In 1532, when Francisco Pizarro landed to conquer Peru in the name of God and the Spanish crown, the region had already seen the epic rise and fall of civilizations. Yet the conquest changed everything: the economy, political systems, religion and language. Modern history has left a series of aftershocks from that seismic clash between Inca and Spaniard. It's a conflict embedded in the Peruvian psyche. With it came new cultures, new races, new voices, new cuisines – ultimately, a new civilization.
There is some debate about how long, exactly, there has been a human presence in Peru. Some scholars have suggested that humans occupied the Andes as far back as 14,000 BC (with at least one academic reporting that it could precede even that early date). The most definitive archaeological evidence, however, puts humans in the region at around 8000 BC. Caves in Lauricocha (near Huánuco) and Toquepala (outside Tacna) bear paintings that record hunting scenes from that era. The latter shows a group of hunters cornering and killing what appears to be a group of camelid animals.
In 4000 BC, taming of llamas and guinea pigs began in the highlands – followed by the domestication of potatoes, gourds, cotton, lúcuma (an earthy Andean fruit), quinoa, corn and beans. By 2500 BC, once-nomadic hunters and gatherers clustered into settlements along the Pacific, surviving on fishing and agriculture. These early Peruvians lived in simple one-room dwellings, but also built many structures for ceremonial or ritual purposes. Some of the oldest – raised temple platforms facing the ocean and containing human burials – date from the third millennium BC.
In recent years, studies at some of these archaeological sites have revealed that these early societies were far more developed than previously imagined. Along with Egypt, India and China, Peru is considered one of the six cradles of civilization (a site where urbanization accompanied agricultural innovation) – the only one located in the southern hemisphere. Ongoing excavations at Caral, on the coast about 200km north of Lima, continue to uncover evidence of what is the oldest civilization in the Americas.
Roughly contemporary to these developments on the coast, a group in the highlands built the enigmatic Temple of Kotosh near Huánuco, whose structures are an estimated 4000 years old. The site features two temple mounds with wall niches and decorative friezes. It represents some of the most sophisticated architecture produced in the highlands during the period.
Clay & Cloth
In the centuries from 1800 BC to about 900 BC, ceramics and a more sophisticated textile production came into being. Some of the earliest pottery from this time comes from coastal archaeological sites at Las Haldas in the Casma Valley, south of Chimbote, and the Huaca La Florida, an unmapped temple structure in the heart of Lima. During this time, ceramics developed from basic undecorated bowls to sculpted, incised vessels of high quality. In the highlands, the people of Kotosh produced skilled pieces fashioned from black, red or brown clay.
The epoch also saw the introduction of looms, which were used to produce plain cotton cloths, as well as improvements in agriculture, including early experimentation with the terrace system.
Lasting roughly from 1000 BC to 300 BC, and named after the site of Chavín de Huántar, this was a rich period of development for Andean culture – when artistic and religious phenomena appeared, perhaps independently, over a broad swath of the central and northern highlands, as well as the coast. The salient feature of this era is the repeated representation of a stylized feline deity, perhaps symbolizing spiritual transformations experienced under the influence of hallucinogenic plants. One of the most famous depictions of this many-headed figure can be found on the Raimondi Stela, a bas relief carving which resides at the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Arqueología e Historia del Perú in Lima.
Chavín’s feline also figures prominently in ceramics of the era, particularly the stark, black-clay specimens referred to as Cupisnique, a style that flourished on the northern coast.
Methods of working with gold, silver and copper were also developed during this time, and there were important advances in weaving and architecture. In short, this was a period when culture truly began to blossom in the Andes.
Birth of Local Cultures
After 300 BC, numerous local settlements achieved importance at a regional level. South of Lima, in the area surrounding the Península de Paracas, lived a coastal community whose most significant phase is referred to as Paracas Necropolis (AD 1–400), after a large burial site. It is here that some of the finest pre-Columbian textiles in the Americas have been unearthed: colorful, intricate fabrics that depict oceanic creatures, feline warriors and stylized anthropomorphic figures.
