Cultural and Political History of Peru
Courtesy of wikipedia.
The history of Peru spans several millennia. Long before the Incas existed people thrived in this territory. About 16,000 years ago groups of people are believed to have crossed the Bering Strait from Asia and survived as nomads, hunting, gathering fruits and vegetables and fishing in the sea, rivers and lakes. Peruvian territory was home to the Norte Chico civilization, one of the oldest in the world, and to the Inca Empire, the largest state in Pre-Columbian America. It was conquered by the Spanish Empire in the 16th century, which established a Viceroyalty with jurisdiction over most of its South American domains. Independence was declared in 1821 but consolidated only after the Battle of Ayacucho, three years later.
Hunting tools dating back to more than 11,000 years have been found in the in caves in Pachacamac, Telarmachay, Junin and Lauricocha.  Some of the oldest civilizations appeared circa 6000 BC in the coastal provinces of Chilca and Paracas, and in the highland province of Callejón de Huaylas. Over the following three thousand years, inhabitants switched from nomadic lifestyles to cultivating land, as evidence from sites such as Jiskairumoko, Kotosh, and Huaca Prieta demonstrates. Cultivation of plants such as corn and cotton (Gossypium barbadense) began, as well as the domestication of animals such as the wild ancestors of the llama, the alpaca, and the guinea pig. Inhabitants practiced spinning and knitting of cotton and wool, basketry, and pottery.
As these inhabitants became sedentary, farming allowed them to built settlements and new societies emerged along the coast and in the Andean mountains. The first known city was the city of Caral located in the Supe Valley 200 km north of Lima. It is the oldest city in America and was built in approximately 2500 BC. What is left from them are about 30 pyramidical structures built up in receding terraces ending in a flat roof, some of them measured up to 20 meters in height. Many other civilizations developed and were absorbed by the most powerful ones such as Kotosh, Chavin, Paracas, Lima, Nasca, Moche, Tiwanaku, Wari, Lambayeque, Chimu, Chan Chan, and Chincha among others.
The first more familiar cultures are the Norte Chico civilization, from c. 3000 BC, and the Chavin culture, which emerged c. 900 BC. Though the Chavin were among the first since the builders of Norte Chico to construct monumental temples, they do not seem to have developed a significant middle class.
The Paracas culture emerged on the southern coast around 300 BC. They are known for their use of vicuña fibers instead of just cotton to produce fine textiles—innovations that did not reach the northern coast of Peru until centuries later. Coastal cultures such as the Moche and Nazca flourished from about 100 BC to about 700 CE: The Moche produced impressive metalwork, as well as some of the finest pottery seen in the ancient world, while the Nazca are known for their textiles and the enigmatic Nazca lines.
These coastal cultures eventually began to decline as a result of recurring el Niño floods and droughts. In consequence, the Huari and Tiwanaku, who dwelt inland in the Andes became the predominant cultures of the region encompassing much of modern-day Peru and Bolivia. They were succeeded by powerful city-states, such as Chancay, Sipan, and Cajamarca, and two empires: Chimor and Chachapoyas culture These cultures developed relatively advanced techniques of cultivation, gold and silver craft, pottery, metallurgy, and knitting. Around 700 BC, they appear to have developed systems of social organization that were the precursors of the Inca civilization.
Not all Andean cultures were willing to offer their loyalty to the Incas as the Incas expanded their empire, and many were openly hostile. The people of the Chachapoyas culture were an example of this, but they were eventually conquered and integrated into the Inca Empire.
For a breakdown of these cultures by era, see Cultural periods of Peru.
Inca Empire (1438–1532)
Inca expansion (1438 – 1527 CE)The Incas created the vastest dynasty of pre-Columbian America. The Tahuantinsuyo—which is derived from Quechua for “The Four United Regions”—reached its greatest extension at the beginning of the sixteenth century. It dominated a territory that included from north to south Ecuador, part of Colombia, the northern half of Chile, and the north-west part of Argentina; and from west to east, from Bolivia to the Amazonian forests and Peru.
The empire originated from a tribe based in Cuzco, which became the capital. Pachacutec was the first ruler to considerably expand the boundaries of the Cuzco state. His offspring later ruled an empire by both violent and peaceful conquest.
