Since yesterday, July 28th, was Peru’s Independence Day, as well as inauguration day for the new Peruvian president, I thought this might be a good time for a brief history and government lesson (as much for my own instruction as anyone’s). So if you don't care about any of that, go ahead and skip down to the end for pictures!
Peru was obviously colonized by the Spanish and remained loyal to the crown longer than many other South American countries. However, when Spain’s King Charles IV abdicated the throne in the early 1800s, the wave of uprisings that swept the continent eventually reached Peru. In 1821, José de San Martin, who liberated Argentina and Chile, defeated the royalist forces in Peru and proclaimed its independence on July 28th. San Martin, having finished the initial liberating but not really wanting to stick around for the long haul, met with Venezuelan general Simon Bolivar, liberator of Venezuela, Columbia, and Ecuador, and ceded control. It wasn’t until 1824 that Peru finally gained complete independence from Spain.
The early days of liberated Peru were rough at best. In the 40 years after independence, the presidency changed hands 35 times, although only 4 of those presidents were constitutionally chosen. In that same timeframe, 15 different constitutions were written. The main export to America and Europe was guano which helped the developing nation and also led to the Peruvian-Spanish War in 1866 when Spain occupied key guano-producing islands.
I879 saw the beginning of the War of the Pacific, a territorial battle between Chile and the joint forces of Peru and Bolivia. Initially called the Saltpeter War, the conflict originated over control of the nitrate-rich regions of the northern Atacama Desert. The rising demand in the 1870s for nitrates for use in explosives, fertilizers, and other products, made the nitrate-filled areas very valuable. Chilean companies owned mining operations in Peruvian and Bolivian territories which Bolivia tried to tax. Chile refused to pay, so Bolivia declared war in 1879 and asked Peru for help. On January 17, 1881, Chilean forces captured Lima, looting and burning much of Chorrillos and Miraflores (where I live). Chilean soldiers took thousands of Peru’s most valuable books from the National Library back to Chile where they remain even today. Chile won the war and the price they exacted from Bolivia and Peru has perpetuated conflict among the neighboring countries even into modern days. Bolivia lost its sea access thus becoming landlocked, while Peru ceded substantial territory and endured widespread pillaging by the conquering Chilean forces. Even in 1975, Peruvian president General Juan Velasco Alvarado was close to declaring war on Chile in order to regain the two lost Peruvian territories of Arica and Tarapaca. There was also an ongoing rivalry over pisco, a brandy which both countries claimed the exclusive rights to produce until 2005. Today they still dispute fishing waters in the Pacific.
After the War of the Pacific, Peru oscillated between democracy and military dictatorship. The first fully democratic election didn’t occur in Peru until 1980. Peru is a presidential representative democratic republic with a multi-party system. Under the current constitution the President is elected for a five-year term and cannot be reelected until they have been out of office for at least one term. Political parties form around individuals and rarely last longer than the person’s political career, the one exception is the left-leaning Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA), Peru’s oldest and best-established political party that was founded in 1924. The Peruvian government is directly elected and voting is compulsory for all citizens aged 18-70.
Yesterday, President Alan Garcia handed over power to Ollanta Humala who defeated Keiko Fujimori in this year’s elections. Alan Garcia first took office in 1985 (which was a good year, but not necessarily for that reason). At 36, Garcia became the country’s youngest leader and was dubbed the “Latino Kennedy” because of his charisma. He inherited a country in deep economic crisis and in the grip of a guerrilla war waged by the Maoist Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso). By the time Garcia left office in 1990, inflation was rampant at 7,500% (yikes!), the insurgents’ campaign had intensified, and poverty had soared. Accused of embezzlement, Garcia fled Peru in 1992 exiling himself to Colombia and then France. The following years saw bloody guerrilla warfare with the Sendero Luminoso and the authoritarian regime of Alberto Fujimori which was plagued with scandal and corruption… but more on that another time.
Although poverty remains high, Peru has enjoyed relative economic stability and political calmness since 2000. Garcia ran for the presidency again in 2001 but was defeated, but took power in 2006 when voters reluctantly elected the previously reviled leader over nationalist rival Humala.
This year Ollanta Humala ran again, this time against Keiko Fujimori. In 2000, while Humala was in the Peruvian army, he lead an unsuccessful coup against Alberto Fujimori’s regime. Humala’s father is a member of the Communist Party of Peru and his brother, Antauro Humala, kidnapped 17 police officers for 3 days and killed 4 of them. Although it appears Ollanta has tried to shift more to center, his leftist tendencies and friendship with Hugo Chavez have many concerned. His opponent in the runoff, Keiko Fujimori, is the daughter of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. She served as First Lady from 1994-2000 after her parents divorced. She was elected to Congress in 2006 and has defended the reforms of her father’s government and led the opposition to the government of Alan Garcia. Initially in the campaign she was noncommittal about whether she would pardon her father (convicted of corruption) if elected. She hired Rudy Guiliani as an advisor for her campaign, but ultimately lost by a thin margin to Humala. After the news of Humala’s election, the Lima Stock Exchange experienced its largest drop ever.
With the choice between two candidates with serious baggage, most of the Peruvians I have asked felt the last election was a matter of picking the lesser of two evils, and the few I have talked to do not seem extremely hopeful about Humala’s direction for the country. The transition of power has already been controversial. Garcia refused to attend the ceremony to hand over his presidential sash, and at the inauguration Humala promised to rule in the spirit of the 1979 Constitution, which of course upset a lot of people since the actual authoritative constitution at the moment is that of 1993. His VP later said it was only a symbolic statement, nothing legal. You can read more about it here.
We've been enjoying a rare few days of winter sun here in Lima, so the weather has been lovely! I went off exploring the city with the camera yesterday afternoon, so here's a few shots of my town:
|Our apartment building. We live on the 4th floor.|
|Lima is where every VW Bug has come to die. Seriously. They're everywhere!|
|Huaca Pucllana, some 10,000 year old ruins in the middle of town. No big deal.|
|Walking home from a friend's house, I found my first Limanian llamas, they live at the ruins!|
|Ovalo Gutierrez, the closest movie theater, Wong's, and restaurants. This is a Wong's bag boy dressed for the patriotic month of July.|
|Watching the paragliders take off and land on the cliffs.|
|Coming in for a landing!|