To the south, the people of the Nazca culture (200 BC–AD 600) carved giant, enigmatic designs into the desert landscape that can only be seen from the air. Known as the Nazca Lines, these were mapped early in the 20th century – though their exact purpose remains up for debate. The culture is also known for its fine textile and pottery works, the latter of which used – for the first time in Peruvian history – a polychrome (multicolored) paint technique.
During this time, the Moche culture settled the area around Trujillo between AD 100 and 800. This was an especially artistic group (they produced some of the most remarkable portrait art in history), leaving behind important temple mounds, such as the Huacas del Sol y de la Luna (Temples of the Sun and Moon), near Trujillo, and the burial site of Sipán, outside Chiclayo. The latter contains a series of tombs that have been under excavation since 1987 – one of the most important archaeological discoveries in South America since Machu Picchu.
A catastrophic drought in the latter half of the 6th century may have contributed to the demise of the Moche as a culture.
As the influence of regional states waned, the Wari, an ethnic group from the Ayacucho Basin, emerged as a force to be reckoned with for 500 years beginning in AD 600. They were vigorous military conquerors who built and maintained important outposts throughout a vast territory that covered an area from Chiclayo to Cuzco. Though their ancient capital lay outside present-day Ayacucho – the ruins of which can still be visited – they also operated the major lowland ceremonial center of Pachacamac, just outside Lima, where people from all over the region came to pay tribute.
As with many conquering cultures, the Wari attempted to suppress other groups by emphasizing their own traditions over local belief. Thus from about AD 700 to 1100, Wari influence is noted in the art, technology and architecture of most areas in Peru. These include elaborate, tie-dyed tunics, and finely woven textiles featuring stylized human figures and geometric patterns, some of which contained a record-breaking 398 threads per linear inch. They are most significant, however, for developing an extensive network of roadways and for greatly expanding the terrace agriculture system – an infrastructure that would serve the Incas well when they came into power just a few centuries later.
The Wari were eventually replaced by a gaggle of small nation-states that thrived from about 1000 until the Inca conquest of the early 15th century. One of the biggest and best studied of these are the Chimú of the Trujillo area, whose capital was the famed Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the world. Their economy was based on agriculture and they had a heavily stratified society with a healthy craftsman class, which produced painted textiles and beautifully fashioned pottery that is distinctive for its black stain.
Closely connected to the Chimú are the Sicán from the Lambayeque area, renowned metallurgists who produced the tumi – a ceremonial knife with a rounded blade used in sacrifices. (The knife has since become a national symbol in Peru and replicas can be found in crafts markets everywhere.)
To the south, in the environs of Lima, the Chancay people (1000–1500) produced fine, geometrically patterned lace and crudely humorous pottery, in which just about every figure seems to be drinking.
In the highlands, several other cultures were significant during this time. In a relatively isolated and inaccessible patch of the Utcubamba Valley in the northern Andes, the cloud-forest-dwelling Chachapoyas people erected the expansive mountain settlement of Kuélap, one of the most intriguing and significant highland ruins in the country. To the south, several small altiplano (Andean plateau) kingdoms near Lake Titicaca left impressive chullpas (funerary towers). The best remaining examples are at Sillustani and Cutimbo.
The formation of chiefdoms in the Amazon began during this period, too.
Enter the Incas
According to Inca lore, their civilization was born when Manco Cápac and his sister Mama Ocllo, children of the sun, emerged from Lake Titicaca to establish a civilization in the Cuzco Valley. Whether Manco Cápac was a historical figure is up for debate, but what is certain is that the Inca civilization was established in the area of Cuzco at some point in the 12th century. The reign of the first several incas (kings) is largely unremarkable – and for a couple of centuries they remained a small, regional state.
Expansion took off in the early 15th century, when the ninth king, Inca Yupanqui, defended Cuzco – against incredible odds – from the invading Chanka people to the north. After the victory, he took on the boastful new name of ‘Pachacutec’ (‘Transformer of the Earth’) and spent the next 25 years bagging much of the Andes. Under his reign, the Incas grew from a regional fiefdom in the Cuzco Valley into a broad empire of about 10 million people known as Tawantinsuyo (Land of Four Quarters). The kingdom covered most of modern Peru, in addition to pieces of Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. This was made more remarkable by the fact that the Incas, as an ethnicity, never numbered more than about 100,000.
