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Volume 59 / Social Sciences


DAVID SCOTT PALMER, Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Chair, Department of Political Science, Boston University.

PERU'S POLITICAL SYSTEM, having overcome an array of problems that brought the country to the verge of collapse in the early 1990s (item #bi 00005755#), gradually succumbed to the very different but equally insidious challenge of growing authoritarianism (item #bi 00002619#). Even though democratic institutions were retained, the second term of President Alberto Fujimori (1995–2000) involved the progressive abuse of these institutions to construct a polity characterized by intimidation and harassment of oppositions, arbitrary actions, controlled media, and electoral mechanisms subject to official manipulation (items #bi 00005762# and #bi 00005756#).

At the same time, there were positive developments, including the restoration of peace and the cessation of guerrilla activity as a significant problem. Annual inflation dropped to single-digit levels. Government programs filled many long-abandoned spaces and brought about reductions in extreme poverty (item #bi 00005764#). A number of privatizations contributed to economic growth. International financial institutions made major contributions in support of the reconstruction of Peru's infrastructure in the aftermath of its destruction, first by guerrillas and then by El Niño. The country reached a definitive peace accord with Ecuador in the longest-running border dispute in the Americas. And a law introducing quotas ensured greater participation by women in electoral politics (item #bi 00005769#).

After the brief spike in popular support in the aftermath of the successful resolution of the MRTA hostage crisis in April 1997 (items #bi 00005757#, #bi 00005805#, and #bi 00005808#), Fujimori's public approval levels, which were for years above 50 percent, began to erode. Many citizens were increasingly concerned about rising authoritarian practices; Fujimori's determination to run, unconstitutionally, for a third successive term; and the stubborn persistence of high poverty levels (item #bi 00005761#). Disapproval turned to protest, both domestic and international, in the course of a 2000 election process increasingly seen as grossly manipulated to ensure Fujimori's re-election (item #bi 00003560#).

In mid-September 2000, however, when a leaked videotape proved that the government was buying off opposition legislators, protest turned to generalized outrage. Within weeks, the opposition had regained control of congress, Fujimori had sought refuge in Japan, congress had vacated the presidency for "moral incapacity," and the office passed on an interim basis to the new opposition head of congress, Valentín Paniagua. The early initiatives of the new government through the end of the year 2000 suggest its determination to redress the authoritarian and corrupt excesses of its predecessor and restore a more open and pluralist democracy in Peru.

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