Bouncing back from political instability and hyperinflation in the 1970s and 1980s, Peru has sustained average GDP growth above 6% since 2004. A major metals and minerals exporter, Peru’s growth has been fuelled in large part by high commodity prices and stable demand from China. This has allowed the country to become an important world player in copper, gold and silver, and a rapidly growing producer of zinc and lead.
The expanding agriculture, fisheries and industry sectors are other pillars of the economy. Agriculture has seen significant development over the past few years due to the high productivity of the flat coastline and the rapid expansion of irrigated land, enabling Peru to become an important exporter of a select few vegetables and fruits. The coastal climate, which allows it to have production year-round of otherwise seasonal products, gives Peru a competitive edge, while the country’s marine biodiversity has placed it among the largest fishmeal and fish oil producers.
Diversification efforts on the part of the government should see the economy become more diversified in the coming years. The government’s recently unveiled National Diversification Plan, announced in October 2014, aims to lessen dependence on the extractive industries while strengthening key sectors such as agriculture and education. Economic growth has also been driven by Peru’s policies of trade openness. Today Peru has free trade agreements with some of the world’s biggest players such as China, the US, the EU and the Andean Community, and is an active member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Pacific Alliance, granting it access to a market of roughly 2.5bn people.
Sustained growth has allowed for the development of several urban centres such as Lima, Arequipa, Trujillo and Cusco, while at the same time reducing poverty in rural areas from 59% to 24% in the past decade.
As stated by article 43 of the Constitution of 1994, “The Republic of Peru is democratic, social, independent and sovereign.” As a constitutional republic, the Peruvian political system is composed of an executive, legislative and judicial branch. The president is the head of government and is elected for a five-year term. Though presidents can be reelected, they cannot serve consecutive terms. The incumbent president, Ollanta Humala, was elected in July 2011 and the next elections will be held in 2016. The Congress of the Republic of Peru exerts legislative power, with 130 members elected for five-year terms.
Following a decentralisation process initiated in 2002 and aimed at reducing dependence on the capital Lima, Peru is divided into 24 regions and one independent province of El Callao. Regional presidents are elected for four-year terms and there is no limit as to the number of consecutive re-elections. Regional elections were held in October 2014 with 14 needing to go to a second round in December 2014. The country is also divided into 195 provinces and 1643 districts.
Peru is located on the western part of South America and borders Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Chile and Bolivia. With a surface of 1.29m sq km and 2414 km of coastline, Peru is the third-largest country in South America. It can be divided into three separate geographical areas: the desert fringe running along the coast is referred to as costa, the Andes Mountains and its outskirts are known as sierra and the tropical rainforest, part of the Amazon, is called selva.
The existing differences among the three geographical areas account for Peru having 28 of the 32 existing climates in the world, from the tropically humid downpours year-round in the jungle to the dry and warm weather on the coast, passing through the cold highlands. Lima boasts a stable temperature with minimums rarely dropping below 12°C and highs around 29°C. The year is divided into two seasons: winter, extending from April to December and characterised by grey skies from the ocean mist, and summer, from mid-December to late March with clear skies and higher temperatures. Cusco, home to Machu Picchu and the most touristic city in the country, has a colder climate due to its higher altitude (3399 metres). However, during the day temperatures are usually around 20°C.
As of June 2014, Peru’s population stood at 30.81m, according to estimates by the National Institute of Statistics and Information (Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informática, INEI) – an increase of 2.6m since 2007 – making Peru the fourth-most-populous country in South America after Brazil, Colombia and Argentina. Lima remains the country’s most populated region with 8.75m inhabitants, representing roughly 28.4% of the total population.
Even though the official language is Spanish, which is spoken by more than 80% of the population, studies suggest that there are anywhere from 43 to 60 different indigenous dialects spoken today, from an estimated 300 historically. The most important ones are Quechua (spoken by 13% of the population) and Aymara (1.8%), both of which are co-official languages in the regions where they predominate.
While the government does not endorse an official religion, the constitution “recognises the Catholic Church as an important element of the historical, cultural and moral formation of Peru”. According to a WIN/Gallup International study, 86% of Peru’s inhabitants follow one of various religions, with Catholicism being the most significant at 80%. This makes Peru the world’s ninth-most-religious country.
There are small communities belonging to other faiths, which include other Protestant denominations, Judaism, Islam, and syncretic and Amerindian religions, amongst others. The constitution guarantees freedom of religious opinion and practice, which the government reinforces at various levels. The country has several important religious events, such as the festival of Corpus Christi, which is celebrated 60 days after Easter Sunday, and the Lord of the Miracles month in October, both involving statue-bearing processions.
Culture & Heritage
Home to the Incas, one of the greatest civilisations of all time, and Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Peru boasts a rich cultural and archaeological heritage that is still being studied and discovered today.
Peruvian culture is mainly rooted in Native American – specifically Incan – origins combined with Spanish influences, though a number of African, Asian and other European cultures have left their mark as well. In a 2006 survey by the INEI, Peruvians self-identified as 59.5% of mixed Amerindian and European ancestry, 22.7% Quechua, 2.7% Aymara, 1.8% Amazonian, 1.6% black, 4.9% white and 6.7% “other”.
The country boasts a wide range of arts and crafts, and a thriving handicraft and textile export industry. Traditional products include wooden carvings, pottery, sculpture and jewellery, much of which is influenced by the country’s Incan heritage, featuring complex Amerindian geometric designs. Among most Peruvians, especially younger people, Western-style clothing is popular and business people are expected to wear suits. However, in rural areas many indigenous people such as Quechua Peruvians wear traditional outfits or a mixture of indigenous and Western clothing. Traditional items include the hand-woven poncho worn by men; knitted caps with earflaps, known as chullo; and pollera, multi-layered woollen skirts or petticoats.
There are numerous traditional Peruvian dances. The best known is the courtship dance, the marinera, which is predominantly performed on the coast and has numerous variations. Other notable dances include alcatrazand the festejo, which originated in African slave communities and can take the form of competitions, and the huayno of the Andean highlands, which originates from the Inca civilisation. Dancing is often accompanied by traditional Peruvian music. This includes both Andean music played on a variety of local instruments and Afro-Peruvian music, which has its roots in African slave communities that arrived during the colonial era.
Football is very popular in Peru, as is bullfighting, with fights predominantly taking place on Sundays and public holidays. The most famous bullring is the 14, 000-capacity Plaza de Acho in the Rímac district of Lima – the third oldest in the world, dating back to 1766.
Though production has decreased in the past few months, Peru remains a major mineral producer. Historically focused on gold, silver and copper, which account for 77% of all mining exports, the country is rapidly growing as a lead, zinc, molybdenum and bismuth exporter.
According to the National Mining and Energy Society, mining exports exceeded $23bn in 2013, having decreased by 12.5% from 2012. Copper exports amounted to $9.8bn, while gold, zinc and silver accounted for $7.8bn, $1.4bn and $479m, respectively. With daily production at about 67,000 barrels, Peru is a net oil importer. The expansion of the Pampilla and Talara refineries has increased its refining capacity and the government is focused on promoting exploration and extraction, especially in the jungle areas. Since the completion of the Camisea Gas Project, Peru has become a major producer of liquefied natural gas, and with the new Sur Peruano pipeline project will have the potential to export gas to neighbouring countries such as Chile and Brazil.
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