Pachacutec allegedly gave Cuzco its layout in the form of a puma and built fabulous stone monuments in honor of Inca victories, including Sacsaywamán, the temple-fortress at Ollantaytambo and possibly Machu Picchu. He also improved the network of roads that connected the empire, further developed terrace agricultural systems and made Quechua the lingua franca.
Atahualpa’s Brief Reign
Inca kings continued the expansions of the empire, first started by Pachacutec. Pachacutec’s grandson, Huayna Cápac, who began his rule in 1493, took over much of modern-day Ecuador all the way into Colombia. Consequently, he spent much of his life living, governing and commanding his armies from the north, rather than Cuzco.
By this time, the Spanish presence was already being felt in the Andes. Smallpox and other epidemics transmitted by European soldiers were sweeping through the entire American continent. These were so swift, in fact, that they arrived in Peru before the Spanish themselves, claiming thousands of indigenous lives – including, in all likelihood, that of Huayna Cápac, who succumbed to some sort of plague in 1525.
Without a clear plan of succession, the emperor’s untimely death left a power vacuum. The contest turned into a face-off between two of his many children: the Quito-born Atahualpa, who commanded his father’s army in the north, and Huáscar, who was based in Cuzco. The ensuing struggle plunged the empire into a bloody civil war, reducing entire cities to rubble. Atahualpa emerged as the victor in April 1532. But the vicious nature of the conflict left the Incas with a lot of enemies throughout the Andes – which is why some tribes were so willing to cooperate with the Spanish when they arrived just five months later.
The Spanish Invade
In 1528, Francisco Pizarro and his right-hand-man Diego de Almagro landed in Tumbes, a far-flung outpost on the north coast of Peru. There, a crew of welcoming locals offered them meat, fruit, fish and corn beer. To their delight, a cursory examination of the city revealed an abundance of silver and gold. Pizarro and De Almagro quickly returned to Spain to court royal support for a bigger expedition.
They returned to Tumbes in September 1532, with a shipload of arms, horses and slaves, as well as a battalion of 168 men. Tumbes, the rich town Pizarro had visited just four years earlier, had been devastated by epidemics, as well as the recent Inca civil war. Atahualpa, in the meantime, was in the process of making his way down from Quito to Cuzco to claim his hard-won throne. When the Spanish arrived, he was in the highland settlement of Cajamarca, enjoying the area’s mineral baths.
Pizarro quickly deduced that the empire was in a fractious state. He and his men charted a course to Cajamarca and approached Atahualpa with royal greetings and promises of brotherhood. But the well-mannered overtures quickly devolved into a surprise attack that left thousands of Incas dead and Atahualpa a prisoner of war. (Between their horses, their armor and the steel of their blades, the Spanish were practically invincible against fighters armed only with clubs, slings and wicker helmets.)
In an attempt to regain his freedom, Atahualpa offered the Spanish a bounty of gold and silver. Thus began one of the most famous ransoms in history – with the Incas attempting to fill an entire room with the precious stuff in order to placate the unrelenting appetites of the Spanish. But it was never enough. The Spanish held Atahualpa for eight months before executing him with a garrote at the age of 31.
The Inca empire never recovered from this fateful encounter. The arrival of the Spanish brought on a cataclysmic collapse of indigenous society. One scholar estimates that the native population – around 10 million when Pizarro arrived – was reduced to 600,000 within a century.
Following Atahualpa’s death, the Spanish got to work consolidating their power. On January 6, 1535, Pizarro sketched out his new administrative center in the sands that bordered the Río Rímac on the central coast. This would be Lima, the so-called ‘City of Kings’ (named in honor of Three Kings’ Day), the new capital of the viceroyalty of Peru, an empire that for more than 200 years would cover much of South America.
