Book chapter

Peru's Cleavages, Conflict, and Precarious Democracy (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


Since Peru's independence in 1824, politics in the country have been turbulent. Repeatedly, democracy was attempted but not sustained. Between 1919 and 2000, no Peruvian political regime—either democratic or authoritarian—endured more than 12 years. Scholars agree that the primary reason for Peru's history of political turbulence was the severity of its overlapping ethnic, class, and geographical cleavages. Peru's renowned novelist Mario Vargas Llosa wrote that the country was "an artificial gathering of men from different languages, customs, and traditions whose only common denominator was having been condemned by history to live together without knowing or loving one another."However, in the 21st century, cleavages have attenuated and the possibility of a cohesive nation emerged. Peru has been democratic for more than 18 years—longer than ever before. With one-person, one-vote elections, political violence has been rare and economic growth rapid. However, Peru's economic growth has been based heavily on mining and other extractive industries, and it is not clear that cleavages have attenuated sufficiently for democracy to be consolidated. In addition, democracy is challenged by bitter legacies from the 1980s–1990s conflict with the Shining Path guerrillas and the 1990–2000 authoritarian government of Alberto Fujimori. Further, in 2017–2018, it was all too apparent that Peru's political and economic elites remain complicit in corrupt global financial networks.