Archaeological evidence indicates that Peru has been inhabited for at least 12,000 years. Perhaps as early as 6,000 years ago, the first primitive farmers appeared. Between 500 BC and AD 1000 at least five separate civilizations developed. The Paracas, on the southern coast, produced elaborately embroidered textiles. The Chavín, in the highlands, were noted for their great carved stone monoliths. The Mochica on the north coast, produced realistic pottery figures of human beings and animals. The Nazca in the south were noted for the giant figures of animals in the ground that can be seen only from the sky. The Chimú were the most developed of these groups.
The Quechua Empire, whose emperors had the title Sapa Inca, was established in the 13th century. During the next 300 years, the extraordinary empire of the Incas, with its capital at Cuzco, spread its spiritual and temporal power to northern Ecuador, middle Chile, and the Argentine plains. By means of a system of paved highways, the small Cuzco hierarchy communicated its interests to a population of 8–12 million. The intensive agriculture of scarcely tillable lands, held in common and controlled by the state, created a disciplined economy. The ayllu, a kinship group that also constituted an agrarian community, was the basic unit of the Inca Empire, economically and spiritually. The Incas were sun worshipers and embalmed their dead. Their advanced civilization used a calendar and a decimal system of counting, but never developed a wheel.
Francisco Pizarro's small band of Spaniards arrived in 1532, shortly after a civil war between the Inca half-brothers Huáscar and Atahualpa. The empire collapsed in 1533. Lima was established in 1535 and promptly became the opulent center of the Viceroyalty of Peru. It held jurisdiction over all Spanish South America except Venezuela. The Spanish imperial economy, with its huge land grants given by the crown and its tribute-collecting encomiendas, brought vast wealth and a new aristocracy to Peru. To Spain, Peru was a gold bank. Mines were exploited, and overworked Indians perished by the millions as food supplies declined.
Peru remained a Spanish stronghold into the 19th century, with little internal agitation for independence. One notable exception was the abortive revolt led by a mestizo known as Tupac Amaru II in 1780. Otherwise, Peruvian royalists helped the crown suppress uprisings in Peru and elsewhere. In the end, Peru was liberated by outsiders—José de San Martín of Argentina and Simón Bolívar of Venezuela. San Martín landed on Peruvian shores in 1820 and on 28 July 1821 proclaimed Peru's independence. The royalists were not quelled, however, until the Spaniards were defeated by forces under Bolívar at Junín and under Antonio José de Sucre at Ayacucho in 1824. The victory at Ayacucho on 9 December put an end to Spanish domination on the South American continent, although the Spanish flag did not cease to fly over Peru until 1826.
Between 1826 and 1908, Peruvian presidents ruled an unstable republic plagued by rivalries between military chieftains (caudillos) and by a rigid class system. Marshal Ramón Castilla, president from 1845 to 1851 and from 1855 to 1862, abolished Amerindian tributes and introduced progressive measures. Between the 1850s and the mid-1880s, Peru experienced an economic boom financed by sales of guano in Europe. A program of road building was implemented, and an American entrepreneur, Henry Meiggs, was hired by the government to build a railroad network in the Andes. In 1866, a Spanish attempt to regain possession of Peru was frustrated off Callao. An 1871 armistice was followed in 1879 by the formal recognition of Peruvian independence by Spain. The War of the Pacific (1879–84) followed, in which Chile vanquished the forces of Peru and Bolivia and occupied Lima from 1881 to 1883. Under the Treaty of Ancón, signed in October 1883, and subsequent agreements, Peru was forced to give up the nitrate-rich provinces of Tarapacá and Arica.
Peru entered the 20th century with a constitutional democratic government and a stable economy. This period of moderate reform came to an end in 1919, when a businessman, Augusto Leguía y Salcedo, who had served as constitutionally elected president during 1908–12, took power in a military coup and began to modernize the country along capitalistic lines. It was in opposition to Leguía's dictatorship, which had the backing of US bankers, that a Peruvian intellectual, Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, founded the leftist American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA). In 1930, after the worldwide depression reached Peru, Leguía was overthrown by Luis M. Sánchez-Cerro, who became Peru's constitutional president in 1931 after an election which the Apristas (the followers of APRA) denounced as fraudulent. An Aprista uprising in 1932 was followed by the assassination of Sánchez-Cerro in April 1933, but the military and its conservative allies maneuvered successfully to keep APRA out of power. Manuel Prado y Ugartache served as president during World War II, a period that also brought the eruption of a border war with Ecuador in 1941. The 1942 Protocol of Rio de Janeiro, which resolved the conflict on terms favorable to Peru, was subsequently repudiated by Ecuador.