It was a period of great turmoil. As elsewhere in the Americas, the Spanish ruled by terror. Rebellions erupted regularly. Atahualpa’s half-brother Manco Inca (who had originally sided with the Spanish and served as a puppet emperor under Pizarro) tried to regain control of the highlands in 1536 – laying siege to the city of Cuzco for almost a year – but was ultimately forced to retreat. He was stabbed to death by a contingent of Spanish soldiers in 1544.
Throughout this, the Spanish were doing plenty of fighting among themselves, splitting into a complicated series of rival factions, each wanting control of the new empire. In 1538, De Almagro was sentenced to death by strangulation for attempting to take over Cuzco. Three years later, Pizarro was assassinated in Lima by a band of disgruntled De Almagro supporters. Other conquistadors met equally violent fates. Things grew relatively more stable after the arrival of Francisco de Toledo as viceroy, an efficient administrator who brought some order to the emergent colony.
Until independence, Peru was ruled by a series of these Spanish-born viceroys, all of whom were appointed by the crown. Immigrants from Spain held the most prestigious positions, while criollos (Spaniards born in the colony) were confined to middle management. Mestizos – people of mixed blood – were placed even further down the social scale. Full-blooded indígenas resided at the bottom, exploited as peones (expendable laborers) in encomiendas, a feudal system that granted Spanish colonists land titles that included the property of all the indigenous people living in that area.
Tensions between indígenas and Spaniards reached a boiling point in the late 18th century, when the Spanish crown levied a series of new taxes that hit indigenous people the hardest. In 1780, José Gabriel Condorcanqui – a descendant of the Inca monarch Túpac Amaru – arrested and executed a Spanish administrator on charges of cruelty. His act unleashed an indigenous rebellion that spread into Bolivia and Argentina. Condorcanqui adopted the name Túpac Amaru II and traveled the region fomenting revolution.
The Spanish reprisal was swift – and brutal. In 1781, the captured indigenous leader was dragged to the main plaza in Cuzco, where he would watch his followers, his wife and his sons killed in a day-long orgy of violence, before being drawn and quartered himself. Pieces of his remains were displayed in towns around the Andes as a way of discouraging further insurrection.
By the early 19th century, criollos in many Spanish colonies had grown increasingly dissatisfied with their lack of administrative power and the crown’s heavy taxes – leading to revolutions all over the continent. In Peru, the winds of change arrived from two directions. Argentine revolutionary José de San Martín led independence campaigns in Argentina and Chile, before entering Peru by sea at the port of Pisco in 1820. With San Martín’s arrival, royalist forces retreated into the highlands, allowing him to ride into Lima unobstructed. On July 28, 1821, independence was declared. But real independence wouldn’t materialize for another three years. With Spanish forces still at large in the interior, San Martín would need more men to fully defeat the Spanish.
Then came Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan revolutionary who had been leading independence fights in Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. In 1823, the Peruvians gave Bolívar dictatorial powers (an honor that had been bestowed on him in other countries). By the latter half of 1824, he and his lieutenant, Antonio José de Sucre, had routed the Spanish in decisive battles at Junín and Ayacucho. The revolutionaries had faced staggering odds, but nonetheless managed to capture the viceroy and negotiate a surrender. As part of the deal, the Spanish would retire all of their forces from Peru and Bolivia.
The lofty idealism of the revolution was soon followed by the harsh reality of having to govern. Peru, the young nation, proved to be just as anarchic as Peru, the viceroyalty. Between 1825 and 1841, there was a revolving door of regime changes (two dozen) as regional caudillos (chieftains) scrambled for power. The situation improved in the 1840s with the mining of vast deposits of guano off the Peruvian coast, the nitrate-rich bird droppings that reaped unheard-of profits as fertilizer on the international market. (Nineteenth-century Peruvian history is – literally – rife with poop jokes.)
