The Northern and Southern Divide of Peru: Citizens No Longer Feel Represented

The Northern and Southern areas of Peru have long felt neglected by the Lima-based national administration, contributing to the sentimental division between the two regions. In recent years, citizens increasingly advocate for independence as a result of this widening split and their diminished sense of representation in government. Contributing factors behind civilian dissatisfaction include the country’s national political instability, a phenomenon made worse by the legacy of Fujimori’s dictatorship and genocide.

During Peru’s colonial period, the Spaniards built a centralized administration in Lima, creating this divide. The Spaniards established a viceroyalty and a bureaucratic structure that concentrated political and economic authority in Lima. As a result, Lima rose to prominence as Peru’s hub, with the rest of the nation being exploited. The colonial elites in Lima took advantage of the people and resources of other areas, which resulted in widespread inequality and poverty. The colonial government in Lima also prevented the growth of regional cultures and languages, contributing to the loss of Peru’s cultural variety. Since then, the capital city has remained the center of politics, business, and culture after the country gained independence. As a result, far-away Northern and Southern regions, which are home to a number of indigenous and rural communities, are routinely disregarded by and marginalized by the national government.

North-South separation worsened in the aftermath of President Alberto Fujimori’s government. When Fujimori dissolved the Peruvian Congress and took control of the remaining state’s institutional powers in 1992, a dictatorship was established that persisted until his resignation in 2000 — submitted via fax from Tokyo, Japan as he attempted to evade arrest. This evasion was unsuccessful as he is currently serving additional time in prison following his initial 25-year sentence for human rights violations and corruption charges. Though scholars and younger generations consider him a dictator and much of a controversial subject in contemporary Peru, his power take was one of a ‘consented’ dictatorship—meaning the people supported his ascent to power.

Rural and low-income citizens (which make up most of the population) were actively supporting his government takeover, as he presented himself not as a politician but as a knowledgeable college professor with ambition for social change – a type of person never seen before in Peruvian politics. For many, mostly generation X and older population groups, his first government period was something to be thankful for, because he ‘fixed’ the disaster the previous Peruvian President Alan Garcia’s government left. While interviewing these generations in low-income neighborhoods of La Perla, Callao, many remember Fujimori opening the doors to foreign investment leading to a new healthy economy. Citizens no longer needed to fear coche bombas — a technique used by terrorist affiliates of hiding explosive bombs in cars. Long power outages were also addressed, and both street and terrorist delinquency were dealt with swiftly.

Though Fujimori succeeded in salvaging the once rock-bottom inflated economy and defeating national terrorist organization, Shining Path (i.e., Sendero Luminoso) and the guerrilla group Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (i.e., Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru, otherwise known as MRTA), human rights violations against any ‘enemy’ did not go unnoticed by scholars or the new youth. Terrorists and any person affiliated by blood or even superficial contact were detained and not given a proper trial, leading to acts of torture and eventfully, execution. Other violations included the forced sterilization of 200,000+ indigenous women due to Fujimori’s wish to reduce the lowest and ‘uncultured’ group’s population growth.

The bitter memories of some of Fujimori’s cruel acts significantly weakened the social fabric of the country and contributed to a growing sense of discontent with the government. Though youthful groups and scholars argue against these human rights violations, older citizens counter that they are now in a ‘privileged’ era not filled with terrorism, or repression which, before 2000” put the country in a state of emergency. 

Nevertheless, there is now a voiced ideological divide between Northern, Southern, and Central citizens, rather than the eldest versus the youngest population.

Today, a large majority of the population in the North and South believe the national government is corrupt and doesn’t represent their interests. They claim that despite the disproportionate prevalence of poverty, inequality, and discrimination in certain areas, the government has done nothing to alleviate them. Furthermore, they contend that the administration in Lima is sustaining the city’s unequal distribution of chances and resources—prioritizing the needs of the wealthy and powerful.

As a result of this sense of alienation and frustration, extremist movements calling for greater autonomy and independence for the Northern and Southern regions are resurging. Although these informal groups are still in their formative stages, they demonstrate a rising dissatisfaction with the status quo and a desire for change.

Young people have also made their voices heard. Using social media, young members stress how important it is for the Peruvian government to deal with the underlying problems that fuel divisions in society, such as new political turmoil, crime, and historical marginalization. These groups have even been verbally renounced by former President Manuel Merino, who lasted 5 days in office between November 10 to 15 of 2020, before resigning due to a massive outcry in response to the deadly crackdown on young protesters.

The notion of a North-South divide in Peru made a big impression on the latest presidential election, which saw Pedro Castillo elected. Castillo, a former rural school teacher, received positive support from rural voters in both the North and the South for his views on economic redistribution and social justice.

Castillo’s victory was seen by many as a jab at Lima’s political establishment, which cut off representation demands of citizens in the northern and southern regions. His election was seen as a victory for the rural and indigenous groups. Nonetheless, some people were concerned about Castillo’s election, particularly the wealthy and those who live in Lima. Even Nobel prize author and a former presidential contender in 1990, Mario Vargas Llosa, urged the public to choose the ‘lesser evil’ Keiko Fujimori — ironically enough, daughter of former President Fujimori. Questions have also been made about Castillo’s affiliations with Marxist organizations and his lack of prior government experience, which contributed to a decline in government — aside from his later coup attempt, leading to his impeachment in Dec. 2022 and Peru’s newfound political nightmare.

Overall, it is safe to say Peru is on a ride for its life, politically speaking. There is no better ‘democracy at risk’ example than that of Peru, and citizens have noticed. However, with little international coverage or major support from Peruvian leaders, the country is splitting into many parts. The question remains, will Peru be able to retain its citizens and its stable yet “unstable politics” at bay, or will history repeat itself?

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