Ancient Peru was the centre of the Inca Empire, whose power and influence peaked between 1400 and 1533 CE. The empire’s religious and administrative centre, Cusco, is adjacent to the now world-renowned Machu Picchu archaeological site. The arrival of Spanish conquerors in 1532 marked the beginning of the end for the Inca Empire and the start of nearly three centuries of Spanish colonial rule. Following a successful independence war against the Spanish Crown led by José de San Martín – one of Peru’s most prominent historical figures – the country declared independence in 1821.
Until the 1980s, modern Peru’s political history saw chequered periods of political instability and violence interspersed with promising years of economic growth and stable governance. The election of Alan García of the centre-left American Revolutionary Popular Alliance to the presidency in 1985 marked the country’s first peaceful government transition in 40 years. However, García’s period in office was marked by economic hardship, the rise of guerrilla warfare and armed violence against the state. This lasted until the mid-1990s, with the election of Alberto Fujimori, whose free market reforms stabilised the economy and brought a period of growth and greater political stability, which continues to this day, although issues relating to government corruption have once again resurfaced.
Peru is a democratic constitutional republic with a presidential-parliamentary hybrid multi-party system. The executive branch is led by the president who serves as head of government and head of state; the president appoints a prime minister to lead parliament. The president is elected through popular vote for a five-year term and can run for re-election, although consecutive terms are not allowed. President Martín Vizcarra Cornejo took office in March 2018 after former president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, was forced to resign less than two years into his term amid a high-level corruption scandal. In April 2016 Kuczynski won a runoff presidential vote by the narrowest margin in the country’s recent political history with 50.1% of the popular vote. President Vizcarra, who previously served as Kuczynski’s deputy, will remain in office until 2021 unless elections are brought forward.
The government’s legislative branch is composed of a unicameral Congress made up of 130 members. Legislators are directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by closed party-list proportional representation to serve five-year terms that coincide with the president’s. As of June 2018, the Popular Force (Fuerza Popular) opposition party held 47.6% of seats, down from the 56.2% majority it won in the 2016 elections; Kuczynski’s party, Peruvians for Change (Peruanos por el Kambio) held 10.7%; and New Peru (Nuevo Perú) held 7.7%. Remaining seats were distributed among smaller parties and unaffiliated legislators. At the top of the judicial branch is the Supreme Court of Justice, which comprises nine courts and 16 judges divided into civil, criminal and constitutional-social sectors.
Since 2002 Peru has undergone an extensive process of decentralisation, aimed at transferring political, economic and administrative decision-making, as well as resources, to the regions for more efficient governance over local matters. The country is divided into 25 administrative regions, commonly known as departments (departamentos). Departmental governors are elected for four-year terms and are allowed to run for re-election, although they cannot serve consecutive terms. Regional government elections were last held in October 2014, and the next set of elections is scheduled for October 2018.
According to the National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informática, INEI), Peru’s population sat at just over 31.2m in 2017, making it the fourth most populous country in South America behind Brazil, Colombia and Argentina. With population growth estimated at 1% in 2017, the population is expected to reach 32.8m by 2020, according to the latest census data provided by INEI. Approximately 77% of the population live in urban areas, primarily along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The Lima metropolitan area accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s entire population, with around 8.6m inhabitants in 2017. Arequipa and Trujillo, two other large coastal cities, have 1m residents each.
Located on the western coast of South America, Peru is the third-largest country on the continent by surface area, spanning nearly 1.29m sq km and with 3080 km of Pacific Ocean coastline as its western border. The country is commonly divided into three distinctive geographic areas: the west’s narrow coastal strip of arid plains and deserts, which includes Lima; the central Andes steppe area; and the tropical rainforest to the east. Peru shares land borders with Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. The latter also shares control of Lake Titicaca, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, with Peru. On the north-eastern border region with Brazil and Colombia, the country is criss-crossed by rivers which constitute part of the Amazon River basin.
The country’s diverse landscape gives rise to varied and mixed climates. The eastern lowlands, mostly covered by dense rainforest, are characterised by a hot and humid equatorial climate with heavy rainfall throughout most of the year. By contrast, the mountainous highlands of the Andes are characterised by lower temperatures with rainy summers and dry winters. Meanwhile, the coastal plains and deserts are warm and arid, with a subtropical climate and very little rainfall. Lima has a mild climate with two distinct seasons: winter, which lasts from June to October and summer, which extends from December to April, with May and November typically serving as transition months. In the capital, temperatures range between a low of 12°C and a high of 29°C throughout the year, though humidity is high, owing to Lima’s coastal location. Rainfall is highest during the winter months of July to September, with an average of 8 mm per day, while precipitation levels drop close to zero between December and April.
Spanish, which is spoken by 84% of the population, is Peru’s official language and the predominant language used in government, business, media and education. The country’s constitution recognises other indigenous languages, including Quechua and Aymara – spoken by 13% and 1.7% of the population, respectively – as official languages in areas where they predominate. Although approximately 300 languages existed in the country’s past, only 47 indigenous dialects are now spoken, mostly in the country’s Andean and jungle areas. English is increasingly used within the business community, and there are ongoing government programmes to improve English proficiency in schools.
While the government does not endorse an official religion and guarantees freedom of religious opinion and expression, Peru’s constitution recognises the historical, cultural and moral importance of the Catholic Church. According to the most recent census from 2017, the vast majority of Peruvians are Catholic (around 75%), followed by Evangelical Protestants (14%) and other faiths (5%), while approximately 6% of the population are agnostic or atheist. The country is also home to small communities of other faiths, including other Protestant denominations, Judaism, Islam and syncretic and Amerindian religions, among others. There are a number of prominent annual religious celebrations, including Semana Santa (Holy Week), celebrated the week before Easter, and the Señor de los Milagros (Lord of the Miracles) month in October.
Culture & Heritage
Peruvian culture is mainly rooted in indigenous – mostly Incan – and Spanish cultures, although African, Asian and other European immigrant communities have also left their mark. According to a 2017 INEI survey, 56% of Peruvians self-identified as mestizos (mixed Amerindian and Spanish ancestry), with smaller percentages identifying as Quechua (22%), black or of African descent (7%), white (6%), Amazonian or indigenous (2%) or Aymara (2%). The country boasts a rich cultural and archaeological heritage centred around sites such as Machu Picchu, as well as Nazca in the south of the country. Peru’s cuisine is also increasingly garnering global recognition, offering a mix of seafood dishes and delicacies such as cuy (guinea pig).
Peru’s economy reflects its varied topography, with its three main geographical regions largely divided into distinct economic sectors. The Peruvian Andes region contains some of the largest mineral deposits in the world, and Peru is a major global minerals and metals producer. According to the Peruvian Ministry of Energy and Mines, the country has the largest reserves of silver in the world, and the largest reserves of gold, lead and zinc in Latin America.
In 2017 Peru produced 2.4m tonnes of copper (a record high) and 4303 tonnes of silver, while gold production reached 151.1 tonnes. The tropical Amazonian region contains a considerable amount of oil and gas deposits as well as forestry resources, while the coastal region holds rich maritime resources, including fishing and trade, and a growing export-oriented agro-industry.
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