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Peru History and Politics

Early cultures in Peru

Between 20,000 and 10,000 BC The first people came to what is now Peru. The first hunters and gatherers came here via North and Central America. Then slowly people settled down. Around 4000 BC One began to breed the lama from the wild guanacos.

Norte Chico culture (3500-1800 BC)

The oldest known Stone Age culture in Peru is the Norte Chico culture, which dates from 3500 to around 1800 BC. BC had its main phase. It also includes Caral, the oldest city in America. No high culture emerged here, but people built simple pyramids, for example. They grew corn, peanuts, and pumpkins.

Mummies and mysterious lines

Many cultures developed over the centuries in what is now Peru. One of them is the Paracas culture, which lasted from 900 to 200 BC. Existed south of today’s capital Lima, i.e. in the southern coastal region.

Around 200 BC The Nazca culture originated in the same region. The people carved figures in the scree deserts, the so-called Nazca Lines. They often represent animals, for example a monkey or a hummingbird. The Nazca watered their fields with an underground irrigation system. Their culture is known for their mummies, which are well preserved due to the extremely dry climate.

Other regional cultures in the pre-Inca period were the Moche, Chachapoya and Wari cultures. Bigger and bigger cities developed and handicrafts flourished. The entire coast north of Lima was in the hands of the Chimú from around 1250. Their capital was called Chan Chan. In its heyday it had 60,000 inhabitants.

The Inca Empire

The Inca founded the city of Cusco around 1200. They subjugated and killed the tribes living here like the Sauasera or the Gualla. From here they built a huge empire. They also subjugated the Chimú and Chachopoya kingdoms. In the 14th and 15th centuries they expanded their territory so that it occupied a large part of the west coast of South America by 1527.

The Inca ruler Huayna Capac divided the empire between his sons in 1527: Huascar received the south with Cusco as capital, Atahualpa received the north with Quito as capital. But the brothers were not satisfied with that and a war broke out. In 1532 Atahualpa defeated his brother and took him prisoner.

Pizarro conquers the Inca Empire

In the same year the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro and his men conquered the Inca Empire. That was already weakened by the war between the brothers, and many Indians had died of smallpox and measles. The Spaniards had brought these diseases with them from Europe and they had spread rapidly via Central America to South America. Atahualpa was defeated and Pizarro took Cusco in 1533.

Peru becomes a Spanish colony

So Peru became a Spanish colony. In 1542 the Spaniards founded the Viceroyalty of Peru, which initially comprised almost all of South America. The capital became Lima. Some Inca still preserved their empire and tried a final revolt against the Spaniards in 1572, in which the last Inca ruler Túpac Amaru was captured and executed.

In 1717, Spain separated the north as the viceroyalty of New Granada from it (today Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela) in order to better administer the large colony. In 1776, the south was also separated as the Viceroy Río de la Plata (Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina). In 1780 there was an Indian uprising led by José Gabriel Condorcanqui. He called himself Tupac Amaru II. But with other leaders (caciks) there was no agreement on the procedure and so the rebellion failed.

Struggle for independence (1820-1824)

At the beginning of the 19th century things were seething all over South America: People wanted to be independent! The struggle for freedom began. For a long time the Viceroy of Peru knew how to keep rebellions to a minimum. From 1820 to 1821, however, the Argentines and Chileans started the expedition to liberate Peru under the leadership of José de San Martín. The north and the central coast with Lima were actually liberated, Peru declared its independence, but the rest of the country remained in Spanish hands. It was not until 1824 that the last Spaniards were finally defeated by Antonio José de Sucre and Simón Bolívar in the battle of Ayacucho.

The rest of the 19th century: wars with neighbors

In the 19th and 20th centuries there were repeated border conflicts and wars with Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador. The saltpeter war took place from 1879 to 1883. Bolivia and Peru fought together against Chile for a coastal area in which there was a lot of nitrate and saltpeter, which are needed for the production of gunpowder and fertilizer, a valuable raw material.

The area fell to the victorious Chile in the peace treaty. In economic terms, guano became Peru’s most important export from 1841. This is fertilizer obtained from the droppings of sea birds. From 1849, more and more Chinese came to work here.

Military dictatorship (1968-1980)

Peru’s attempt to free itself from its economic dependence on the United States led to economic problems and a politically unstable situation. Then staged a coup in 1968 the military and leftist General Juan Velasco Alvarado took power. There was land reform and numerous nationalizations. However, that did not solve the problems and so he was replaced in 1975 by the more conservative Francisco Morales Bermúdez. He finally initiated the transition to democracy, so that elections were held again in 1980.

Return to Democracy (1980) – and guerrilla warfare

Fernando Belaúnde Terry, the president ousted in 1968, became president again in 1980. Economic policy also changed from government to government, from nationalization to privatization and vice versa. This counteracted the development of a functioning economy.

Shining Path Guerrilla War (1980-1992)

Another problem was the guerrilla war of the group “Shining Path” (Sendero Luminoso), which became active from 1982. Numerous human rights violations and even massacres were committed by the guerrillas in particular, but also by the state. Almost 70,000 people died, mostly from the indigenous population. The newly elected President Alan García in 1985 could not solve the problems.

Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000)

President Fujimori again made an economic U-turn towards a market economy. Foreign companies were increasingly allowed into the country, state-owned companies were privatized again and a currency reform was carried out. In fact, there was strong economic growth. The guerrillas were also successfully fought. In 1992 the leaders were arrested.

Finally, there were economic problems again. Fujimori was also accused of corruption, human rights violations and electoral fraud. In 2000, Fujimori had to resign and fled to Japan. 2007 was extradited from Chile and sentenced to several years in prison.

The 21st century

In 2001, Alejandro Toledo became the first democratically elected President of Peru with indigenous descent. He was also accused of corruption, and in 2003 he declared a state of emergency after strikes. In 2006, left-wing Alan García was elected to a second term after 1985. In 2011, his political opponent Ollanta Humala Tassa followed him into office. He announced a fairer distribution of income in Peru and the fight against poverty. Renewed nationalizations are part of his plan.

In 2016 Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was elected as the new president. Martín Vizcarra replaced him in 2018. Kuczynski had resigned because he was also accused of corruption. Thereupon its Vice President Vizcarra became the new President. In September 2019, there was a dispute with Congress over the appointment of judges at the Constitutional Court of Peru. In January 2020 there were new elections that ended without a clear winner. Vizcarra remains president but does not have a majority in parliament.

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