Peru at the Brink of Civil War? The Uprising of the Dispossessed

By Peter Koenig on June 17, 2021

On July 28, 2021, Peru, with her 33 million inhabitants, celebrates 200 years of Independence. The People of Peru may have chosen this Bicentennial celebration, to bring about a drastic change to their foreign and national oligarchy-run country. In a neck-on-neck national election run-off on 6 June 2021, the socialist Pedro Castillo, a humble primary school professor from rural Cajamarca, a Northern Peruvian Province, rich in mining resources, but also in agricultural land, seems to be winning by a razor thin margin of less than 100,000 votes against the oligarch-supported Keiko Fujimori, daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, currently in prison – or rather house arrest for “ill-health” – for corruption and crimes against humanity during his presidency 1990-2000.

Election results have been considered as fair by the pro-US, pro-capitalist Organization of American States (OAS). The same organization that supported the post-election US-instigated coup against Evo Morales in November 2019. Either they have learned a lesson of ethics, or there were too many international observers watching over OAS’s election observations. Or, as a third option, Washington may have yet a different agenda for this part of their “backyard”.

Keiko Fujimori, before becoming a Presidential candidate, she was under preventive prison arrest, while under investigation into corruption and human rights abuse. She is currently collecting millions from her ruling-class elite supporters and spending her own ill-begotten money to turn the election result around. For Keiko becoming President is not only a question of power, it is also a question of freedom under government immunity, or back to prison, at least until the investigation into her alleged crimes is completed.

All is possible in a country where money buys everything, and may convert clearly and visibly intended cast votes either as invalid or as a vote for the opponent. This is Peru, but to be sure, election fraud happens even in the most sophisticated countries, including in Peru’s North American neighbor, who pretends to run the world.

However, should Keiko Fujimori and her capitalist supporters ‘coerce´ a turn-around of the election results, the country risks a civil war. This is the moment for the vast majority of Peruvians that they have been waiting for – getting their just piece of the very rich pie that is Peru. After two hundred years of an oligarchy-ruled nation, this mostly silent majority truly deserves a break.

Why is Peru so different from Bolivia, Ecuador and even Colombia in how they treat their natives, the so-called indigenous people, the original landowners of their country? The Kingdom of Spain officially created in 1521 (500 years ago) the Kingdom of “New Spain” in what today is Peru. Ever since Peru became the first Spanish Viceroyalty in South America, the white descendants of Spain and other immigrants from the “Old Continent”, had the audacity to discriminate the natives.

Peru, a multi-ethnicities nation¸ is also divided economically and culturally into three distinct geographic areas: The Coastal Region, mostly desertic, but very fertile when irrigated, where 70% of Peru’s agricultural produce is grown; the Highlands of the Andes, the Sierra, where people survive on patch-work agriculture; and the Amazon area that covers about 70% of Peru’s landmass, with only about 5% of the country’s population. They live close to Mother Earth, with strong ties to traditional shamanism.

Education, basic infrastructure but foremost exploitation of Peru’s enormously rich natural resources is all decided by a small elite in Lima, a city of 11 million, of which two thirds live at the edge of poverty or below. The lack of appropriately decentralized education has left the indigenous people at a decisive disadvantage.

The ethnic composition of Peru consists of Amerindians (or purely indigenous people), 45%; mestizo (mixed Amerindian and white), 37%; white 15%; three percent are black, Japanese, Chinese and other

A white immigrant minority rules over 85% of mostly natives and mixed groups. It is high time that Peru gets an indigenous president, paying attention to the real needs and interests of the Peruvian majority. After more than 500 years of a lopsided rule, the 85% are demanding a government of more equilibrium. Pedro Castillo may be their man.

Extreme social injustice and differences between the majority peasant society and a small ruling elite, prompted the birth of a revolutionary movement in 1980, led by Abimael Guzmán, a former professor of philosophy, strongly influenced by Marxism and Maoism. He developed an armed struggle, what became to be known as the “Shining Path” – Spanish, “Sendero Luminoso” – for the empowerment of the disadvantaged indigenous people. Severe acts of terrorism throughout the 1980’s were also detrimental for the peasant population.

The Shining Path emerged just after the country had its first free elections after a 12-year military dictatorship, first by Juan Francisco Velasco Alvarado (1968 – 1975), pursuing what the Peruvians called a Maoist socialism. Velasco organized a disastrous, totally unprepared land reform, nationalized most foreign investments, resulting in massive unemployment and perpetuating poverty. When in the mid-1970s Velasco became ill, he appointed in August 1975 his Prime Minister, Francisco Morales Bermúdez, as his successor. Bermúdez began the second phase of the Peruvian armed Revolution, promising a transit to a civilian government.

Bermudez soon became an extreme right-wing military dictator, pursuing a policy of leftist cleansing. Though, he kept his promise, leading Peru to democratic elections in 1980, when Fernando Belaúnde Terry was elected, the very Belaúnde, who was deposed as president in the 1968 Velasco military coup.