In Cuzco, the royal city was created to resemble a Cougar; the head, the main royal structure, formed what is now known as Sacsayhuaman. The Empire’s administrative, political, and military center was located in Cuzco. The empire was divided into four quarters: Chinchasuyo, Antisuyo, Contisuyo, and Collasuyo.
Quechua was the official language, imposed on the citizens. It was the language of a neighbouring tribe of the original tribe of the empire. Conquered populations—tribes, kingdoms, states, and cities—were allowed to practice their own religions and lifestyles, but had to recognize Inca cultural practices as superior to their own. Inti, the sun god, was to be worshipped as one of the most important gods of the empire. His representation on earth was the Inca (“Emperor”).
The Tahuantinsuyo was organized in dominions with a stratified society, in which the ruler was the Inca. It was also supported by an economy based on the collective property of the land. In fact, the Inca Empire was conceived like an ambitious and audacious civilizing project, based on a mythical thought, in which the harmony of the relationships between the human being, nature, and gods was truly essential.
Many interesting customs were observed, for example the extravagant feast of Inti Raymi which gave thanks to the God Sun, and the young women who were the Virgins of the Sun, sacrificial virgins devoted to the Inti. The empire, being quite large, also had an impressive transportation system of roads to all points of the empire called the Inca Trail, and chasquis, message carriers who relayed information from anywhere in the empire to Cuzco.
View of Machu PicchuMachu Picchu (Quechua: Old Peak; sometimes called the “Lost City of the Incas”) is a well-preserved pre-Columbian Inca ruin located on a high mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley, about 70 km (44 mi) northwest of Cuzco. Elevation measurements vary depending on whether the data refers to the ruin or the extremity of the mountain; Machu Picchu tourist information reports the elevation as 2,350 m (7,711 ft). Forgotten for centuries by the outside world, although not by locals, it was brought back to international attention by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham III, who rediscovered it in 1911 and wrote a best-selling work about it. Peru is pursuing legal efforts to retrieve thousands of artifacts that Bingham removed from the site.
Although Machu Picchu is by far the most well-known internationally, Peru boasts many other sites where the modern visitor can see extensive and well-preserved ruins, remnants of the Inca-period and even older constructions. Much of the Inca architecture and stonework found at these sites continues to confound archaeologists. For example, at Sacsayhuaman, in Cuzco, the zig-zag-shaped walls are composed of massive boulders fitted very precisely to one another’s irregular, angular shapes. No mortar holds them together, but nonetheless they have remained absolutely solid through the centuries, surviving earthquakes that flattened many of Cuzco’s colonial constructions. Damage to the walls visible today was mainly inflicted during battles between the Spanish and the Inca, as well as later, in the colonial era. As Cuzco grew, Sacsayhuaman’s walls were partially dismantled, the site becoming a convenient source of construction materials for the city’s newer inhabitants. Today we not only do not know how these stones were shaped and smoothed, lifted on top of one another (they really are very massive) or fitted together by the Incas; we also don’t know how they got the stones to the site in the first place. The stone used is not native to the area, and most likely came from mountains many miles away.
Conquest of Peru (1532–1572)
The etymology of Peru: The word Peru may have been derived from Birú, the name of a local ruler who lived near the Bay of San Miguel, Panama, in the early 16th century. When his possessions were visited by Spanish explorers in 1522, they were the southernmost part of the New World yet known to Europeans. Thus, when Francisco Pizarro explored the regions farther south, they came to be designated Birú or Peru.
An alternative history is provided by the contemporary writer Inca Garcilasco de la Vega, son of an Inca princess and a conquistador. He says the name Birú was that of a common Indian happened upon by the crew of a ship on an exploratory mission for governor Pedro Arias de Ávila, and goes on to relate many more instances of misunderstandings due to the lack of a common language.
The Spanish Crown gave the name legal status with the 1529 Capitulación de Toledo, which designated the newly encountered Inca Empire as the province of Peru. Under Spanish rule, the country adopted the denomination Viceroyalty of Peru, which became Republic of Peru after independence.