In 1945, Prado permitted free elections and legalized APRA. Haya de la Torre and the Apristas supported José Luis Bustamante y Rivera, who won the elections, and APRA (changing its name to the People's Party) received a majority in Congress. In 1948, military leaders charged the president with being too lenient with the Apristas and dividing the armed forces. A coup led by Gen. Manuel A. Odría ousted Bustamante, and APRA was again outlawed. Several hundred Apristas were jailed, while others went into exile. In January 1949, Haya de la Torre found refuge in the Colombian embassy, where he lived for the next five years. Under the rule of Odría and his military board of governors, the Peruvian economy flourished. Agriculture, industry, and education were stimulated by modernizing measures, and foreign trade prospered. Odría announced his retirement in 1956, and promoted his own candidate for the presidency. In a free election, the opposition candidate, former President Prado (tacitly supported by the outlawed APRA) returned to office.
Peru under the Prado regime was characterized by deep-rooted social unrest and political tension. Prado himself faded into the background, allowing Premier Pedro Beltrán to rule. Beltrán's economic moves stabilized Peru's financial picture, but the political problems remained. The election of 1962 was a three-way race between Haya de la Torre; Odría, back from retirement; and Fernando Belaúnde Terry, leader of the Popular Action Party (AP). Although Haya de la Torre got the most votes, he did not receive the constitutionally required one-third of the votes cast. The parties then went into negotiations, and a deal was struck giving Odría the presidency with an APRA cabinet. The military thereupon intervened, annulled the vote, and suspended the newly elected Congress. The governing junta then announced new elections for July 1963, and the same candidates ran. This time, Belaúnde received 39% of the votes cast to become president.
Belaúnde embarked on a program of agrarian reform, as well as tax incentives to promote manufacturing. However, he was caught in a crossfire between the Odrístas, who considered him a radical, and the Apristas, who believed he was not doing enough. Belaúnde's AP formed a coalition with the Christian Democratic Party to control the senate, but APRA and the Odría National Union controlled the Chamber of Deputies. On top of all this, Belaúnde had to deal with two separate leftist insurgencies in Peru's highlands. As Peru approached new presidential elections, the AP began to quarrel, and opposition parties continued to sabotage Belaúnde's programs. Then a scandal concerning the granting of oil concessions to the International Petroleum Co., a subsidiary of Standard Oil of New Jersey, rocked the government. A military junta exiled Belaúnde on 3 October 1968 in a bloodless coup.
In 1969, the military government, under the presidency of Gen. Juan Velasco Alvarado, began enacting a series of social and economic reforms. This time, they did not worry about opposition, ruling instead by decree. By 1974 they had converted private landholdings into agricultural cooperatives, nationalized a number of basic industries, and had mandated profit-sharing schemes for industrial workers. A government-sponsored social mobilization agency, the National System for Support of Social Mobilization (Sistema Nacional de Apoyo a la Movilización Social—SINAMOS) was established in 1971. The military also reached out to Peru's long-neglected Amerindian population, making Tupac Amaru a national symbol, and recognizing Quechua as an official national language.
In August 1975, Velasco, whose health and political fortunes had both declined, was removed from office in a bloodless coup and replaced by Gen. Francisco Morales Bermúdez Cerruti, formerly his prime minister. The new regime moved to liberalize the system, declaring a general amnesty for post-1968 political exiles and the legalization of some previously banned publications. They subsequently announced a return to civilian government and the creation of a "fully participatory social democracy." Some state-controlled enterprises were sold, worker-participation programs were scaled down, and SINAMOS was dismantled. A Constituent Assembly was elected, and under the leadership of the perennial candidate Haya de la Torre they drew up a new constitution in 1979. New elections were held in 1980, and the AP and Belaúnde returned to power.
