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Map of Peru.

Peru is a country on the western side of South America. It has a long history, being home to various Pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Incas before the Spanish invaded and conquered it in the 16th century. Since independence in 1824, it has seen a variety of governments, a lot of military coups, and a few wars, as well as the Shining Path Maoist insurgency.

It is the 3rd largest country in South America and its northernmost point is fractionally south of the equator. It is known for its wide range of habitats including coastal plains, high mountains, and part of the Amazon Rainforest, and is home to many animals, although notably not Paddington BearWikipedia.


Mysterious ancient civilisations[edit]

It was home for thousands of years to various native cultures who irrigated and terraced the land for agriculture and also domesticated camelids; one of these groups constructed the mysterious Nazca lines in the desert in southern Peru, probably not to communicate with UFOs (at least not successfully).

Incan empire[edit]

The most famous of its pre-Columbian cultures was the Incan empire, which suddenly rose to prominence in the 15th century with its capital at Cusco in southeast Peru. Incan territories extended from southern Colombia to the northern part of Chile. Its de-facto official language Quechua is still widely spoken in the area, spoken by more than 10% of the population in 2017.[1]

The Incans also built the famous now-ruined city of Machu Picchu, a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the WorldWikipedia. There are various myths about Machu Picchu, including the claim that it was built by aliens; that it was connected to Cusco 80 km away by secret underground tunnels; and that it was once built of gold (nope, stone with straw roofs).[2] There are also various legends about a "lost city of the Incas" to which they fled after the initial Spanish invasion, doubtless taking unparalleled treasure; this new capital was not Machu Picchu but probably Vilcabamba, 80 km west.[3]

Legends of lost gold were a major part of the Spanish conquest, and further myths surround Atahualpa, the Incan leader (one of two at the time of civil war) who was captured by Pissarro. He was ransomed for "a roomful of gold", but the Spanish then killed him anyway, and the gold was supposedly hidden or buried. There have been many subsequent attempts to find this gold, although the general opinion is that it's not there.[4]

On a less great note, the Inca also routinely carried out capacochaWikipedia, otherwise known as sacrificing children. They also treated any insult to the ruler, real or perceived, with a perfectly measured and sanguine response; their preferred method was throwing people off cliffs.[5]


Legend has it that Peru and the Incan empire were conquered by Francisco Pizarro at the head of an army of 168 Spanish soldiers; however they had a lot of native help, and were further assisted by a civil war waging in the Incan empire and by all the lovely European diseases they inadvertently brought over with them. First contact was in 1526, with the Incan empire coming to a definitive end in 1572 with the execution of its last emperor, Túpac Amaru (the rapper Tupac Amaru Shakur was named after an 18th century indigenous insurgent, Túpac Amaru II, who led a failed resistance against Spanish rule and took the last emperor's name[6]).

The Spanish brought their language and religion, as well as the inevitable Spanish Inquisition, and did their best to stop the natives doing anything traditional.


Peru was more loyal to the Spanish crown than much of South America, but achieved independence along with Bolivia (then known as Alto Peru) in 1824. There was a period of instability at first but it soon achieved some wealth by the sale of birdshit (guano), then popular in the chemicals industry.

The War of the Pacific lasted 1879-84, with Peru and Bolivia losing to Chile and a small amount of Peruvian territory ceded to the victors.

Some coups, some more wars[edit]

Augusto Bernardino Leguía y Salcedo was president from 1908 to 1912 and then more decisively from 1919 to 1930, when after coming to power in a coup he passed lots of nice-sounding democratic laws but effectively ruled as a dictator.

Peru stayed out of World War One and World War Two but fought a war with Colombia from 1932-33 and a short war with Ecuador in 1941. Many of these wars were as a result of border disputes over small areas of territory, with the location of a couple of watch towers or border posts enough to spur a conflict.

