Freedom in the World 2008


Restrictive elements of a new law regulating nongovernmental organizations were struck down by the Constitutional Court in September 2007. Also that month, former president Alberto Fujimori was extradited from Chile and put on trial for a litany of abuses committed during his authoritarian rule. A major earthquake in August caused hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars of damage.

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. The opposition boycotted November elections for a Constituent Assembly, and the resulting body drafted a new constitution featuring a stronger president and a unicameral Congress. The charter was approved in a state-controlled 1993 referendum following the capture of Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman. Congress passed a law in 1996 allowing Fujimori to run for a third term, despite a constitutional provision limiting the president to two terms.

Fujimori outpolled Alejandro Toledo—a U.S.-educated economist who had been raised in one of Peru’s urban squatter settlements—in the April 2000 presidential election, 49.9 percent to 40.2 percent. Toledo refused to participate in a second-round runoff, saying he had been cheated by voting irregularities and repeatedly smeared, threatened, and assaulted by Fujimori supporters.

Beginning in September 2000, a series of videotapes emerged showing intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos bribing opposition congressmen and other figures. The scandal raised suspicions that Fujimori had secured a congressional majority through bribery. As a result, in late November, Fujimori was driven from office, opposition forces assumed control of Congress, 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. However, Toledo suffered from a host of personal scandals, and Peru Posible met with a serious setback in elections for the regional governments.

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.

In mid-2004, Peru Posible lost control of Congress after two of its founding members quit the party. Meanwhile, despite macroeconomic growth, polling data showed Toledo to be the least popular president in Latin America. 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 been living in Japan, where he had dual citizenship, and was wanted in Peru on charges including murder and kidnapping. In November 2005, Fujimori appeared in Chile, where he was 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 9 first round, with Garcia narrowly edging out Lourdes Flores Nano of the right-wing National Unity Party (UN) for 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 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 4 runoff were hurt by concerns over his perceived authoritarian bent and his human rights record during the internal conflict. In addition, Garcia adroitly 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, with APRA and Humala-linked candidates performing poorly.

Once in office, Garcia quickly turned to populist measures such as salary cuts for public officials and the proposed introduction of the death penalty for child rapists and terrorists. 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. Relations between civil society and the ruling party were inflamed further that month, when the Inter-American Court of Human Rights called 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. In a victory for NGOs, the Constitutional Court in September 2007 struck down key provisions of the 2006 registration law.

In August 2007, a massive earthquake leveled the Pisco area south of Lima, leaving over 500 people dead and billions of dollars in economic losses. Local citizens soon exhibited frustration with the government as delays and inefficiencies in aid delivery became apparent. Several public health officials were later charged with corruption related to overpriced food purchases.

Fujimori was extradited from Chile in September, 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.

Remnants of the Shining Path, in league with drug traffickers, carried out a series of well-organized attacks against police that left over a dozen officers dead or wounded in 2007. The attacks, which increased toward the end of the year, caused consternation regarding the lack of progress in controlling cocaine production and distribution. Despite the capture of several important Shining Path figures, many analysts perceived increasing pressure from drug trafficking on Peruvian institutions.

Economic expansion continued in 2007, with gross domestic product (GDP) growth approaching 8 percent. Also during the year, the U.S. Congress completed ratification of a bilateral free-trade agreement, viewed as a triumph by the business class and government supporters. These achievements did little to halt the government’s steady fall in opinion polls, which showed more disapproval than approval during the second half of the year.

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 local elections.

A lack of programmatic coherence and occasional party-switching by politicians have discredited political parties in the eyes of Peruvians, which reinforces a broader trend toward political fragmentation.

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 a November 2007 survey, over 90 percent of Peruvians characterized the public sector as “corrupt” or “very corrupt.” A number of corruption scandals made headlines in 2007, particularly the attempted purchase of overpriced police cars, which cost Interior Minister Pilar Mazzetti her job. A new National Anticorruption Office was established in October, although some analysts questioned its autonomy. Peru was ranked 72 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The press is for the most part privately owned and lively, but journalists face significant limitations. They are frequently intimidated and even attacked by local officials and private interests. In March 2007, journalist Miguel Perez was assassinated in Cajamarca region after reporting on local corruption. In a controversial decision, a court in November found the mayor of Pucallpa not guilty of planning the 2004 killing of journalist Alberto Rivera. 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 that convulsed the country and left three people dead in July 2007, the executive branch issued several decrees that were viewed as impinging on the right to protest, particularly by threatening to strip government officials of their posts if they participated in protests. Freedom of association is also generally respected. The government of former president Alejandro Toledo permitted the unhindered operation of human rights NGOs. However, shortly after entering office, President Alan Garcia and other APRA leaders criticized NGOs for hindering economic development and for a perceived lack of transparency. Congress in November 2006 passed restrictive legislation, but in September 2007, the Constitutional Court struck down a number of the law’s more contentious clauses, pleasing local and international NGOs.

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 5 percent of the formal-sector workforce is unionized, reflecting a legacy of hostility by the Alberto 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. After Toledo took office 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. Current Supreme Court president Francisco Tavara has demonstrated considerable will to confront entrenched interests, and investigations of judicial misdeeds have soared, but resources for an overhaul remain scarce. Popular perceptions of the justice system—that it is an inefficient, overloaded bureaucracy riddled with political influence and greed—have changed little. In addition, the election by Congress of four new Constitutional Court members in June 2007 generated controversy due to a lack of transparency in the process.

Although crime is not high by regional standards, it continues to increase in much of the country. An estimated 70 percent of inmates are 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 would speed up and ensure greater fairness in judicial proceedings. Torture and ill-treatment by the security forces remain concerns.

Toledo’s government retained control of the military but did not address the serious professional deformations promoted during Fujimori’s rule. Under Allan Wagner, who served as defense minister until December 2007, the military attempted to clarify its rules of engagement when acting in a law enforcement capacity. In 2007, Congress passed a law recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that obliges military members to disobey orders that are contrary to human rights standards. However, Congress continues to ignore an April 2006 Constitutional Court ruling that active military officers cannot serve as military justices.

The election of Toledo, who boasted of his indigenous heritage, was considered a watershed given the prevalent racism among the middle and upper classes. However, the government’s failure to strengthen community justice mechanisms has been accompanied by recent incidents of vigilante violence, including lynchings, in the predominantly indigenous highlands. In addition, Garcia’s calls to increase exploitation of natural resources have increased tensions with indigenous groups concerned about the environmental effects of mining, logging, and hydrocarbons exploration.

In recent years, women have advanced into leadership roles in various companies and government agencies. In March 2007, Garcia signed the Law of Opportunities, which is intended to combat employment discrimination. Domestic violence is epidemic, with over half of Peruvian women reporting instances of physical or emotional violence. Penalties for abuse of domestic workers, who are often exploited, were increased in 2007. Forced labor, including child labor, exists in the gold-mining region of the Amazon.

2008 Scores



Freedom Rating

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Civil Liberties

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Political Rights

(1 = best, 7 = worst)