The country would find some measure of stability under the governance of Ramón Castilla (a mestizo), who would be elected to his first term in 1845. The income from the guano boom – which he had been key in exploiting – helped Castilla make needed economic improvements. He abolished slavery, paid off some of Peru’s debt and established a public school system. Castilla served as president three more times over the course of two decades – at times, by force; at others, in an interim capacity; at one point, for less than a week. Following his final term, he was exiled by competitors who wanted to neutralize him politically.
He died in 1867, in northern Chile, attempting to make his way back to Peru. (Visitors can see his impressive crypt at the Panteón de los Proceres in central Lima.)
War of the Pacific
With Castilla’s passing, the country once again descended into chaos. A succession of caudillos squandered the enormous profits of the guano boom and, in general, managed the economy in a deplorable fashion. Moreover, military skirmishes would ensue with Ecuador (over border issues) and Spain (which was trying to dominate its former South American colonies). The conflicts left the nation’s coffers empty. By 1874, Peru was bankrupt.
This left the country in a weak position to deal with the expanding clash between Chile and Bolivia over nitrate-rich lands in the Atacama Desert. Borders in this area had never been clearly defined and escalating tensions eventually led to military engagement. To make matters worse for the Peruvians, President Mariano Prado abandoned the country for Europe on the eve of the conflict. The war was a disaster for Peru at every level (not to mention Bolivia, which lost its entire coastline).
Despite the very brave actions of military figures such as Navy Admiral Miguel Grau, the Chileans were simply better organized and had more resources, including the support of the British. In 1881, they led a land campaign deep into Peru, occupying the capital of Lima, during which time they ransacked the city, making off with the priceless contents of the National Library. By the time the conflict came to a close in 1883, Peru had permanently lost its southernmost region of Tarapacá – and it wouldn’t regain the area around Tacna until 1929.
A New Intellectual Era
As the 20th century loomed, things were looking up for Peru. A buoyant world economy helped fuel an economic recovery through the export of sugar, cotton, rubber, wool and silver. And, in 1895, Nicolás de Piérola was elected president – beginning an era known as the ‘Aristocratic Republic.’ Hospitals and schools were constructed and de Piérola undertook a campaign to build highways and railroads.
This period would witness a sea change in Peruvian intellectual thought. The late 19th century had been an era in which many thinkers (primarily in Lima) had tried to carve out the notion of an inherently Peruvian identity – one largely based on criollo experience. Key among them was Ricardo Palma, a scholar and writer renowned for rebuilding Lima’s ransacked National Library. Beginning in 1872, he published a series of books on criollo folklore known as the Tradiciones Peruanas (Peruvian Traditions) – now required reading for every Peruvian schoolchild.
But as one century gave way to the next, intellectual circles saw the rise of indigenismo, a continent-wide movement that advocated for a dominant social and political role for indigenous people. In Peru, this translated into a wide-ranging (if fragmented) cultural movement. Historian Luis Valcárcel attacked his society’s degradation of the indigenous class. Poet César Vallejo wrote critically acclaimed works that took on indigenous oppression as themes. And José Sabogal led a generation of visual artists who explored indigenous themes in their paintings. In 1928, journalist and thinker José Carlos Mariátegui penned a seminal Marxist work – Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality – in which he criticized the feudal nature of Peruvian society and celebrated the communal aspects of the Inca social order. (It remains vital reading for the Latin American left to this day.)
In this climate, in 1924, Trujillo-born political leader Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre founded the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance) – otherwise known as APRA. The party espoused populist values, celebrated ‘Indo-America’ and rallied against US imperialism. It was quickly declared illegal by the autocratic regime of Augusto Leguía – and remained illegal for long stretches of the 20th century. Haya de la Torre, at various points in his life, lived in hiding and in exile and, during one period, endured a 15-month stint as a political prisoner.
Dictatorships & Revolutionaries
After the start of the Great Depression in 1929, the country’s history becomes a blur of dictatorships punctuated by periods of democracy. Leguía, a sugar baron from the north coast, ruled on a couple of occasions: for his first period in office (1908–12) he was elected; for the second (1919–30), he made it in via coup d’état. He spent his first term dealing with a morass of border conflicts and the second, stifling press freedom and political dissidents.