A former war hero, General Manuel Arturo Odría Amoretti seized power in 1948, combining populism with dictatorship. He decided to hold an election in 1956 and was succeeded by Manuel Prado; Odría nearly won re-election in 1962 but another military coup halted the polls.[7]

Another coup in 1968 put General Juan Velasco Alvarado in power, who was actually quite progressive, embarking on a program of nationalization and the replacement of privately-owned farms with cooperatives. He also proved very unpopular with the US for seizing oil company assets. Velasco was deposed in turn in 1975 by his prime minister, General Francisco Morales Bermúdez.[8] Morales rolled back many of Velasco's economic reforms and reversed nationalizations, but did organise elections in 1980. He is widely suspected of involvement in Operation CondorWikipedia, a US government program to get rid of left-wing leaders in South America and make the region safe for capitalism.[9]

There was another small war with Ecuador in 1981. At the same time, economic woes and the Shining Path insurgency meant the country was a mess.

Alberto Fujimori[edit]

Alberto Fujimori was elected president in 1990 (defeating the famous writer and neoliberal politician Mario Vargas Llosa) and Peruvian politics reached new heights in 1992 when Fujimori successfully staged a coup against his own government, assuming greater control and rewriting the constitution. The war against Shining Path and other insurgents was increasingly bloody, with atrocities on both sides, and an estimated 69,000 casualties attributed to him.[10] In 1995 there was another small war against Ecuador. 1996-97 saw more strong-arm tactics as he sent in commandos to end a four-month siege by Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement at the Japanese embassy.[10]

Fujimori resigned in 2000 and fled to Japan (his family's ancestral home) to avoid criminal charges, but was arrested on a visit to Chile in 2005, extradited, and tried and convicted for crimes including running death squads in the civil war, kidnapping a journalist, and corruption.[10]

Operation Car Wash[edit]

Other figures of 21st century Peru included Alan García who was president from 1985 to 1990 and again 2006 to 2011, and who later killed himself to prevent his arrest for corruption. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was elected president in 2016 and resigned in 2018 over his role in money laundering and corruption. Both were fingered by Operation Car Wash, a massive corruption investigation that centered on Brazil but spread through much of South America.[11][12][13][14]

Moral incapacity[edit]

More shenanigans in November 2020, when President Martín Vizcarra was impeached for "moral incapacity" (a vague 19th century term still in the constitution) after he allegedly attempted to interfere in a corruption investigation; this was viewed as a coup by many and led to public protests. He was replaced by the far-rightist Manuel Merino according to the presidential line of succession, but following the death of two protestors Merino resigned after just 5 days and was replaced by Francisco Sagasti.[15][16]

2021 presidential election and constitutional crisis[edit]

The 2021 presidential election went to a run-off between left-winger Pedro Castillo (Free Peru party) and Keiko Fujimori (Popular Force), daughter of the disgraced human rights abuser Alberto Fujimori. The result was very close, with Castillo winning by 50.17% to 49.83%. The election was judged free and fair by observers, but Fujimori took a page from the Donald Trump book of How To Be A Dictator, alleging electoral fraud without any evidence. The army stated they would respect the election result, but with Castillo promising a program of nationalisation and support for the rural poor, the wealthy and corrupt both at home and abroad seemed reluctant to accept the result.[17]

Castillo wanted to replace the Fujimori-era constitution, but this was very difficult for him. One of the stupid features of the Peruvian constitution is that it allows Congress to impeach the President only because of "moral incapacity", which can basically mean whatever Congress wants it to mean because the scope of the term is not defined in the constitution, nor even any less broad law. The Congress had attempted to impeach Castillo twice, only backing off because Castillo essentially promised to move rightward.[18] However, when Congress made a third attempt to impeach Castillo for spurious reasons, he had essentially had enough and attempted to dissolve Congress so that new elections could be held and the Fujimori-era constitution could be replaced. The Peruvian constitution only allows the President to dissolve Congress in very limited circumstances, so unsurprisingly, Castillo was impeached and removed from office and was charged with "rebellion".[19] Castillo's self-coup attemptWikipedia was ironically compared with Fujimori's own self-coup.[20][21][22]

