Key Current Issues

To keep up to date on some of the major issues in Peru see the Peru Support Group http://www.perusupportgroup.org.uk/ ; also for a summary in Spanish about them see; http://www.perusupportgroup.org.uk/about-spanish.php

UN Human Development Index

The 2011 report shows Peru ranking 80th out of the 187 nations surveyed. The index measures statistics regarding schooling, life expectancy, and per capita income, to rank countries in terms of human development. Norway topped the ranking, followed by Australia, Netherlands, United States and New Zealand. In Latin America and the Caribbean, Peru is surpassed by Chile (44), Argentina (45), Barbados (47), Uruguay (48), Cuba (51), Bahamas (53), Mexico(57), Panama (58), Trinidad and Tobago (62), Costa Rica (69), Venezuela (74) and Jamaica (79). On the other hand, Peru is placed above Dominica (81), Ecuador (83), Brazil (84), Colombia (87), Dominican Republic (98), El Salvador (105), Paraguay (107), Bolivia (108), Guyana (117), Honduras (121), Nicaragua (129), Guatemala (131) and Haiti (158).

The following items indicate some of the big issues that have been relevant during Project Peru's existence

Make Poverty History

In 2005 the Make Poverty History campaign was designed to influence decisions at the July 2005 Group of Eight (G8) summit. It brought together a number of issues. These included reform of the world trade system, the reduction in the burden of third world debt, and the re-configuring of aid flows to make them more efficient. The overall objective was to make it more likely that developing countries would meet the Millennium Development Goals, set down by the UN.

Each of the three 'prongs' of this campaign were  linked to the reduction of poverty. They were all things that the international community could and should be pressing for. Latin America, and Peru in particular, must not be left out amid all the concern for Africa. To the three prongs could be added the improvement of corporate social responsibility by international investors, and the adoption of ethical codes of practice on the part of transnational companies.

Each prong still has a direct relevance for Peru, a country that seems ever further from meeting many of the Millennium Development Goals, especially those related to reducing poverty and inequality:

  • Peru is hampered by unfair trade rules, especially with respect to agriculture (the sector in which many of Peru's poorest citizens are employed). The unfairness is exemplified by the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that has now been agreed with the United States. Unwilling to counter the United States and desperate to maintain its textile exports in the US market, the Peruvian government was willing to sign up to the FTA whatever the conditions imposed by Washington. The US wants to prise open markets for its farmers, and Peru will therefore have to contend with a flood of cheap, subsidised US grains.
  • Peru's debt remains very substantial, and as a 'Middle Income Country' Peru gets none of the benefits of the Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiatives. Around a quarter of Peru's government revenues are destined to service external debt, which means that spending on social welfare programmes is reduced as a consequence.
  • Peru's share of international aid has declined in recent years. The most recent programme to close is that of the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), whose office in Peru closed its doors at the end of March 2005. The DFID programme showed how even limited aid funds could be used in innovative ways that benefited poor people. By far the largest donor left in Peru is USAID (US Agency for International Development), whose main rationale is to fight 'the war on drugs', not 'the war on poverty'.
  • If we add to this the need to improve on corporate social responsibility, there is also a long way to go. The international community can really help the country meet the stated objectives of reducing poverty, inequality and social 
    exclusion. These are not just problems for Africa.

Wake up to Trade Justice!
The international community is coming together to send a strong message to decision makers. Their message is that current trade rules are unjust and imposed on poor countries. They want to bring about universal access to food, a livelihood, water, health and education. The US claim that the US-Andean FTA will benefit the Andean nations by locking in more permanently the special access to the USA. market that Andean nations currently enjoy under the Andean Trade Preference Act, which is set to expire in 2006. Critics say that the current US-Andean FTAs under negotiation would raise prices of essential medications that are already unaffordable for millions of Andeans, with a potentially catastrophic impact on disease control, including HIV/AIDS. These kinds of bilateral agreements undermine the international consensus reached at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and give the USA the ability to make trade agreements without appropriate balance between the protection of private intellectual property and the protection of public health. The Trade Justice Movement is spearheading the overwhelming international support for a fundamental change to unjust trade rules. see www.tjm.org.uk.