When the Spanish landed in 1531, Peru’s territory was the nucleus of the highly developed Inca civilization. Centered at Cuzco, the Inca Empire extended over a vast region, stretching from northern Ecuador to central Chile.
Francisco Pizarro and his brothers were attracted by the news of a rich and fabulous kingdom. In 1532, they arrived in the country, which they called Peru. (The forms Biru, Pirú, and Berú are also seen in early records.) According to Raúl Porras Barrenechea, Peru is not a Quechuan nor Caribbean word, but Indo-Hispanic or hybrid.
At that moment, the Inca Empire was preoccupied by a five-year civil war between two princes, Huáscar and Atahualpa. Taking advantage of this, Pizarro carried out a coup d’état. On November 16, 1532, while the natives were in a celebration in Cajamarca, the Spanish in a surprise move captured the Inca Atahualpa during the Battle of Cajamarca, causing a great consternation among the natives and conditioning the future course of the fight. When Huascar was killed, the Spanish tried and convicted Atahualpa of the murder, executing him by strangulation.
For a period, Pizarro maintained the ostensible authority of the Inca, recognizing Tupac Huallpa as the Inca after Atahualpa’s death. But the conqueror’s abuses made this façade too obvious. Spanish domination consolidated itself as successive indigenous rebellions were bloodily repressed. By March 23, 1534, Pizarro and the Spanish had refounded the Inca city of Cuzco as a new Spanish colonial settlement.
Establishing a stable colonial government was delayed for some time by native revolts and bands of the Conquistadores (led by Pizarro and Diego de Almagro) fighting among themselves. A long civil war developed, from which the Pizarros emerged victorious at the Battle of Las Salinas. In 1541, Pizarro was assassinated by a faction led by Diego de Almagro (El Mozo), and the stability of the original colonial regime was shaken up in the ensuing civil war.
Pizarro and his followers in Lima in 1535Despite this, the Spaniards did not neglect the colonizing process. Its most significant milestone was the foundation of Lima in January 1535, from which the political and administrative institutions were organized. The new rulers instituted an encomienda system, by which the Spanish extracted tribute from the local population, part of which was forwarded to Seville in return for converting the natives to Christianity. Title to the land itself remained with the king of Spain. As governor of Peru, Pizarro used the encomienda system to grant virtually unlimited authority over groups of native Peruvians to his soldier companions, thus forming the colonial land-tenure structure. The indigenous inhabitants of Peru were now expected to raise Old World cattle, poultry, and crops for their landlords. Resistance was punished severely, giving rise to the “Black Legend”.
The necessity of consolidating Spanish royal authority over these territories, led to the creation of a Real Audiencia (Royal Audience). The following year, in 1542, the Viceroyalty of Peru (in Spanish, Virreinato del Perú) was established, with authority over most of Spanish-ruled South America. (Colombia, Ecuador, Panamá and Venezuela were split off as the Viceroyalty of New Granada (in Spanish, Virreinato de Nueva Granada) in 1717; and Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay were set up as the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776.)
In response to the internal strife plaguing the country after Pizarro’s death, Spain finally sent Blasco Núñez Vela to be Peru’s first viceroy in 1544. He was later killed by Pizarro’s brother, Gonzalo Pizarro, but a new viceroy, Pedro de la Gasca, eventually managed to restore order. He captured and executed Gonzalo Pizarro.
A census taken by the last Quipucamayoc indicated that there were 12 million inhabitants of Inca Peru; 45 years later, under viceroy Toledo, the census figures amounted to only 1,100,000 Indians. While the attrition was not an organized attempt at genocide, the results were similar. Scholars now believe that, among the various contributing factors, epidemic disease such as smallpox (unlike the Spanish, the Amerindians had no immunity to the disease) was the overwhelming cause of the population decline of the American natives. Inca cities were given Spanish Christian names and rebuilt as Spanish towns centered around a plaza with a church or cathedral facing an official residence. A few Inca cities like Cuzco retained native masonry for the foundations of their walls. Other Inca sites, like Huanuco Viejo, were abandoned for cities at lower altitudes more hospitable to the Spanish.