At the same time, a clear pattern of US-influenced brutal right-wing military dictatorships formed throughout Latin America, with General Jorge Rafael Videla in Argentina (1976-1981); General Augusto Pinochet in Chile (1973 to 1990); Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay (1954 – 1989); General Juan María Bordaberry of Uruguay (1973 – 1985); the Brazilian military dictatorship of various successive military leaders (1964 – 1985). The Bolivian history of successive military dictatorships (1964 – 1982), also fit the pattern of the epoch.

The Shining Path emerged as a resistance to the continent-wide US-influenced military dictatorships. It loosely followed the objectives of the Uruguayan Tupamaro guerillas, named for Túpac Amaru II, the leader of an 18th-century revolt against Spanish rule in Peru.

The Shining Path was open and transparent about its willingness to inflict death and the most extreme forms of cruelty as tools to achieve its goal, the total annihilation of existing political structures. Its leader Guzman was caught in 1992 and convicted to life imprisonment.

In 1990, Alberto Fujimori, a little-known Rector of the Agrarian State University of Lima, with the support of Washington, became President, defeating Nobel Prize-winner adversary Mario Vargas Llosa, in a landslide victory. Fujimori followed the neoliberal mandates of the IMF and the World Bank. His other main objective was to finish with the Shining Path.

Other than stopping terrorism for humanitarian reasons, there were a myriad of commercial and economic interests at stake. The entire mining industry was largely in control of foreign corporations. As soon as elected, Fujimori was “given” a top CIA „advisor“, Vladimiro Lenin Ilich Montesinos. The CIA agent basically decided on all affairs of international, especially US interests.

In 1992 Fujimori instigated an auto-coup, with Washington’s tacit consent, dissolving Parliament and becoming the sole ruler. He also changed the Constitution allowing him to be “reelected” for another 5 years, until 2000, when he fled to his “native” Japan. Many analysts say he was actually born in Japan and was lying having been born in Peru, so he could ascend to the presidency. Just for the record, his registered birthday 28 July – Peru’s Independent Day – is suspicious.

In 2005, when visiting Chile, Fujimori was arrested and eventually extradited to Peru, where he was convicted in 2009 to 25 years in prison for corruption, human right abuses and for his role in torturing and killing indigenous people in the course of battling the Senderos Lumiosos.

During the two decades of Shining Path, some 69,000 people, mostly Peruvian peasants, died or disappeared. According to the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (PTRC), at least as many people died at the hands of the Fujimori’s military, as were killed by the Shining Path. See this

To this day Fujimori is in prison, rather under house arrest for alleged ill-health – while his daughter Keiko Fujimori was running Congress with a majority of her Party Fuerza Popular. During the past three decades Fujimorismo and the APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance – a left-turned-right party) reigned over Peru, selling off the country’s riches to international corporatism, mainly in the US – and for the benefit of Peruvian oligarchs.

Peru has a wealth of mineral resources. Copper, iron, lead, zinc, bismuth, phosphates, and manganese exist in great quantities of high-yield ores. Gold and silver are found extensively, as are other rare metals, and petroleum fields are located along the far north coast and the northeastern part of Amazonia.
Of Peru’s GDP of US$ 270 billion (World Bank – 2019) a great proportion is generated by foreign majority holding extractive, manufacturing and ever-increasingly also agricultural industries, leaving little in the country which is why poverty has hardly changed over the last 30 years. In the first decade of 2000 Peru had a phenomenal GDP growth, between 5% and 7% annually, but two thirds went to 20% of the population. The rest was trickling down to the other 80%.
Poverty with covid covers at least two thirds of the population, with up to 50% under extreme poverty. Exact figures are not available. Those listed by the World Bank indicating a 27% poverty rate are simply fake. The informal sector in Peru, at least 70%, keeps Peru somewhat going, but it also plunged masses of people into poverty.

Candidate Castillo would face many challenges. He is aligned with a seasoned and well-experienced, nationally respected politician, socialist Veronica Mendoza from Cusco. She also identified the current economic advisor for Mr. Castillo, Pedro Francke, who has a center-left reputation.
Mr. Francke served as director of the Cooperation Fund for Social Development (FONCODES), a government-controlled social services and small investments institution, promoting small and medium size enterprises and creating jobs. He also served for the Peruvian Central Bank and worked as an economist at the World Bank.
In a political statement, Francke separated a potential Castillo presidency from what he called Chavez socialism, with the intent to tranquilize a worried, right-wing media indoctrinated populace. The right-wing El Comercio and affiliated media control 90% of Peruvian news.
Mr. Francke said that a Castillo Government would not be “interventionist”, abstaining from nationalization and expropriation, thus maintaining a market economy. They may, however, renegotiate corporate profit-sharing. Having experienced the Velasco Government in the 1970s, a socialist government is one of the major worries of Peruvians, who lived through the Velasco years.
Pedro Francke repeated Castillo’s campaign promise of encouraging local over foreign investments. This would be among the healthiest economic moves for Peru – towards fiscal autonomy and monetary sovereignty.

Ten days after the ballot, the vote recounts and quarrels over voter fraud is growing, creating a chaotic ambiance, one that becomes increasingly volatile. We can just hope that the Peruvian Electoral Court applies fair rules and is able to avoid civil unrest.

Peter Koenig is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization.