Is Peru’s Democracy at Risk?

Photo of panelists and moderator of the Is Peru's Democracy at Risk Event. Featured Image: G M / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 DEED

Widespread discontent in Peru has been exacerbated by credible allegations of human rights violations, corruption scandals, and increasing crime rates. Against the backdrop of President Boluarte's dismal eight percent approval rating and growing risks to democracy, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted a discussion on May 7, 2024, on the nature of Peru’s current political and institutional crisis in a regional context. The session also explored Peru’s economic performance and precarious social conditions.

Inter-American Dialogue president & CEO, Rebecca Bill Chavez, began the discussion by providing a comprehensive overview of the political crisis in Peru and its connection to broader regional trends. Over the past years, frequent leadership changes and the erosion of the rule of law have deeply affected Peru’s democratic institutions. Chavez emphasized that only seven percent of Peruvians trust Congress and noted a concerning acceleration in annual migratory trends.

Michael Shifter, senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue moderated the conversation, describing Peru as a harbinger of regional trends in democratic erosion. He outlined how an empowered Congress is seeking to undermine the independence of both the judicial and electoral systems and underscored the concerning persecution of independent press and human rights abuses. Shifter also pointed out the growing distrust towards the government due to ongoing political scandals.

Gino Costa, former member of the Peruvian Congress and former interior minister, noted that Peru’s democracy has been deteriorating since 2016. He added that over the past eight years, Peru has seen six presidents and a failed self-coup, leading to intense political fragmentation. Congress has sought to control other public powers, including the constitutional tribunal, the ombudsman’s office, and the public prosecutor’s office, with the return of the previously suspended Patricia Benavides. Costa argued that Benavides has consistently undermined Peru’s justice system.

Peru has witnessed macro-economic deterioration over the past years, according to Carolina Trivelli, senior researcher at Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP), which has been exacerbated by Congress’ artificially created consumption bubble and the initiative to give the public access to pension funds. Dwindling support from foreign banks and the private sector’s hesitancy to invest in a country with a weak government have further contributed to Peru’s economic crisis, marked by a struggling labor market and an increase in poverty. The economic situation has added to the growing distrust of the government and disillusionment with democracy.

Lastly, Will Freeman, fellow for Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, highlighted the indicators of an eroding democracy, and how Peru is a unique case. Power is not being consolidated into one single head of state, but rather a coalition of factions in Congress have disempowered regulatory institutions. Freeman pointed to the tireless assault by Congress, led by the Fuerza Popular political party, on the independent judiciary and its ability to hold lawmakers accountable. The effort consisted of dismantling plea-bargaining tools and appointing loyalist judges.

Looking forward, all speakers emphasized the importance of the 2026 elections. They stressed that without free and fair elections overseen by impartial authorities, Peru risks spiraling further into democratic decay.

Watch the event recording here:

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