A Very Proud History
Peru encompasses a past of over 10,000 years of the most harsh
and inhospitable, if spectacular, environments in the world - the high Andes of
South America. Civilization in the Andes has long been equated with the Incas.
The architectural achievements of the Incas are inevitably compared to the feats
of the Romans.
In contrast, the invasion of the Spaniards in 1532 between the
Andeans was one of the first clashes between Western and non-Western civilizations.
The Spanish conquest and colonialism has characterized Peru down through the centuries.
Peru, like its geography, became divided economically, socially and politically
between a semifeudal, largely native coast. The persistence of this "dualism"
and the inability of the Peruvian state in more recent times to overcome it have
prevented not only the development but also the effective integration of the Peruvian
nation to this day.
Another unique feature of Peru is the role that foreigners have played in its
history. Peru's independence from Spain in 1824 was largely the accomplishments
of "outsiders" such as the Venezuelan Simón
Bolívar Palacios and the Argentine José de San Martín. Many
foreigners have exploited Peru's natural resources. In 1879 Chile invaded Peru
and destroyed and carried off many possessions. This exploitation, led advocates
to argue that Peru's export-dependent economy was created and manipulated by foreign
Internal demographic changes since the middle of the twentieth
century have shaped contemporary Peru. For example, the total population grew
almost threefold from over 7 million in 1950 to nearly 20 million in 1985, despite
slowing down in the 1970s. In 1980, over 60 percent of its work force was located
in towns and cities, principally the capital, Lima. In 1985 half of Lima's nearly
7 million inhabitants lived in informal housing, and at least half of the country's
population was employed or underemployed in the informal sector.
Along with the demographic changes, Peru experienced an increasing
leadership crisis. This occurred when the longstanding power of the government
(oligarchy) came to an abrupt end in the 1968 military "revolution."
The reform of 1969 destroyed the economic base of both the export elite and the
gamonales (rural bosses) in the Sierra. After more than a decade, the military,
in public disfavor, returned to the barracks, opening the way, once again, to
the democratic process.
The resumption of elections was reaffirmed in 1985 and again in
1990. "Redemocratization" confronted many problems. The end of military
rule left an enormous political gap that the parties, absent for twelve years
and historically weak, were hard-pressed to fill. Peru's long history of authoritarian
and oligarchical rule, made effective democratic government difficult to accomplish.
More serious, redomocratization faced an increasingly grave threat from a deepening
economic crisis that began in the mid-1960s. In 1985 wages approached mid-1960
Finally, redomocratization was also threatened in 1980 by the
Shining Path guerilla movement, Latin America's most violent and ongoing insurgency.
By 1985, the so-called "people's war" had claimed over 6,000 victims,
most of them innocent civilians. Violence was a thread that ran throughout Andean
history, from Inca expansion, the Spanish conquest and colonialism, and countless
native American insurrections and their suppression to the struggle for independence.