Following Castillo's self-coup attempt, protests have escalated quickly, with demonstrators kidnapping and injuring police officers, burning courthouses and prosecutors’ offices, and attacking journalists and ambulances attempting to circumvent roadblocks, with the police responding brutally, even firing live rounds during nonviolent protests. As of January 20, 2023, at least 50 people died, including minors.[23]


For reference, the presidents since 1950 are listed here:


Peru is a semi-presidential republic, with a directly-elected president who acts as both head of state and head of government. Elections to the Presidency and unicameral National Congress are held every 5 years in April, most recently in 2021. The president is elected in a two-round vote where if no candidate polls 50% in the first round, there is a run-off between the highest two, normally held in June. In 2021, it went to a run-off between Castillo (Free Peru) and Keiko Fujimori (Popular Force), which Castillo won.[25]

There are a number of political parties, mostly economically liberal and right-wing or centre-right, while some presidents including Vizcarra stood as independents. There has been considerable upheaval in the party system since 2000, with Fujimori's right-wing Popular Force probably the most consistent, despite a number of near misses at the presidency in recent years.


  • Alliance for Progress - moderately successful right-wing party, a member of the Alliance for the Great Change which supported Kuczynski in 2016, and getting 7.6% of the congressional vote in 2021.[26]
  • Christian People's Party - a center-right party.
  • Contigo - a right-wing party largely made up of members of the former Peruvians for Change which was led by then-president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (who was elected for the Alliance for the Great Change coalition in 2016), and closely linked with his successor, the formally party-independent Martín Vizcarra (president 2018-20).[27]
  • Go on Country – Social Integration Party - minor center-right party chiefly notable as the vehicle for economist Hernando de SotoWikipedia's failed presidential bid in 2021.
  • Popular Action - a center-right party which was founded by president Fernando Belaúnde Terry in 1956.[28] In the late 1980s it was a member of the Democratic Front (FREDEMO) coalition which backed the presidential candidacy of Mario Vargas Llosa. It won the most seats in the 2020 parliamentary election.
  • Podemos Perú - A conservative party founded in 2018.
  • Popular Force (formerly Force 2011) - populist, right-wing party closely linked with Alberto Fujimori, currently led by his daughter Keiko Fujimori. It won the most congressional seats in the 2016 general election, and Keiko was narrowly beaten by Kuczynski to the presidency. Its seat count fell in 2020 and 2021, but Keiko again reached the run-off in the 2021 presidential poll.[29]
  • Popular Renewal (formerly National Solidarity Party) - another new party, founded in 2020.[30]


  • Purple Party - uniting red and blue.[31]


  • Broad Front - a leftist and progressive coalition; in the 2016 parliamentary election it won the third-most votes and the second largest number of seats, but it plummeted in popularity in 2020.[32][33]
  • Free Peru (formerly Libertarian Peru) - self-described as Marxist-Leninist and in the tradition of early-20th century writer José Carlos MariáteguiWikipedia. First constituted as a party in 2016, it has rapidly increased in popularity, and Pedro Castillo stood for the party in the 2021 presidential election, reaching the run-off, and then winning.[34]
  • Peruvian Aprista Alliance (formerly the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance or APRA) - a left-wing party that later moved in a centrist direction; its leading figures included the late president Alan García. It has been a member of the Popular Alliance coalition.