Legúia was followed by Colonel Luis Sánchez Cerro, who served a couple of short terms in the 1930s. (Though his time in office was turbulent, Sánchez would be celebrated in some sectors for abolishing a conscription law that required able-bodied men from having to labor on road-building projects. The law affected poor indigenous men disproportionately, since they couldn’t afford to pay the exemption fee.) By 1948 another dictator had taken power: former army colonel Manuel Odría, who spent his time in office cracking down on APRA and encouraging US foreign investment.
The most fascinating of Peru’s 20th-century dictators, however, is Juan Velasco Alvarado, the former commander-in-chief of the army who took control in 1968. Though he was expected to lead a conservative regime, Velasco turned out to be an inveterate populist – so much so that some APRA members complained that he had stolen their party platform away from them. He established a nationalist agenda that included ‘Peruvianizing’ (securing Peruvian majority ownership) various industries. In his rhetoric he celebrated the indigenous peasantry, championed a radical program of agrarian reform and made Quechua an official language. He also severely restricted press freedom, which drew the wrath of the power structure in Lima. Ultimately, his economic policies were failures – and in 1975, in declining health, he was replaced by another, more conservative military regime.
Peru returned to civilian rule in 1980, when President Fernando Belaúnde Terry was elected to office – the first election in which leftist parties were allowed to participate – including APRA, which was now legal. Belaúnde’s term was anything but smooth. Agrarian and other social reforms took a back seat as the president tried desperately to jump-start the moribund economy.
It was at this time that a radical Maoist group from the poor region of Ayacucho began its unprecedented rise. Founded by philosophy professor Abimael Guzmán, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) wanted nothing less than an overthrow of the social order via violent armed struggle. Over the next two decades, the situation escalated into a phantasmagoria of violence, with the group assassinating political leaders and community activists, carrying out attacks on police stations and universities and, at one point, stringing up dead dogs all over downtown Lima. (Its actions earned the group a place on the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.) At the same time, another leftist guerrilla group sprang into action – the Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (MRTA), which focused its attacks on the police and the armed forces.
To quell the violence, the government sent in the military, a heavy-handed outfit that knew little about handling a guerrilla insurgency. There was torture and rape, plus disappearances and massacres, none of which did anything to put a stop to Sendero Luminoso. Caught in the middle were tens of thousands of poor campesinos, who bore the brunt of the casualties.
In the midst of this, Alan García was elected to the presidency in 1985. Initially, his ascent generated a great deal of hope. Young, a gifted public speaker and popular, he was the first member of the storied APRA party to win a presidential election. But his economic program was catastrophic (his decision to nationalize the banks and suspend foreign-debt payments led to economic ruin), and, by the late 1980s, Peru faced a staggering hyperinflation rate of 7500%. Thousands of people were plunged into poverty. There were food shortages and riots. Throughout this, Sendero Luminoso and MRTA stepped up attacks. The government was forced to declare a state of emergency.
Two years after completing his term, García fled the country after being accused of embezzling millions of dollars. He would return to Peru in 2001, when the statute of limitations on his case finally ran out.
With the country in a state of chaos, the 1990 presidential elections took on more importance than ever. The contest was between famed novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and Alberto Fujimori, a little-known agronomist of Japanese descent. During the campaign, Vargas Llosa promoted an economic ‘shock treatment’ program that many feared would send more Peruvians into poverty, while Fujimori positioned himself as an alternative to the status quo. Fujimori won handily. But as soon as he got into office, he implemented an even more austere economic plan that, among other things, drove up the price of gasoline by 3000%. The measures, known as ‘Fujishock,’ ultimately succeeded in reducing inflation and stabilizing the economy – but not without costing the average Peruvian dearly.
Fujimori followed this, in April 1992, with an autogolpe (coup from within). He dissolved the legislature and generated an entirely new congress, one stocked with his allies. Peruvians, not unused to caudillos, tolerated the power grab, hoping that Fujimori might help stabilize the economic and political situation – which he did. The economy grew. And by the end of the year, leaders of both Sendero Luminoso and MRTA had been apprehended (though, not before Sendero Luminoso had brutally assassinated community activist María Elena Moyano and detonated lethal truck bombs in Lima’s tony Miraflores district).