Belaúnde's second term was even less a success than his first. Adverse weather conditions and the world recession accompanied ill-conceived policies that led to triple-digit inflation. Austerity programs caused increased rates of unemployment, and currency problems pinched the Peruvian middle-class. Perhaps most disturbing of all, a small Maoist guerrilla group, Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) was operating openly in the Andes, especially around Ayacucho. Despite passage of an antiterrorist law in 1981, terrorist activities intensified. During the first four months of 1983, more than 450 people lost their lives. The government's campaign against terrorism, beginning in May 1983 and continuing through 1985, resulted in the disappearance of thousands, charges of mass killings, and the granting of unlimited power to the armed forces. Meanwhile, the AP's tenuous hold on the government was slipping. The AP won only 15% of the vote in the 1983 municipal elections. By 1985, with Peru on the brink of an economic collapse, the AP received a mere 7% of the vote.
The election of 1985 was historic in two ways: it was the first peaceful transfer of power in 40 years, and it brought the first president from APRA since the party's founding in 1928. Alán García Pérez, secretary-general of APRA, won with 53% of the vote, and brought with him an APRA majority in both houses. The new president pursued populist economic policies, aimed at controlling inflation, stimulating the economy, and limiting external debt repayments. To get inflation under control, García established a strict set of price controls, dropping inflation precipitously. Salaries were then allowed to increase, which led to a dramatic surge in the production of industrial and consumer goods. García also announced that external debt service would be set at 10% of export earnings, when several times that amount would have been required to keep up with interest payments alone.
While initially successful, these programs eventually ran aground. The IMF, a constant target of García, declared Peru ineligible for any further borrowing because of the size of Peru's external debt. After its initial boom, industrial production began to sag. Food shortages became common as suppliers refused to produce with artificially low prices. By 1990, inflation had climbed to four-digit levels.
García had some success in dealing with Peru's democratic left, but the militant left was another story. By increasing the stridency of his rhetoric, especially against the United States, García was able to capture leftist votes, seriously damaging the power of the United Left (Izquierda Unida—IU). However, Sendero escalated its attacks, coming down out of the mountains and striking at urban and suburban targets around Lima and Callao. In addition, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) merged with the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR), and struck with increasing intensity. Although García had promised to get the military under control, it was soon clear that he could not function without them, and authorized a set of brutal counter-insurgent campaigns.
By 1990, Peruvians began to cast about for someone to deliver the country from its economic and social woes. Neither APRA nor the AP had any credibility. In a surprise, Alberto Fujimori, the son of Japanese immigrants, defeated conservative novelist Mario Vargas Llosa by 57% to 34%. Other candidates totaled a little over 9%. Fujimori immediately imposed a draconian set of austerity measures designed to curb inflation. These measures caused a great deal of economic dislocation, but did reduce inflation to pre-1988 levels.
Fujimori moved aggressively to combat Sendero and the MRTA-MIR. He organized and armed rural peasants to counter the increased guerrilla presence, and gave the military a broad mandate to crack down on the insurgents. The capture of Abimaél Guzmán, leader of Sendero Luminoso, was hailed as a major blow against the movement, but the violence continued. Human rights continued to deteriorate, and the military became stronger.
Domestic opposition increased as Fujimori became increasingly isolated politically. Then, in April 1992, Fujimori shut down Congress and refused to recognize any judicial decisions. The autogolpe ("self-coup") received widespread popular approval and, most significantly, the military supported Fujimori's moves. In 1992, elections were held to create a Constituent Assembly charged with making constitutional reforms, including allowing Fujimori to run for a second five-year term in 1995. Both APRA and AP refused to participate, and Fujimori's New Majority/Change 90 group took a majority of seats. With full executive powers and a legislature full of supporters, Fujimori was able to enact whatever reforms he deemed necessary to improve Peru's economic and social situations.
A border war with Ecuador in early 1995 (in which both sides claimed victory) boosted Fujimori's popularity to a level that enabled him to win his unprecedented second-consecutive presidential election by a landslide, roundly defeating former UN secretary general Javier Perez de Cuellar. In May 1999, Fujimori and Ecuadorian President Jamil Mahuad formally ended the border dispute that dated from 1941. The accord gave Ecuador a small piece of Peruvian territory and navigation rights on some Peruvian rivers. In Ecuador, the peace treaty was considered a capitulation, turning the army against Mahuad.