Wars of independence (1810–1824)
José de San Martín’s proclamation of the independence of Peru on July 28, 1821 in Lima, Peru.Main article: Independence of Peru
Peru’s movement toward independence was launched by an uprising of Spanish-American landowners and their forces, led by José de San Martín of Argentina and Simón Bolívar of Venezuela. San Martín, who had displaced the royalists of Chile after the Battle of Chacabuco, and who had disembarked in Paracas in 1819, led the military campaign of 4,200 soldiers. The expedition which included warships was organized and financed by Chile which sailed from Valparaiso in August 1820. San Martin proclaimed the independence of Peru in Lima on July 28, 1821, with the words “… From this moment on, Peru is free and independent, by the general will of the people and the justice of its cause that God defends. Long live the homeland! Long live freedom! Long live our independence!”.
Still, the situation remained changing and emancipation was only completed by December 1824, when General Antonio José de Sucre defeated Spanish troops at the Battle of Ayacucho. Spain made futile attempts to regain its former colonies, such as at the Battle of Callao, and only in 1879 finally recognized Peruvian independence.
The alternancy between democracy and militarism (1930–1979)
After the worldwide crisis of 1929, numerous brief governments followed one another. The APRA party had the opportunity to cause system reforms by means of political actions, but it was not successful. This was a nationalistic movement, populist and anti-imperialist, headed by Victor Raul Haya de la Torre in 1924. The Socialist Party of Peru, later the Peruvian Communist Party, was created four years later and it was led by Jose C. Mariategui.
Repression was brutal in the early 1930s and tens of thousands of APRA followers (Apristas) were executed or imprisoned. This period was also characterized by a sudden population growth and an increase in urbanization. During World War II, Peru was the first South American nation to align with the United States and its allies against Germany and Japan.
In the mid-20th century, Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre (founder of the APRA), together with José Carlos Mariátegui (leader of the Peruvian Communist Party), were two major forces in Peruvian politics. Ideologically opposed, they both managed to create the first political parties that tackled the social and economic problems of the country. Although Mariátegui died at a young age, Haya de la Torre was twice elected president, but prevented by the military from taking office.
President Bustamante y Rivero hoped to create a more democratic government by limiting the power of the military and the oligarchy. Elected with the cooperation of the APRA, conflict soon arose between the President and Haya de la Torre. Without the support of the APRA party, Bustamante y Rivero found his presidency severely limited. The President disbanded his Aprista cabinet and replaced it with a mostly military one. In 1948, Minister Manuel A. Odria and other right-wing elements of the Cabinet urged Bustamante y Rivero to ban the APRA, but when the President refused, Odría resigned his post.
In a military coup on October 29, Gen. Manuel A. Odria became the new President. Odría’s presidency was known as the Ochenio. He came down hard on APRA, momentarily pleasing the oligarchy and all others on the right, but followed a populist course that won him great favor with the poor and lower classes. A thriving economy allowed him to indulge in expensive but crowd-pleasing social policies. At the same time, however, civil rights were severely restricted and corruption was rampant throughout his régime.
It was feared that his dictatorship would run indefinitely, so it came as a surprise when Odría allowed new elections. During this time, Fernando Belaúnde Terry started his political career, and led the slate submitted by the National Front of Democratic Youth. After the National Election Board refused to accept his candidacy, he led a massive protest, and the striking image of Belaúnde walking with the flag was featured by newsmagazine Caretas the following day, in an article entitled “Así Nacen Los Lideres” (“Thus Are Leaders Born”). Belaúnde’s 1956 candidacy was ultimately unsuccessful, as the dictatorship-favored right-wing candidacy of Manuel Prado Ugarteche took first place.
Belaúnde ran for president once again in the National Elections of 1962, this time with his own party, Acción Popular (Popular Action). The results were very tight; he ended in second place, following Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre (APRA), by less than 14,000 votes. Since none of the candidates managed to get the Constitutionally-established minimum of one third of the vote required to win outright, selection of the President should have fallen to Congress; the long-held antagonistic relationship between the military and APRA prompted Haya de la Torre to make a deal with former dictator Odria, who had come in third, which would have resulted in Odria taking the Presidency in a coalition government.
