Politics is a rapidly changing scene in Peru. When I was a correspondent, I found that when I came back to the country after a vacation or a trip abroad, I had to work overtime just to get my bearings back. Frankly, I'm hesitant to make generalizations about a Peru that I have not seen in six years.
On the other hand, you can't understand the country unless you come to terms with the past decades of political violence and institutional collapse. Only then can you understand the citizenry's tolerance of an authoritarian president like Alberto Fujimori. You can find the result of this brainstorming in my reporting.
Going back even further, you can't understand the violence and frustration without taking into account the political parties and alliances that seemed to treat power as spoils of war. APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance), Accion Popular, the marxist left and all the other players failed to live up to the expectations of most people.
April 8 2001 brought the electorate back to the polls for the third time in a year. There was a presidential run-off in June. Elections and candidates brings together material on the political process in Peru. These elections pulled together a strange blend of Peru's political past, its troubled present and a cloudy future. It resulted in Alejando Toledo becoming the first president of Andean descent in Peru's history.
For day-to-day news, please check out La Esquina del Movimiento, my weblog that follows coverage of Peruvian current events. You will find news coverage since November 2000 and links to other resources
The Fujimori era gives the appearance of breaking down the political landscape. The old brand names are rarely used. But some observers tell me that some traits persist -- the strong bent towards authoritarianism, personal allegiance and caudillismo, the undercurrents of racism and caste system. Finally, the inability to build up lasting civil institutions.
Now the country is simply polarized into two blocks, those who fear what might come without a firm authoritarian hand and those who hate Fujimori and his tactics. Indeed, it's probably true that there could be no graceful exit for Fujimori because he was so adept at destroying organized opposition.
The need to purge the national monsters and nightmare of political violence in the past two decades in apparent inthe speech of Salamon Lerner, the President of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He gave it in London on February 14, 2002. It provides a good summary of the issues and the course of action of the Commission. It's going to be a tough job because there were many sectors in the Peruvian populace -- not just the guerrillas and the security forces -- who participated in the violence.
When I started writing this page, I received feedback from Peruvians saying that I should not link to some of the sites below. But as a journalist who covered Peru for 12 years and a researcher of political violence for four years, I believe that you have to tackle these issues head on and not try to hide them. Maybe I should require a visitor be over 21 years old to gain entrance. Political organizations that use systematic terrorist tactics to achieve their goals are not for the faint-at-heart, nor are security forces that think they have to match guerrillas' brutality in order to defeat them.
Guerrilla activity has fallen off sharply since 1993 to practically nothing and Fujimori can probably claim victory and ignore any local eruptions as criminal delinquents. However, the issue is not over for Peru. There are thousands of people imprisoned as suspected subversives and tried by military tribunals in a sham of due process.
See an article by William Rowe about War and Cultural Studies: Reflections on Recent Work in Peru and Argentina, published in 1992. It reflects on the cultural changes that happen in the wake of violence.
In-Depth: To see an major examination about political violence in Peru, you can check out my study, Rural Development Caught in the Crossfire. It contains background information and context to understand what happened in the 1980s and early 1990s. It takes a close look at how an organization that said it had poor peasants' interests as its primary motivation dealt with the issue of rural poverty. Some observers wanted to a rebirth of Indian resistance or even Andean millenialism. I am also putting on line some sections of my book, The War of the Fourth Sword.
Shining Path -- or the Communist Party of Peru / Partido Comunista del Peru, as it liked to call itself -- was one of the most important political phenonmenon of this century in Peru. For years, it had the government, the armed forces and police stumped as to how to deal with it. Civil institutions and the national leadership shied away from it, insecure about how to address the whole issue of violence. For that reason, Sendero almost had the country in check until party founder and mastermind Abimael Guzman was captured in September 1992.
Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movimient (Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru - MRTA) is another player in the game of violence. Although less dangerous than Sendero, it fit more neatly into the stereotype of the Latin American guerrilla group.
Lori Berensen, a young American woman convicted of treason in January 1996, has gotten a lot of news coverage and support in the United States. I am providing information because at lot of the coverage has been only skimmed the top or relied on her parents' version.