New Internationalist

Peru

Issue 210

new internationalist
issue 210 - August 1990

COUNTRY PROFILE

Peru

Map of Peru There is an old song often heard in Peru with a plaintive refrain: 'Aaeee mi Peru' (Oh my Peru!)

Whose Peru? one could ask. And which one? For many foreigners Peru is symbolized by images of Inca ruins like those am Macchu Pichu and of picturesque Indians tending llamas. It may come as some surprise to learn that these descendants of the Incas (called serranos) are often treated with scorn by their fellow Peruvians. Little wonder that the armed Maoist revolutionary organization the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) was born in the Andes and recruited from the literate children of the peasants.

The Andes are rich in resources - minerals, electricity and agricultural produce. But the profits of this wealth - like the mountain rivers - have tended to flow down to the metropolis, Lima.

Today coastal decision-makers easily forget that the mountains contain fellow Peruvians whose needs are very much greater than theirs. Many highlanders feel that the only way in which they can get reasonable education, health and other services is to move to the capital - with the result that 68 per cent of the country's population now lives there.

But people born and bred on the coast (known as costenos) mend to look outwards, over the fish-rich Pacific ocean. They prefer to listen to salsa music (of New York/Cuban origin) than to the music of the Andes. In smart suburbs like Miraflores the profits of the illegal cocaine trade (Peru's biggest export commodity) are everywhere visible. Lima's shanty-towns are poor but hectic hives of popular action, of self-help initiatives, of feminism and of Marxist Liberation Theology.

Finally there is the jungle. At least 50 linguistic groups live here, and many of them now work together to campaign on land rights and other issues. In recent years, their relatively peaceful lifestyle has been disrupted by gold-diggers, cocaine mafiosi and the iron rule of Sendero guerillas, leading to death for many Indians.

Peru is a place of undeclared civil war and declared economic chaos. People desperately want change - and voted that way in the June elections. Albermo Fujimori was voted into power at the head of a new party called Cambio ('change'). Fujimori, son of Japanese immigrants and an agronomist by profession, has no political past to speak of. His present politics seem to be Centrist (although he has backing from Christian evangelicals). However Cambio tries to tackle the country's problems they will have to take on board the fact that there is not one Peru and certainly no 'my Peru' - whatever the old song may say.

Vanessa Baird

 

Leader Alberto Fujimori

Economy GNP per capita $1470 (US $18,530). Monetary Unit: The inti. Inflation at 2,000 per cent a year. Economic damage caused by political violence estimated at $15 billion. Debt: $20 billion, one of the highest per capita in South America. Exports have been hit by changes in the exchange rate system to favour imports. Main exports are coca (illegal), crude oil, copper, silver, zinc, lead, fishmeal, textiles, cotton. Main imports are consumer goods, capital goods, armaments. High unemployment.

People 21.2 million

Health Infant mortality 87 per 1,000 live births. (US 10 per 1000)

Culture 50 per cent Amerindian, 33 per cent mixed blood, 12 per cent white, 5 per cent black.
Religion
: Predominantly Christian (90 per cent Catholic)
Language: Spanish the official language. Major indigenous languages are Quechua and Aymara widely spoken in mountain regions.

Sources:Peru Profile (Catholic Institute for International Relations 1990),' UNDP Human Development Report 1990; DESCO Lima 1989,' The Independent Newspaper, London, 11/5/1990.

Last profiled in October 1980

 

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Regional and racial variations.
1980: *

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Imports one third more
than exports.
Food aid dependency.
1980: **

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The laws are good, the
practice poor.
1980: **

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New party Cambio
in power.
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87 %. Higher in urban areas.
1980: ***

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Human rights abuses by Government and guerillas.
1980: **

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61 years.
Sharp regional differences.
(US 75 years).
1980:**

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