However, widespread allegations of fraud prompted the Peruvian military to depose Prado and install a military junta, led by Ricardo Perez Godoy. Godoy ran a short transitional government and held new elections in 1963, which were won by Belaúnde by a more comfortable but still narrow five percent margin.
Throughout Latin America in the 1960s, communist movements inspired by the Cuban Revolution sought to win power through guerrilla warfare. The Revolutionary Left Movement (Peru), or MIR, launched an insurrection that had been crushed by 1965, but Peru’s internal strife would only accelerate until its climax in the 1990s.
The military has been prominent in Peruvian history. Coups have repeatedly interrupted civilian constitutional government. The most recent period of military rule (1968–1980) began when General Juan Velasco Alvarado overthrew elected President Fernando Belaúnde Terry of the Popular Action Party (AP). As part of what has been called the “first phase” of the military government’s nationalist program, Velasco undertook an extensive agrarian reform program and nationalized the fish meal industry, some petroleum companies, and several banks and mining firms.
General Francisco Morales Bermúdez replaced Velasco in 1975, citing Velasco’s economic mismanagement and deteriorating health. Morales Bermúdez moved the revolution into a more conservative “second phase,” tempering the radical measures of the first phase and beginning the task of restoring the country’s economy. A Constitutional Assembly was created in 1979, which was led by Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre. Morales Bermúdez presided over the return to civilian government in accordance with a new constitution drawn up in 1979.
Democratic restoration and elections (1979–present day)
During the 1980s, cultivation of illicit coca was established in large areas on the eastern Andean slope. Rural insurgent movements, like the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, SL) and the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) increased during this time and derived significant financial support from alliances with the narcotraffickers, leading to the Internal conflict in Peru.
In the May 1980 elections, President Fernando Belaúnde Terry was returned to office by a strong plurality. One of his first actions as President was the return of several newspapers to their respective owners. In this way, freedom of speech once again played an important part in Peruvian politics. Gradually, he also attempted to undo some of the most radical effects of the Agrarian Reform initiated by Velasco, and reversed the independent stance that the Military Government of Velasco had with the United States.
Belaúnde’s second term was also marked by the unconditional support for Argentine forces during the Falklands War with the United Kingdom in 1982. Belaúnde declared that “Peru was ready to support Argentina with all the resources it needed.” This included a number of fighter planes and possibly personnel from the Peruvian Air Force, as well as ships, and medical teams. Belaunde’s government proposed a peace settlement between the two countries, but it was rejected by both sides, as both claimed undiluted sovereignty of the territory. In response to Chile’s support of the UK, Belaúnde called for Latin American unity.
The nagging economic problems left over from the previous military government persisted, worsened by an occurrence of the “El Niño” weather phenomenon in 1982–83, which caused widespread flooding in some parts of the country, severe droughts in others, and decimated the schools of ocean fish that are one of the country’s major resources. After a promising beginning, Belaúnde’s popularity eroded under the stress of inflation, economic hardship, and terrorism.
In 1985, the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) won the presidential election, bringing Alan García to office. The transfer of the presidency from Belaúnde to García on July 28, 1985, was Peru’s first exchange of power from one democratically elected leader to another for the first time in 40 years.
With a parliamentary majority for the first time in APRA’s history, Alan García started his administration with hopes for a better future. However, economic mismanagement led to hyperinflation from 1988 to 1990. García’s term in office was marked by bouts of hyperinflation, which reached 7,649% in 1990 and had a cumulative total of 2,200,200% between July 1985 and July 1990, thereby profoundly destabilizing the Peruvian economy.
Owing to such chronic inflation, the Peruvian currency, the sol, was replaced by the Inti in mid-1985, which itself was replaced the nuevo sol (“new sun”) in July 1991, at which time the new sol had a cumulative value of one billion old soles. During his administration, the per capita annual income of Peruvians fell to $720 (below the level of 1960) and Peru’s Gross Domestic Product dropped 20%. By the end of his term, national reserves were a negative $900 million.
The economic turbulence of the time acerbated social tensions in Peru and partly contributed to the rise of the violent rebel movement Shining Path. The García administration unsuccessfully sought a military solution to the growing terrorism, committing human rights violations which are still under investigation.