Social impacts of free trade: how can childhood poverty be reduced?
In December 2005 Peru, already a member of the World Trade Organisation, concluded a free trade agreement [FTA] with USA.  FTA will threaten Peruvian agriculture through opening up imports of subsidized US food, for example. Though FTA may have several positive long-term economic effects it will have consequences for children experiencing poverty. Children will be further discouraged from attending school, or older ones will  have to take on care responsibilities since female carers will be encouraged to take jobs outside the home. The health of children will suffer and increased costs of medicines will result from a dearth of free health services for the poor and increased costs due to intellectual property rights being enforced.

The social impacts of trade liberalisation.

Funding for Iraq, at the expense of Peru's poor 
In its attempts to prop up post-invasion Iraq, the UK government cut most of its development programme in Latin America, axing its Peru programme altogether.

With its plans for post-war reconstruction in deep trouble, the then Bush administration redoubled its attempts to get other countries to shoulder the economic burden. Anxious to please, the UK government promised to help.

The problem was that most of the money came from commitments already made elsewhere. In spite of previous denials, it became known in early November 2003 that the Department for International Development (DfID) was cutting many of its aid programmes to so-called 'middle-income' countries'. Quite a few of these were in Latin America, and among them Peru.

Middle-income countries are those countries that have a higher national income per capita than the poorest countries, most of which are in Africa and southern Asia.

Such distinctions are often arbitrary and fairly meaningless. They take no account of the degree of poverty in a country, albeit one with higher average incomes. Many of the middle-income countries are middle-income only by virtue of the fact that they have relatively large and wealthy elites.

It is therefore the existence of these, not the extent or degree of poverty that pushes up average incomes. Latin America is not the poorest region of the world but, as a recent World Bank Study confirms, is still by far the most unequal region. In Peru, as elsewhere, ostentatious wealth cohabits with poverty that is both widespread (more than half the population) and, in some areas, of African proportions in its depth.

DfID in Peru did have an influence out of all proportion to its relatively small budget. It  built up a first-class reputation among development practitioners in its last few years for the quality of its programme. One of its key contributions was to enhance the level of thinking about poverty and the most effective policies for reducing it. The focus on 'pro-poor' growth  brought a host of important new ideas to the policy debate, not least the importance of people being able to exercise their full political rights in demanding change. It  also played an acknowledged role in the defence of democracy and human rights in the country.

All this came to an end. The DfID programme in Peru was wound up in 2005. All its ongoing activities were suspended. Programmes in other Latin American countries, like Bolivia, were also badly affected, although they continue on a reduced scale. The decision was greeted with dismay in Lima and elsewhere.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission
"Aspirations: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission" reported in August 2003. It aimed to clarify and analyse the process, facts and responsibilities of the human rights violations committed during the years of political violence, 1980-2000.

The report examined the actions of those, both subversive organisations and state agents, who carried out the violations, and those who gave the orders.

The armed insurgency of Sendero Luminoso was the direct cause of the tragedy. Unlike other Latin American conflicts where responsibility for deaths has mostly been attributed to state groups, Sendero was responsible for the majority of deaths, an alarming 54%. However, the armed forces were responsible for 30%, local defence committees (Rondas Campesinas) 4%, MRTA 1.5-1.8%, and ‘un-determined’ 10.2%. The report describes and condemns the extreme violence and "terrorist methodology" used. It also refers to the dangerous personality cult of the Sendero leader. However, the armed forces and the national police were neither logistically, operatively nor psychologically prepared, causing a number of crimes against humanity committed by state agencies.

Political leaders were also responsible for the violence as they failed to control the situation and could have avoided such crimes but did not.

The report also details the terrible conditions, racism and social factors that made the subversive war possible. It stressed that the indifference of the majority in Peru was a major factor and advises that each and every Peruvian should recognise and accept their responsibilities.

The commission's final overwhelming estimate of those killed or disappeared was 69,280. The majority of the victims (75%) were indigenous Quechua speakers who got caught between the warring sides.

The report is available online at www.cverdad.org. The Peru Support Group has produced a version in English. For more information click here.