A recent attempted coup has rocked Peru. Former president Pedro Castillo dissolved congress and attempted to install a “Government of Exception” in the early hours of December 7th 2022. After this announcement the majority of his cabinet resigned and he was later arrested facing charges of rebellion.
Peru is not known for reliability and straightforward politics, in 2011, then president Alan Garcia committed suicide in the face of multiple corruption scandals. This being the most significant outcome, corruption and instability have rocked the Latin American country since its foundation (1). This post will be focusing on how the pervasiveness of nepotism and corruption hinder the consolidation of democracy in Peru.
It can be said that Peru was part of the third wave of democracy as defined by Samuel Huntington, identifying an increase in democracy in eastern Europe and Latin America between the 1970s and the 1990s. After two decades of military rule, Peru finally returned to civilian rule in 1980 where the country experienced universal and obligatory suffrage. Presidential and parliamentary elections were taken every 5 years which led to hope that the country was on the road to a successful democratic consolidation. These hopes, unfortunately, were short lived.
In 2016 the U.S. Department of Justice found the Brazilian companies of Odebrecht S.A. and Braskem S.A. guilty on charges of bribing officials of 12 countries. The case known as “Operation Car Wash” saw an estimated US$29 million paid to three different Peruvian government administrations between 2005 and 2014. However sources believe that the Fujimero administration was also taking bribes from the companies as early as the 1980s. The case showed top government officials favouring and helping Brazilian companies to install and construct various projects around the country in exchange for large amounts of cash. While the imprisonment of many officials may be considered a win for anti-corruption schemes, there are still obstructions to the rule of law when Keiko Fujimori, the former president’s daughter, obstructs any attempts to investigate corruption under her father’s government.
This recent scandal may be a reason for a 2018 survey finding that Peruvians rank corruption as one of their greatest concerns for their country. But this was in no way the first large scandal to have rocked the Peruvian political arena. Peruvian history professor Alfonso W. Quiroz traces corruption and abuses of power back to the foundation of Peru during the colonial reforms in the 1750s. It was not uncommon during those times that wealthy citizens would make private contracts with the Spanish Crown to attain higher public posts with more control. It was clear then that there was no meritocracy in place and that the access to wealth meant one could have greater influence on public influence.
Corruption and nepotism are undeniably unethical. Rewards are given to those who do not deserve it, and those in power stop prioritising their citizen’s well being. How have these processes hindered Peru’s democracy?
Civilians lose trust in their government which leads to low democratic participation. This can be seen in Peru by the low levels of participation in civil society organisations (less than 30%), and having a lower voter turnout rate compared to the regional average.
Corruption and nepotism undermine the rule of law. Former president Alejandro Toledo used his presidency to appoint a number of his relatives and associates to important positions in the government, such as appointing his wife as the country’s First Lady. When such decisions are made rulers attack horizontal accountability by placing people who would not contradict them as those who should hold them accountable for undemocratic and unethical decisions.
As seen in the Car Wash Operation corruption leads to misallocation of resources. Peruvian presidents ruling throughout the three decades chose to prioritise projects which would benefit their personal riches over their country’s. This could in part explain the grave economic mismanagement between 1985 and 1990 which led to cumulative hyperinflation of 2,200,200%.
While Peruvian elections are considered to be free and fair, corruption leads to there being a large turnaround in the presidential role. In 2018 after then president Kuczynski was ousted after two years on charges of corruption, his Vice President (for whom the population had not voted for) came into office and was ousted two years later for abuse of power. By ousting a leader, the government places another person on the job that was not voted in by the population. A fast succession of presidents also leads to political instability and lack of continuity as new institutions implement different legislations, and long term challenges can be hard to fix.
It is clear that Peru has had a long term problem of people in power prioritising their personal wishes instead of public well being. While some attempts are being made to stifle corruption, it is seemingly obvious that it has a way of infiltrating its way in all levels of the Peruvian government. The recent attempted coup serves as a way of reminding the population that when given such power, leaders have a tendency to crave more authority and ignore the rule of law.
Carrión, Julio, et al. “Democratic Participation in Peru.” Instituto De Estudios Peruanos, United States Agency for International Development USAID/ Peru, May 1999.
Cobian, Rolando Ames, et al. “Democracy Report for Peru.” International IDEA, SE-10334, International IDEA, 1999, www.idea.int/data-tools/tools/state-democracy-assessments/assessments-worldwide/peru.
Dunham, Jennifer. “In Peru, Journalist Gustavo Gorriti, Other Media Blamed for Ex-president’s Suicide.” Committee to Protect Journalists, 23 Apr. 2019, cpj.org/2019/04/in-peru-journalist-gustavo-gorriti-other-media-bla.
Freedom House. “Peru.” Freedom House, freedomhouse.org/country/peru/freedom-world/2022.
Quiroz, Alfonso. Corrupt Circles: A History of Unbound Graft in Peru. Johns Hopkins UP, 2008.
Sanborn, Cynthia, et al. “DEMOCRACY AND GOVERNANCE IN PERU: AN ASSESSMENT.” Management Systems International (MSI), Jan. 2000.