Peru: Background

19th century explorer, Antonio Raimondi, once referred to Peru as a "beggar sitting on a bench of gold." Peru is a country of vast resources, culture and history. The richness and diversity of the Amazon rainforest, the fabulous cuisine and colorful textiles of Cusco, and the wonder and magnificence of Machu Picchu are only some examples of the beauty and nature that make up this Andean country.
Still, with so much to offer, Peru continues to struggle with poverty, social unrest and threats to biological and cultural diversity. Almost half of Peruvians live below the national poverty line despite a billion dollar mining industry, fertile land for agriculture, almost 2,500 km of coastlines, a growing textile industry, tourism and more. Foreign investment and government corruption have redirected the country's wealth and resources away from its people. The government has, in turn, sought out foreign aid and free trade policies that complicate the situation worse. Peru continues with an agenda of privatization, despite the opposition that has reverberated across the continent. Privatization of resources such as water and mining are surrounded by controversy. Water privatization exasperates the problem of a basic right to water. Bolivia has struggled with water issues for years. Peru comes in at a close second. With a population of about 27 million, 6.4 million Peruvians don't have access to water services and 11.3 million don't have sanitation services.
Peru is also struggling with its past. Recently, former president Alberto Fujimori was extradited from Chile and is facing charges of corruption and human rights abuses. With his cohorts already in jail, Fujimori waits trial while his supporters, Fujimoristas, still wait for a political comeback, partly because Fujimori is credited with the defeat of the violent Maoist insurgency, the Shining Path (el Sendero Luminoso). Current president, Alan Garcia, has also been accused of corruption and human rights abuses, with a higher death toll during his five-year presidency than the ten years of Fujimori.
The capital city of Lima is home to one-third the population of Peru. However, Peru is everything from small coastal towns, to high communities in the Andes, and rainforest villages to desert cities. Since the end of the military dictatorship, increasing efforts have been put into decentralization, though ruling groups still try to retain their power.
Despite the thorny politicians, the ideological violence, and the economic setbacks, spend some time in Peru and soon you'll see the power and the riches of the people, the culture and the land. From soup kitchens to community weaving projects, grassroots democracy and popular expression are not jut alive; they're thriving. For Peru is much more than gold. It's the tropical macaws and charming alpacas. It's the tales of Vargas Llosa, and the cumbia beats. It's stunning mountains, which may seem insurmountable, but hold a world of their own.
by Rebecca Towle Global Exchange 2007
Pre 20th Century History
The first inhabitants of Peru were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in caves in the coastal regions. The oldest site, Pikimachay cave, dates from 12,000 BC. Crops such as cotton, beans, squash and pepper chilis were planted around 4000 BC. Later, advanced cultures such as the Chavín introduced weaving, agriculture and religion to the country before inexplicably disappearing around 300 BC. Over the centuries, several other cultures - including the Salinar, Nazca, Paracas Necropolis and Wari (Huari) - became locally important. By the early 15th century, the Incan empire had control of much of the area, even extending its influence into Colombia and Chile.
Between 1526-28, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro explored Peru's coastal regions and, drawn by the riches of the Incan empire, returned to Spain to raise money and recruit men for another expedition. Return he did, marching into Cajamarca, in northern Peru, before capturing, ransoming and executing the Inca emperor, Atahualpa, in 1533. Pizarro subsequently founded the city of Lima in 1535, but was assassinated six years later. The rebellion of the last Inca leader, Manco Inca, ended ingloriously, with his beheading in 1572.
The next 200 years proved peaceful, with Lima becoming the major political, social and commercial center of the Andean nations. However, the exploitation of indigenous Peruvians by their colonial masters led to an uprising in 1780 under the self-styled Inca Tupac Amaru II. The rebellion was shortlived and most of the leaders were rounded up and executed. Peru remained loyal to Spain until 1824, when the country was liberated by two 'outsiders': the Venezuelan, Simón Bolívar, and the Argentinian, José de San Martín. In 1866, Peru won a brief war with Spain but was humiliated by Chile in the War of the Pacific (1879-83), which resulted in the loss of lucrative nitrate fields in the northern Atacama Desert.
Modern History
In 1941, Peru went to war with Ecuador over a border dispute. The 1942 treaty of Río de Janeiro ceded the area north of the Río Marañón to Peru, but the decision was contested by Ecuador.
Cuban-inspired guerrilla uprisings in 1965 were unsuccessful. In the 1980s, however, nationwide strikes and a violent insurgency by Maoist Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) guerrillas caused political instability.
Alberto Fujimori's 1990 presidential election victory over Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, and the 1992 capture of MRTA and Sendero Luminoso leaders, buoyed hopes for peace.
Unemployment and poverty remained the main threat to domestic stability, despite Peru's fast-growing economy. Fujimori was re-elected in 1995, beating former UN secretary general, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar. A treaty was signed with Ecuador in 1998, resolving the 57-year-old border dispute and paving the way for increased foreign investment in both countries. However, much of the unexploded ordinance (UXO) along the border has yet to be cleaned up. In November 1999, Peru and Chile settled a territorial dispute over Arica.
In 2000, Alejandro Toledo, an indigenous Andean who became a World Bank economist, gave Fujimori the election run of his life. Though Fujimori was ultimately victorious he resigned in November and fled to Japan following charges of human rights violations and corruption made against his intelligence advisor.
Toledo became the country's first indigenous president in 2001, but the path to bringing Fujimori to justice was torturous. It was revealed that some 69,000 Peruvians died during decades of fighting between rebel and government forces.
In 2002, a car bomb exploded near the US Embassy in Lima, killing 10 people. It was thought to have been detonated by the Shining Path guerrilla group.
Recent History
By 2003, the currency was strong but Peruvians faced unemployment, stagnant wages and a higher cost of living - and Toledo's popularity was at an all-time low. In November 2005, Fujimori returned to South America, announcing plans to run for the presidency once again. He was quickly arrested in Chile on an extradition warrant. With Fujimori out of the way, the 2006 presidential elections narrowed to a face-off between the populist nationalist Ollanta Humala, and ex-president lan García. Voters elected the more conservative García.
However, though Peruvians may be better off now than they were under Fujimori, the seemingly intractable problems of poverty and unemployment remain.
Source: Lonely Planet