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A string of presidents did little
for local government in Peru

By Andrew Stevens, Deputy Editor

31 December 2007: The Republic of Peru is a Pacific-facing country in South America, having achieved independence from the Spanish Empire in 1824 following the battle waged by Simon Bolivar’s forces. As far as local government is concerned, the country is divided into 25 regions with 180 provinces and then further subdivided into 1747 districts.

The Viceroyalty of Peru was proclaimed in 1542 following Spain’s defeat of the heavily-divided Incan Empire almost a decade earlier. At its peak the viceroyalty controlled most of South America until its break-up into smaller units to maintain control. The capital Lima emerged as the principal city of Spain’s colonial possessions south of Mexico, where its colonies were administered from. Peruvian independence was declared by Spanish landowners in 1821 following the monarchy’s troubles back in Spain during the Napoleonic invasion.

The viceroyalty ceased with the defeat of Spanish forces in 1824, though it withheld recognition of the republic until 1879. A member of the short-lived Confederacion Peru-Boliviana, Peru suffered a series of defeats at the hands of Chile during the 19th century. The issue of its borders was the source of several wars with Ecuador during the 20th century, with the boundary dispute only settled by international mediation in 1998 and outstanding issues with Chile a year later.

Peru’s political development in the 20th century was characterised by parties reflecting the oligarchical elements of Peruvian society and organised labour. A military coup in 1948 saw a lasting period of dictatorship where elections were staged between populist parties favoured by the military, with widespread corruption and human rights abuses. The military assumed outright control in 1968, with a resumption of democracy in 1979 following the creation of a constitutional assembly led by Victor Raul Haya de la Toya to frame a civilian constitution.

The civilian government of Fernando Beluande Terry, the president deposed and exiled by the military in 1968, lifted controls on the press placed by the dictatorship and ended its agrarian reforms. However, the emerging alliance between drugs cartels and Maoist guerrilla movements such as the Shining Path saw Beluande’s popularity decrease. In 1985, Alan Garcia was elected president on behalf of the leftist Popular Revolutionary Alliance founded by the late Victor Raul Haya de la Toya. Unfortunately Garcia’s five year presidency was associated with hyperinflation and numerous massacres committed by the military against those suspected of involvement with the Shining Path.

Garcia was replaced as president in 1990 by Alberto Fujimori, an academic of Japanese parentage who had contested the election on behalf of the Cambio 90 movement, beating the writer Mario Vargas Llosa. Fujimori stunned Peruvians and the outside world in 1992 with a coup against his own government, suspending the congress and exiling opponents, including Alan Garcia. However, the move was largely welcomed by disenchanted voters and after a failed military coup Fujimori was re-elected president in 1995, beating former UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar.

After seeking a third term as president, Fujimori was declared winner of the 2000 presidential election, though these were slammed as fraudulent. In the wake of the resulting political crisis, Fujimori submitted his resignation by fax from Tokyo while on an overseas trip, then receiving fast-tracked Japanese citizenship and avoiding impeachment.

Since his resignation, a number of human rights abuses by the Fujimori regime have emerged, including the mass sterilisation of 200,000 indigenous people. In spite of efforts to prosecute him, Fujimori emerged from self-exile in Japan to attempt to contest the 2006 presidential election, citing massive support from Peruvians for his candidacy, but was detained in Santiago, Chile, where he remains in detention awaiting possible deportation to Peru. Fujimori’s successor, congressional president Valentin Paniagua, served out the remainder of Fujimori’s term before fresh elections could be held in 2001, which were won by Alejandro Toledo of the Peru Possible party against Alan Garcia.

Since the reforms of 2002, Peru has been divided into 25 regions (regiones). Prior to this, it was divided into 24 departments (departmentos) but in 2002 two new regions were created to separate the cities of Lima and Callao. An attempt by Alan Garcia to refashion sub-national administration into 12 regions during the 1980s foundered due to the resistance of these two cities and their departmental areas.  In 2006 Alan Garcia won his second term as Peruvian president, securing victory in the second round against leftist nationalist Ollanta Humala (who led an aborted coup against the Fujimori regime in 2000).

The 25 regions are subdivided into 180 provinces (provincias) and these are further subdivided into 1747 districts (distritos), each with an elected mayor and council. The capital Lima has its own free-standing province of Metropolitan Lima, which is run by the Metropolitan Lima Municipal Council (Municipalidad Metropolitana de Lima) and an elected mayor, currently Luis Castaneda Lossio of the National Unity Party (elected 2002, four year term). The province also has 43 districts (30 in the centre and 13 in rural and coastal resort areas), each with their own elected mayor and council.

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