Off the scale[edit]

  • Agricultural People's Front of Peru (Frepap) - a Christian-theocratic and agrarian party associated with the millenarian Christian sect the Evangelical Association of the Israelite Mission of the New Universal CovenantWikipedia (AEMINPU, commonly known as the Israelites). Their practices include segregation of the sexes, animal sacrifice, and frequent use of the coca leaf. Its founder Ezequiel Ataucusi Gamonal was a former Roman Catholic and Seventh-day Adventist (he was kicked out of the latter for declaring himself a prophet), who attempted to found a new Israel in the rain forest of Peru; however he has been accused of sexually abusing underage girls.[35] After years of insignificance following the death of its founder in 2000 (he was placed in a glass coffin in expectation of his imminent resurrection), the party experienced a revival in the 2020 elections. They promised to tackle corruption and end immunity for members of Congress, but members expressed very anti-LGBT beliefs. Leading figure Wilmer Cayllahua said in 2020 that LGBT+ people have "evil embedded in their hearts and their blood".[36]


Roman Catholicism is the most common religion, with about 60% of the population claiming to believe, although it has absorbed some syncretic elements from earlier religious traditions.[37]

Human rights[edit]

Peru is slightly more pleasant now since the insurgencies of the late 20th century have largely ended, and there is less repression as a consequence. However there has been very little effort to investigate human rights abuses from that era, and there are still issues around violence by police towards protesters, threats to freedom of speech, and violence against women.[38]


  1. See the Wikipedia article on Languages of Peru.
  2. The 10 Biggest Machu Picchu Myths, Adios Adventure Travel
  3. Discover 10 secrets of Machu Picchu, National Geographic, Nov 6, 2018
  4. Lost Inca Gold, James Owens, National Geographic
  6. The Inca Ruler And Peruvian Revolutionary Who Inspired 2Pac's Persona, Cultura Collectiva, September 13, 2018
  7. See the Wikipedia article on Manuel A. Odría.
  8. Juan Velasco Alvarado, Encyclopedia Britannica
  9. Francisco Morales Bermúdez, Encyclopedia Britannica
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Alberto Fujimori profile: Deeply divisive Peruvian leader, BBC News, Feb 20, 2018
  11. Alan García: former Peru president dies after shooting himself before arrest, The Guardian, Apr 17, 2019
  12. See the Wikipedia article on Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
  13. Operation Car Wash: Is this the biggest corruption scandal in history? , The Guardian, Jun 1, 2017
  14. See the Wikipedia article on Operation Car Wash.
  15. Peru’s Martin Vizcarra faces impeachment for ‘moral incapacity’, Al-Jazeera, Sep 12, 2020
  16. Peru’s interim president Merino resigns after deadly protest, Al-Jazeera, Nov 15, 2020.
  17. Peru on edge as electoral board reviews result of disputed presidential election, The Guardian, June 11 2021
  18. Peru Congress to make third attempt to impeach president, France 24 7 December 2022
  19. Peru's impeached president Castillo appears in court on rebellion charges, France 24 8 December 2022
  20. Taj, Mitra (2022-12-07). "Peru’s President Tried to Dissolve Congress. By Day’s End, He Was Arrested." (in en-US). The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. 
  21. Santaeulalia, Juan Diego Quesada, Inés (2022-12-08). "The 180 minutes that made Peru tremble" (in en-us). 
  22. "Peru plunges into political crisis as president ousted". Financial Times. 2022-12-08. 
  23. "Peru’s Democratic Dysfunction" (in en-US). Foreign Affairs. 2023-01-20. 
  24. Peru president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigns amid corruption scandal, The Guardian, 21 Mar 2018
  25. See the Wikipedia article on 2021 Peruvian general election.
  26. See the Wikipedia article on Alliance for Progress (Peru).
  27. See the Wikipedia article on Contigo (political party).
  28. See the Wikipedia article on Popular Action (Peru).
  29. See the Wikipedia article on Popular Force.
  30. See the Wikipedia article on Popular Renewal.
  31. See the Wikipedia article on Purple Party.
  32. See the Wikipedia article on Broad Front (Peru).
  33. See the Wikipedia article on 2016 Peruvian general election.
  34. See the Wikipedia article on Free Peru.
  35. See the Wikipedia article on Evangelical Association of the Israelite Mission of the New Universal Covenant.
  36. Peru: why a fundamentalist sect became an unexpected winner in elections, The Guardian, 30 Jan 2020
  37. Peruvian Culture, SBS (Australia)
  38. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named hrw2021