the president to issue decrees related to the functioning of the military justice system. In September, the government announced decrees that would apply a statute of limitations to grave human rights abuses committed during the internal conflict; expand, via vague language, the role of the military in maintaining internal order; and extend the reach of the military justice system with respect to acts involving civilians. The possibility of effective amnesty for notorious rights abusers drew immediate domestic and international objections, as well as the high-profile resignations of both the justice minister and author Mario Vargas Llosa, who was heading the board of the planned Museum of Memory. The pressure led Congress, at García’s request, to rescind the decree regarding the statute of limitations in September, but the other decrees remained in place at year’s end.
Remnants of the Shining Path, which are involved in the drug trade, continue to clash with security forces in the Apurimac-Ene River Valley (VRAE) zone. Citizens there report sporadic cases of abuse by the military. Meanwhile, the government’s coca-eradication efforts and economic development programs in other regions failed to reverse a trend toward increased coca production in 2010.
Discrimination against the indigenous population remains pervasive, and the government’s calls to step up exploitation of natural resources have raised indigenous groups’ concerns about environmental damage. García vetoed a law passed by Congress in May 2010 that would have required prior consultation on development projects with the affected native communities, in keeping with International Labour Organization Convention 169. Despite protests by indigenous groups and civil society, the law remained in limbo at year’s end.
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 emotionalabuse. Forced labor, including child labor, persists in the gold-mining region of the Amazon.