Note: This piece originally appeared in Spanish on esglobal. To read the original piece, click here.
Peruvian democracy, since its reinstatement in May 1980—coinciding with the first armed action of the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso)—has gradually developed. But a set of failures and matters remain unresolved, evident in the different events of the past two years of President Martin Vizcarra’s government.
It is worth noting some of the structural challenges of the country. According to Freedom House, Peru is a limited democracy. While it is true that Peru has left behind the authoritarian features seen during the dark decade under Alberto Fujimori’s rule (1990-2000), the country has not managed to elevate its standards of democratic quality in the last two decades. A characteristic indistinctly present in most of the Andean and Central American democracies of the region.
The country is fractured in terms of inequality, with a Gini coefficient of 0.42, mostly ingrained, in Peru’s rural areas. Rural poverty in Peru, at 45 percent, triples the urban poverty rate—this is especially visible in the departments of Junín, Cuzco, Apurímac, Huancavelica, Puno or Ayacucho. Likewise, although the rate of violence in Peru is low compared to other countries in the continent—reporting only 7.8 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants—complex scenarios arise given the type of criminal activities associated with these deaths, as in the case of Alto Huallaga Valley and, especially, in the Valley of the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers, a region where it is still possible to find vestiges, fully cartelized, of the Shining Path, the former armed group of Marxist and Maoist ideology.
Although it is true that the country has evolved positively with every decade, Peru maintains an exclusive, unequal structure that serves as a breeding ground for social conflict. This is manifested through the numerous agrarian strikes and protests led by, mostly, the peasant and mining sector. For this reason, it is not shocking to find an increase in the number of social conflicts—from 850 social conflicts accounted for in 2005 to over 9,000 today, according to the country’s Ombudsman Office.
There are several issues behind Peru’s failing democracy. The first, is its re-primarized economy,—Peru’s main exports are low value-added goods such as coffee, mango, asparagus, avocado or quinoa—the result of an uncompetitive and remarkably deregulated structure, that in turn came as a consequence of the increasing liberalization of Peru, now one of the region’s most open markets, along with the Colombian, in recent years. Thus, with a weak state-structure and with little margin for subsidies, the Peruvian market finds itself immersed in the contradictions of global capitalism. One example: although the potato is one of Peru’s star products, and a protagonist of Peruvian gastronomy, the country is increasingly importing Dutch potatoes.
However, the problem goes further. Low fiscal pressure, the informality in the primary market—amounting to almost 75 percent—and a considerable concentration of agrarian property; make it difficult to allocate resources, invest in the country’s productive fabric and, in conclusion, increase competitiveness. Additional to these three factors we find a vertical inelastic income estimated at 70 percent and clearly recentralized. These issues—considering economies of scale and the growing regionalization [to participate even more actively] in the global market—must be analyzed, from a national view, but also from a Latin American perspective.
Another one of these great evils is the country’s endemic corruption, an issue that is difficult to solve, and current President Martín Vizcarra’s main challenge. In just two years, a vote of no-confidence in the administration resulted in the resignation and fracture of the entire Executive branch; former Alberto Fujimori was briefly pardoned and eventually returned to prison to finish his sentence over his direct involvement in crimes against humanity, such as the massacres of Barrios Altos (1991) and La Cantuta (1992); and former President Pedro Pablo Kczynski resigned in March 2018 as a result of his involvement in a famous corruption case.
This is one of the most difficult elements Peru needs to overcome to palliate its democracy. The country’s system is co-opted by political elites that, at the highest level of government—across the political spectrum—have been the subject of continuous cases of embezzlement, bribery or prevarication, implicating former presidents like Alan García (his ties to a corruption scandal led him to die by suicide at his home last April); Alejandro Toledo, who is under request of extradition; Ollanta Humala, under arrest for nine months now; and the aforementioned Kuczynski, with a 36-month house arrest petition. Even, Keiko Fujimori—the dictator’s daughter and leader of the Popular Force party—and the progressive former mayor of Lima, Susana Villarán, have been arrested recently for this same reason.
Odebrecht and Lava Jato, appear to be associated with all these scandals. This scandal is not foreign to other countries in the region, if anything, it highlights the transnationality of this phenomenon of corruption throughout Latin America, by proving bribery, corruption and influence peddling exist in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela. However, in no case, with the exception of Peru, have four presidents been directly involved, showing to what extent the Brazilian construction company permeated the political agenda at the highest level of government in Peru.
The previous, connects with other elements that, equally, blur Peruvian democracy and a good part of the political system in the region. We are witnessing a political polarization process in which partisan systems are less and less inclined to reach out and form governmental coalitions, and act in a more vindictive way; eroding the government apparatus to satisfy their political ambitions. Two opposition ideologies exemplify this: APRA, but mainly, the more recalcitrant Fujimorismo. Likewise, the former coexists with using the state system in favor of circulating personalist elites, limiting each political party’s functionality and personifying public action in a vertical and despotic way, just as Alan García or Alberto Fujimori and his co-religionists have done.
What’s worse, is that this elite class and their surnames have permeated, little by little, the structure of the state, affecting judicial structures and institutions, thus becoming part of the problem more than being part of the solution. The result? Corruption and politicization of justice are now an indisociable binomial within Peruvian politics in the light of recent events.
The key solution [and luckily what a fraction of the Peruvian judicial and political system gets] lies in strengthening the fundamentals of a democracy: greater public investment, better mechanisms of accountability and transparency, together with limiting the clientelistic circles and the areas of action of political families that instrumentalize the state for their own benefit.
In short, to fix Peru’s democracy, the country must strengthen the state’s institutional foundations, in particular, guarantee the right to public action. The only way in which Peru can leave behind the legacy of APRA, of Fujimorismo and of a general kidnapping by the Peruvian elite, is to bring new life into Peru’s political culture, parochialized by force. How? Mobilizing civil society in critical sectors, especially those based in Lima, but not exclusively.
For all the reasons mentioned above, it is necessary to continue working on two key things: creating better social and economic conditions and a better functioning of democracy that directly intervenes on issues of corruption. In fact, this is how we understand the confidence vote requested on May 29 and with which Marín Vizcarra pressured Congress to vote in favor of his government. A critical and mobilized society, united and proactively prioritizing these issues in the President’s agenda—which will require some legislative backing—together with an ironclad backing by the Judicial Power, where names, until now incorruptible, such as Rafael Vela or José Domingo Pérez stand out—are the components needed to strengthen democracy and finally solve Peru’s irresolute dilemmas.