The internal conflict, however, wasn’t over. In December 1996, 14 members of MRTA stormed the Japanese ambassador’s residence and hundreds of prominent people were taken hostage, demanding that the government release imprisoned MRTA members, among other things. Most of the hostages were released early on, though 72 men were held until the following April – at which point, Peruvian commandos stormed the embassy, killing every last captor and releasing the surviving hostages.
By the end of his second term, Fujimori’s administration was plagued by allegations of corruption. He ran for a third term in 2000 (which was technically unconstitutional) and remained in power despite the fact that he didn’t have the simple majority necessary to claim the election. Within the year, however, he was forced to flee the country after it was revealed that his security chief Vladimiro Montesinos had been embezzling government funds and bribing elected officials and the media. (Many of these acts were caught on film: the ‘Vladivideos’ – all 2700 of them – riveted the nation when they first aired in 2001.) Fujimori formally resigned the presidency from abroad, but the legislature rejected the gesture, voting him out of office and declaring him ‘morally unfit’ to govern.
Peru, however, hadn’t heard the last of Fujimori. In 2005, he returned to South America, only to be arrested in Chile on long-standing charges of corruption, kidnapping and human-rights violations. He was extradited to Peru in 2007 and, that same year, was convicted of ordering an illegal search. Two years later, he was convicted of ordering extrajudicial killings, and three months after that, he was convicted of channeling millions of dollars in state funds to Montesinos. Montesinos was sentenced to 20 years for bribery and selling arms to Colombian rebels. In 2009, Fujimori also pleaded guilty to wiretapping and bribery. He was serving 25 years in prison when he was pardoned in 2017 by Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
The 21st Century
The new millennium has, thus far, been pretty good to Peru. In 2001, shoeshine-boy-turned-Stanford-economist Alejandro Toledo became the first person of Quechua ethnicity to ever be elected to the presidency. (Until then, Peru had had mestizo presidents, but never a full-blooded indígena.) Unfortunately, Toledo inherited a political and economic mess. This was amplified by the fact that he lacked a majority in congress, hampering his effectiveness in the midst of an economic recession.
Toledo was followed in office by – of all people – the APRA’s Alan García, who was reelected in 2006. His second term was infinitely more stable than the first. The economy performed well and the government invested money in upgrading infrastructure such as ports, highways and the electricity grid. But it wasn’t without problems. For one, there was the issue of corruption (García’s entire cabinet was forced to resign in 2008 after widespread allegations of bribery) and the touchy issue of how to manage the country’s mineral wealth, an ongoing problem. In 2008, García signed a law that allowed foreign companies to exploit natural resources in the Amazon. The legislation generated a backlash among various Amazon tribes and led to a fatal standoff in the northern city of Bagua in 2009.
The Peruvian congress quickly revoked the law, but this issue remains a challenge for President Ollanta Humala, elected in 2011. Having campaigned on a broader inclusion of all social classes, he passed the Prior Consultation Law, a historic new law to guarantee indigenous rights to consent to projects affecting them and their lands. The former army officer was initially thought to be a populist in the Hugo Chávez vein (the Lima stock exchange dropped precipitously when he was first elected). But his administration has been quite friendly to business. Though the economy has functioned well under his governance, civil unrest over a proposed gold mine in the north, as well as a botched raid on a Sendero Luminoso encampment in the highlands, sent his approval rating into a tailspin by the middle of 2012.
While the explosive growth spurt of the early part of the millennium has slowed down, the country became far more stable than in previous decades. The 2016 elections saw Pedro Pablo Kuczynski beat Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the former president.
In 2017, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was involved in a corruption scandal where he was found to have taken payoffs from a construction company. He avoided impeachment due to a lack of votes – despite later evidence which showed his supporters were buying votes to save his presidency. He resigned prior to a second scheduled impeachment vote and was replaced by Vice President Martin Vizcarra in 2018.