Fujimori continued to rule by martial law, and took decisive steps to end terrorist opposition and violence in Peru. In 1996, the second-highest leader of Sendero, Elizabeth Cardenas Huayta, was arrested. The Tupac Amaru rebel movement was decimated in April 1997 when military commandos stormed the Japanese Embassy, where the rebels had been holding hostages since December 1996, and killed all 14 of the Tupac Amaru guerillas who had carried out the siege (only one hostage died in the raid, from a heart attack as a result of a gunshot wound).
Although the success of the embassy raid and the end of the hostage crisis at first raised Fujimori's popularity, it soon began to decline as Peruvians wearied of Fujimori's strong-arm tactics. Government attacks on the press and on certain members of the business community created a mounting dissatisfaction with the Fujimori regime. When Fujimori fired three Constitutional Tribunal judges for rejecting his claim to a third consecutive presidential term, Peruvians' tolerance was pushed beyond its breaking point and protests erupted. Continuing widespread poverty (despite recent years of economic growth), coupled with governmental abuses of power and persistent guerilla violence eroded Fujimori's popular support. As the April 2000 elections came near, Fujimori at first remained silent on whether he would seek a third term. Yet political maneuvering by his supporters had ensured that no viable candidate would rise to face him.
Opposition parties also were weak and divided. Former President Alain García, who fled the country in 1992, and faced corruption charges, became a possible candidate. Fujimori's supporters in Congress quickly approved a law banning any former officeholder facing criminal charges from running for election. Yet, Fujimori remained vulnerable. A two-year recession and widespread unemployment had left one of two Peruvians living in poverty by mid-1999. Fujimori also was under a great deal of international pressure to rectify undemocratic conduct. In June 1999, members of the US House of Representatives said they were concerned at the "erosion of democracy and the rule of law" in Peru. A Senate subcommittee said it should be consulted before the White House gave any more American intelligence to Peru. Later that year, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights rejected Peru's bid to withdraw from its jurisdiction, saying it would continue to summon Peruvian officials to declare in reported abuses.
Within weeks of the April 2000 elections, Fujimori seemed all but certain of winning the presidency for a third term. Yet, a virtual unknown had suddenly become a viable candidate, winning support from throughout the country. Alejandro Toledo, a 54-year-old business school professor, was soon ahead of other challengers trying to defeat Fujimori. The US-educated Toledo had a modest upbringing. His father was a bricklayer, and his mother sold fish at a street market. Of strong Indian features, Toledo quickly gained an important following in Peru's Amerindian communities, where Fujimori had found support. The election was held on 9 April, with several international organizations monitoring polling stations.
It soon became clear that Fujimori's supporters were trying to steal the election. There were unexplained delays in revealing the results, and widespread reports of voter fraud. The United States, the Organization of American States, the Atlanta-based Carter Center, and several other international organizations monitoring the election agreed that widespread fraud had tainted the elections and demanded a second presidential election between Fujimori and Toledo. Tens of thousands of Peruvians marched in peaceful protests demanding a second round. The other presidential candidates backed Toledo. Three days after the election, the electoral office said Fujimori had obtained 49.8% of the vote, not enough to capture the 50% plus one he needed to avoid a second round. Toledo was given 40.3% of the vote.
The political crisis resulting from the rigged election led to president Fujimori's resignation and exile in Japan. A new presidential election was held in April 2001. Alejandro Toledo ended first with 36.5% of the vote, but he was forced into a runoff with former president Alan García (25.8%) who had returned to the country after Fujimori's resignation. Toledo went on to win the runoff with 53.1% of the vote. But García's impressive 46.9% transformed the former discredited president into a powerful actor in Peruvian politics.
Toledo became the first Peruvian of indigenous heritage to become president. Yet, his popularity and support during the first months of his administration began to fall as accusations of corruption and moral improprieties tainted his presidency. Toledo's effort to prosecute those responsible for corruption and human rights violations during the Fujimori government also distracted him from the urgent social and economic challenges facing his country. During his tenure, Toledo has suffered from dismal approval ratings, ranging in the single digits. His personalist leadership and the lack of discipline within his political party have also hindered and hurt the process of democratic restoration in Peru.