Regionalism and Political Divisions

Peru Table of Contents

The formidable mountain ranges, deep chasms, and deserts that partition the habitable regions of Peru contribute greatly to the formation and maintenance of political and social identities by facilitating or obstructing communication, as well as by creating economic diversity through zonal specializations. Archaeologists and ethnohistorians have identified some forty-four different highland cultures and thirty-eight more in coastal valleys that existed at the time of the rise of the Inca Empire in the fifteenth century. Tawantinsuyu (Land of the Four Quarters) retained these preexisting ethnogeographic zones in one form or another, according to anthropologist Michael Edward Moseley, establishing at least eighty ethnically distinct political provinces throughout the empire's vast territory.

The policies of the Tawantinsuyu presaged subsequent geopolitical territorial arrangements. The "quarters" were unequal in size and population, but roughly corresponded to the cardinal directions. Each region began with its cobbled roadway leaving the "navel" of the city of Cusco, whose perimeters shaped a symbolic Andean puma. To the north, Chinchaysuyu encompassed most of the coast and highlands of modern Peru, from Nazca, and eventually with conquest, to what is now northern Ecuador. In terms of the divisions of the Inca Empire, 68 percent of Peruvians in 1990 lived in Chinchaysuyu. To the south stretched the vast region of the puna and Lake Titicaca Basin called the Collasuyu. With the Inca conquests, the Collasuyu quarter extended to the Río Maule in what is now central Chile. To the east and west were two relatively small quarters, the Antisuyu and Cuntisuyu, respectively. The former occupied the forested semitropical highland region called Montaña, and the latter, the arid mountains and coast encompassing present-day Arequipa and adjacent departments. Seen in this perspective, 41 percent of the people lived in four departments occupying the central region of the country, with 27 percent in the northern area, 23 percent in the south, and 8 percent in the Amazonian departments of the east in 1990. These four modern quarters of Peru often have been utilized in the context of planning studies.

The Spaniards reorganized the Tawantinsuyu on discovering that the highland Inca capitals at Cusco and Cuenca (Ecuador) and their own first choice of Jauja near present-day Huancayo suited neither their physiological nor political needs. When they founded Lima, the Spaniards turned the Inca spatial concepts upside down: centrality and place were reoriented as Cusco became a province and no longer was the "navel of the universe" from which all roads departed. Despite this change, Spanish viceregal organization educed its structure from longstanding ethnolinguistic and ecological realities. The Spaniards formed provinces ( corregimientos), which later became intendancies (intendencias), as well as Catholic dioceses or parishes.

With independence, the colonial territories were again redefined, but in most cases, the "new" politico-administrative boundaries still recalled ancient cultural and linguistic outlines. The republic carried forward many operational aspects of the colonial administrative units. Throughout their national history, Peruvians have demonstrated a propensity to revise their political affairs both with respect to leadership and the boundaries within the nation. In 1980 the department of Ucayali was created by splintering off two provinces from the Selva department of Loreto, a reflection of development and population increases in that immense tropical region. Moreover, after the census in 1981, six new provinces in Cajamarca, Ancash, and Ucayali departments and twenty new districts were created in various parts of the country through legislative acts. The new districts included six in the populous highland department of Cajamarca; three each in Ucayali, Puno, and Ancash; two in the province of Lima; and others in the departments of Huánuco and Cusco. Each time a census occurs, political and social identities are further refined, usually building on old traditions of similitude, as well as a desire for separate political representation and control.

The result was a nation divided into a political hierarchy of 24 departments, 159 provinces, and 1,717 districts, each with its urbanized capital symbolized by a plaza bordered by a "mother church" and municipal office. Peruvians invariably identify themselves as being from one of these divisions, as the place of birth, and thus everyone carries a locality identity as a limeño from Lima, a chalaco from Callao, a cuzqueño from Cusco, a huaracino from Huaraz, and so forth, down to the smallest hamlet. The political fissioning thus reflects a strong geocultural identity and bonding, manifested by the establishment and activities of thousands of regional and local clubs and associations by migrants from these places who live in cities throughout the country.

Provincial migrants, especially those in greater Lima, play important and often key roles in the creation of new political divisions back in their homelands, as was the case by 1990 in the highland district of Santo Toribio in the province of Huaylas. The new district was the result of political antagonisms originating in colonial times between the small mestizo district capital of Huaylas and its rural hinterland of Santo Toribio. After more than sixty years of plots and counterplots in Lima and in the patria chica (hometown or "little homeland"), the partisans of Santo Toribio, represented by migrants in Lima, finally won out over the Huaylas district lobby made up of migrants from the town that sought to maintain district unity.

In this maneuvering, the national political parties were used as the fulcrum on which the scales were tipped. The municipal government of Huaylas was held by members of the Popular Action (Acción Popular--AP) party, whereas the Santo Toribio interests were aligned with the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana--APRA) party, which took power nationally under Alan García Pérez (president, 1985- 90). This scenario is replicated throughout the highlands and is at the core of virtually all such alterations in political boundaries. In most cases, the imbroglio develops as rural villagers, native Americans, and cholos vie for power with the mestizo townspeople who have dominated them for centuries.

The same struggle has accompanied the dramatic growth of greater Lima, to which migrants from the provinces have gone to seek access to power, as well as education and jobs. Understanding the political structure of Lima is in itself a study in the process of empowerment. The city of Lima is actually a collection of municipalities. Instead of the two municipal districts of colonial time--Lima and Rímac--by 1961 Lima contained fifteen district municipalities, and by 1990 it had grown to thirty-three, all the result of migration. Like all their provincial counterparts, each municipal district has its plaza, elected mayor and council, and municipal functions. The government of the province of Lima unites them and coordinates the metropolis as an urban entity. The rest of metropolitan Lima consists of the constitutional province of Callao, the old colonial port. Callao is fused with the capital by a continuous blanket of housing projects, squatter settlements, and industries through which one passes en route to Jorge Chávez International Airport from Lima. Even so, in early 1991 there were still small patches of irrigated farmland at the northern fringe of Callao Province, awaiting the next spurt of urban growth to engulf them.

The administrative system of departments, provinces, and districts is under the central authority of the national executive, that is, the president and prime minister. As such, the decisions and policy inevitably and ultimately descend from a government overwhelmed by the needs, demands, and power of Lima. The centralization of power is resented and regarded as anachronistic, a problem that has provoked debate since 1860 about the wisdom of decentralization and how it might be accomplished.

The reorganization decree promulgated by the García government in March 1987 put forth a plan to decentralize the nation and establish new administrative zones, regrouping the present twenty-four departments into twelve larger regions with legislative, administrative, and taxing powers. Interestingly, the names Inca, Wari (Huari), and Chavín have been applied to areas where those ancient cultures once thrived. If the system becomes fully installed, it will dramatically alter Peru as a nation and would be the most significant change in structure since independence. In the early 1990s, few Peruvians yet understood how the new system would work or what its impact would be. Because of many uncertainties created by the unstable political and economic conditions of the 1980s, both the Congress and the government of President Alberto K. Fujimori (1990- ) postponed putting the full plan into effect, although some aspects of the program had begun.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress