Country profile: Peru

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Country Profile: Peru

People say Peru is doing very well now, but the poor people don’t know this. Stephanie Boyd reports.

There are many professional dog-walkers running with dogs along Lima’s Pacific Ocean street. There are signs telling people they will have to pay a lot of money if they don’t pick up the dog waste. The beautiful flower gardens and green parks are kept clean for the rich people who live there.

But in the city slums and the rural areas, many children work collecting fares on buses or selling things in the market to help feed their families. If they want to get better jobs, they go to school in second-hand uniforms, often without breakfast.


Protest against government restrictions on social protest (S Boyd, Guarango, GRUFIDES)

The differences are very large in Peru, Latin America’s latest success. Peru had the most economic growth - 6.9 per cent - last year. But behind the wonderful statistics is a country divided between rich and poor.

Many governments have put their energy into changing the statistics instead of fighting poverty by putting money into social programmes. Last year the government lowered the poverty line: it is not logical to say that Peruvians now need less money to live, when the prices are rising. If you earn more than $102 a month, you are now ‘middle-class’, but the legal minimum wage is $300 a month. Even the government’s statistics say that more than eight million Peruvians live in poverty, and nearly two million in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day.

But the World Bank has said that Peru is now an ‘Upper Middle Income’ country and many charity organizations have left for other countries where they can get more funding. The divisions in society have increased because many charities suddenly left, and the government does not spend money on basic services like healthcare and education.


Protest against a US mine in Cajamarca, with communal food (S Boyd, Guarango, GRUFIDES)

It is ironic that most of Peru’s money comes from the countryside. The economy is based on natural resources: mining, oil, gas and wood. But the money from these has never gone to local communities.

The exploitation of Peru began 500 years ago with the Spanish conquest, because Europe wanted the gold. More recently, a military government in the 1970s, very high inflation in the late 1980s and a 20-year civil war kept foreign investors away from Peru.

In the early 1990s, when the crisis was ending, Alberto Fujimori, who was President then, began to sell all the natural resources. So foreigners came running to a new El Dorado.

Fujimori is now in prison for 25 years for corruption and crimes against humanity, including torture, kidnapping and murder. The Truth Commission say at least 70,000 people were killed or disappeared during the civil war. But the government have not paid all the victims what they should have done. And many people who abused others are still free.


The Presidents after Fujimori have continued his neoliberal economic policies. Peru is now the world’s sixth-largest producer of gold and second-largest of copper. But the benefits do not go to the mining communities. They only have the contamination and social conflict.

Last year, the unhappy voters elected Ollanta Humala as president, because he promised a ‘Grand Transformation’, with development and equality for Peru’s indigenous groups and groups with no power.

Humala gave rights to indigenous peoples, but there are problems with the law because the government can still use indigenous land even if communities do not agree to this. Also, the police and military have restricted protests in his first year as president.

So Peruvians will have to wait a bit longer for the Grand Transformation.

Country Profile: Peru Fact File

Leader President Ollanta Humala Tasso

Economy GNI per capita $5,500 (Bolivia $2,040, Canada $45,560)

Money Nuevo Sol (PEN)

Main exports The first is gold is top. After that are copper, silver, zinc, lead. Also important are petrol, fish products, coffee, asparagus and textiles. The economy has been growing at an average of over 6% per year for the last decade but is still dependent on global commodity prices.

People 29.4 million, 9 million in Lima. Population growth rate 1990-2010 1.5%. People per square kilometre 23 (UK 253).

Health Infant mortality rate 15 per 1,000 live births – a big reduction from 40 ten years ago (Bolivia 42, Canada 5). HIV rate 0.4%. Lifetime risk of maternal death 1 in 370 (Canada 1 in 5,600). Rich Peruvians get Botox, breast implants and penis enlargements in expensive private clinics, but public hospitals do not have enough equipment and staff for basic services.

Environment Cutting trees in the Amazon (35% of Peru), continues to be very worrying. Since 1980 Peru’s glaciers have lost a fifth of their ice. Annual carbon emissions per capita 1.5 tonnes (Canada 15.3).

Culture Indigenous 45%, mestizo (mixed indigenous and white) 37%, white 15%, others 3%.

Religion The official religion is Catholicism, but evangelical churches are increasing. Peru’s Catholic church is divided between conservative and progressive.

Language Spanish 84.1%, Quechua 13%, and Aymara 1.7% are all official languages, but there are many other languages, especially in the Amazon.

Human development index 0.725 – 80th of 187 countries (Bolivia 0.623, Canada 0.908).

Country Profile: Peru ratings in detail

Income distribution As money comes in from mining and drugs, the gap between rich and poor is growing.

Life expectancy 74 years (Bolivia 66, Canada 81)

Position of women Women are now more important in politics and universities, but Peru is still a machista society. Women have problems keeping their sexual and reproductive rights, and domestic violence is still high.

Literacy 90%. Rich urban young people text on their cellphones, but their rural cousins still often do their homework by candlelight.

Freedom There are strict new laws that make social protest illegal, and the military and police have the right to shoot protesters. Human rights defenders, including journalists, are followed, threatened and suffer physical violence. The media is heavily censored.

Sexual minorities Homosexuality is legal and people can go to prison for anti-gay discrimination. But there is no official recognition of same-sex relationships.

NI Assessment (Politics) Indigenous and farming voters believed in Ollanta Humala, because he promised to create a more just and equal society. But when he became president, Humala stopped wearing jeans. He wore a suit and became friends with rightwing business and political élites. In his first year as president, social conflicts increased, 17 people were killed in protests by military and more than 100 human rights defenders were arrested under strict new laws against social protest. So Humala hasn’t learned from past mistakes. People say he abused human rights during the Fujimori dictatorship.

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