Concerned about the economy, the increasing terrorist threat from Sendero Luminoso and MRTA, and allegations of official corruption, voters chose a relatively unknown mathematician-turned-politician, Alberto Fujimori, as president in 1990. The first round of the election was won by well-known writer Mario Vargas Llosa, a conservative candidate, but Fujimori defeated him in the second round. Fujimori implemented drastic measures that caused inflation to drop from 7,650% in 1990 to 139% in 1991. Faced with opposition to his reform efforts, Fujimori dissolved Congress in the auto-golpe of April 5, 1992. He then revised the constitution; called new congressional elections; and implemented substantial economic reform, including privatization of numerous state-owned companies, creation of an investment-friendly climate, and sound management of the economy.
Fujimori’s administration was dogged by several insurgent groups, most notably Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), which carried on a terrorist campaign in the countryside throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He cracked down on the insurgents and was successful in largely quelling them by the late 1990s, but the fight was marred by atrocities committed by the both Peruvian security forces and the insurgents: the Barrios Altos massacre and La Cantuta massacre by Government paramilitary groups, and the bombings of Tarata and Frecuencia Latina by Shining Path. Those examples subsequently came to be seen as symbols of the human rights violations committed during the last years of violence. With the capture of Abimael Guzmán (known as President Gonzalo) in September 1992, the Shining Path received a severe blow which practically destroyed the organization.
In December 1996, a group of insurgents belonging to the MRTA took over the Japanese embassy in Lima, taking 72 people hostage. Military commandos stormed the embassy compound in May 1997, which resulted in the death of all 15 hostage takers, one hostage, and 2 commandos. It later emerged, however, that Fujimori’s security chief Vladimiro Montesinos may have ordered the killing of at least eight of the rebels after they surrendered.
Fujimori’s constitutionally questionable decision to seek a third term and subsequent tainted victory in June 2000 brought political and economic turmoil. A bribery scandal that broke just weeks after he took office in July forced Fujimori to call new elections in which he would not run. The scandal involved Vladimiro Montesinos, who was shown in a video broadcast on TV bribing a politician to change sides. Montesinos subsequently emerged as the center a vast web of illegal activities, including embezzlement, graft, drug trafficking, as well as human rights violations committed during the war against Sendero Luminoso.
In November 2000, Fujimori resigned from office and went to Japan in self-imposed exile, avoiding prosecution for human rights violations and corruption charges by the new Peruvian authorities. His main intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, fled Peru shortly afterwards. Authorities in Venezuela arrested him in Caracas in June 2001 and turned him over to Peruvian authorities; he is now imprisoned and charged with acts of corruption and human rights violations committed during Fujimori’s administration.
A caretaker government presided over by Valentín Paniagua took on the responsibility of conducting new presidential and congressional elections. The elections were held in April 2001; observers considered them to be free and fair. Alejandro Toledo (who led the opposition against Fujimori) defeated former President Alan García.
The newly elected government took office on July 28, 2001. The Toledo Administration managed to restore some degree of democracy to Peru following the authoritarianism and corruption that plagued both the Fujimori and García governments. Innocents wrongfully tried by military courts during the war against terrorism (1980–2000) were allowed to receive new trials in civilian courts.
On August 28, 2003, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), which had been charged with studying the roots of the violence of the 1980–2000 period, presented its formal report to the President.
President Toledo was forced to make a number of cabinet changes, mostly in response to personal scandals. Toledo’s governing coalition had a minority of seats in Congress and had to negotiate on an ad hoc basis with other parties to form majorities on legislative proposals. Toledo’s popularity in the polls suffered throughout the last years of his regime, due in part to family scandals and in part to dissatisfaction amongst workers with their share of benefits from Peru’s macroeconomic success. After strikes by teachers and agricultural producers led to nationwide road blockages in May 2003, Toledo declared a state of emergency that suspended some civil liberties and gave the military power to enforce order in 12 regions. The state of emergency was later reduced to only the few areas where the Shining Path was operating.
On July 28, 2006 former president Alan García became the current President of Peru. He won the 2006 elections after winning in a runoff against Ollanta Humala.