Peru Table of Contents

During the first five months of 1992, Peru was a republic with a civilian government, which had a popularly elected president, a bicameral legislature, and an independent judicial branch. Peru's civilian government ended indefinitely as a result of Fujimori's autogolpe of April 5, 1992. The constitution of 1979 remained suspended and its Congress and judiciary remained dissolved during the rest of 1992. The following sections describe Peru's legitimate civilian government as it existed prior to April 5, 1992.

Constitutional Development

Until April 5, 1992, Peru was governed according to a constitution that became effective with the transition to civilian government in 1980. From the time of the declaration of independence by José de San Martín on July 18, 1821, up until the constitution of 1979, Peru had ten constitutions. All of them established a presidential form of government, with varying degrees of power concentrated in the executive. The French- and Spanish-influenced constitution of 1823, which abolished hereditary monarchy, was the first formal organic law of the Peruvian state drawn up by a constituent assembly under a popular mandate.

The departure of Simón Bolívar Palacios (1824-25, 1826) on September 3, 1826, ushered in a long period of revolt and instability with only brief periods of peace. The presidency changed twelve times between 1826 and 1845. During this period, Peru was governed under three constitutions--those of 1828, 1834, and 1839. There was little variation in the basic form of these constitutions. All provided for separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches, for indirect election of the president and Congress, for a centralized regime, and for extensive personal rights and guarantees. The only major variations were in details regarding specific powers of the executive.

The 1828 constitution moved toward decentralization and showed considerable influence by the United States. For example, it provided for presidential election by popular vote. In subsequent constitutions, there was a varying emphasis on executive versus legislative power, and gradual, progressive improvements, such as the subordination of the military to civilian rule, direct popular elections, and the granting of the right to association. The 1839 constitution extended the presidential term from four to six years, with no reelection.

When Marshal Ramón Castilla (1845-51, 1855-62) emerged as dictator in 1845, a period of relative peace and prosperity began. The 1856 constitution, promulgated during Castilla's rule, was more liberal and democratic than any of its predecessors. It provided for the first time for direct popular election of the president and Congress. However, a more conservative constitution was promulgated in 1860 and remained in force, with two brief interruptions--1862-68 and 1879-81--for sixty years. Although it reduced the presidential term to four years (with reelection after an intervening term), it greatly increased the powers of the president and provided for a much more centralized government. Nevertheless, it laid important bases for the future executive-legislative relationship. In particular, it established a requirement that cabinet ministers, although responsible to the president, report to Congress. Furthermore, it explicitly permitted Congress, at the end of each legislative session, to examine the administrative acts of the president to determine their conformity with the constitution and the laws.

The 1920 constitution was generally more liberal than its predecessor, the 1860 charter, and provided for more civil guarantees. Although it established a strong executive and lengthened the presidential term from four to five years, it placed several new checks on that branch. It deprived the president of his traditional right to suspend constitutional guarantees during periods of national emergency and strengthened the principle of ministerial responsibility to Congress. In particular, it gave Congress the right to force the resignation of ministers by a vote of no confidence. Having promulgated the constitution, however, Augusto B. Leguía y Salcedo (1908-12, 1919-30) ignored it almost completely and established himself as one of Peru's strongest dictators.

The 1933 constitution was, at least in theory, operative until 1980, although civilian government was interrupted from 1933 to 1939, 1948 to 1956, and 1968 to 1980. The 1933 constitution reduced presidential powers and instituted a mixed presidential-parliamentary system. It also instituted compulsory and secret balloting, as well as provisions for religious tolerance and freedom of speech. The president could not remove or nominate cabinet members without parliamentary consent. This resulted in a considerable number of executive-legislative stalemates, the most notable of which occurred during the first government of President Fernando Belaúnde Terry (1963-68, 1980- 85).

After a prolonged stalemate over issues ranging from tax and agrarian reforms to a contract with the International Petroleum Corporation, Belaúnde was overthrown on October 3, 1968, by the armed forces, led by General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968-75). The resulting "revolutionary government" was a progressive, left-wing military regime, which attempted to implement a series of structural reforms; it maintained dictatorial powers but was only mildly repressive. After an intraregime coup in 1975 and a turn to orthodox economic management in the face of rising fiscal deficits and inflation, as well as increasing levels of social unrest, the military government called for a civilian-run Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution and hold elections.

The constitution of 1979, signed by the president of the Constituent Assembly, Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, on July 12, 1979--while he was virtually on his death-bed--sought to restore strong presidential power. Largely influenced by the French Fifth Republic, the constitution of 1979 established a presidential system with a bicameral legislature and a Council of Ministers, which was appointed by the president. An excessively broad document, the 1979 charter covered a host of rights and responsibilities of government, private persons, and businesses. It also established the structure of government and mandated measures to effect social changes, including the eradication of illiteracy and extreme poverty. The constitution could be amended by a majority of both houses of Congress.

The constitution guaranteed a series of liberties and rights, including the freedom of expression and association and the right to life, physical integrity, and "the unrestricted development of one's personality." Although the Roman Catholic Church is entitled to the cooperation of the government, Catholicism is not the official religion of the country, and religion is a matter of personal choice. Workers were guaranteed collective bargaining rights and had the right to strike and to participate in workplace management and profits. Public servants, with the exception of those with decision-making power and the armed forces and police, also had the right to strike.

Constitutional guarantees could be suspended during a state of emergency, defined as the disruption of peace or the domestic order, a catastrophe, or grave circumstances affecting the life of the nation. A state of emergency could not last longer than sixty days but could be renewed repeatedly. During such a time, the armed forces retained control of internal order. Guarantees of freedom of movement and of assembly, and freedom from arbitrary or unwarranted arrest and seizure were suspended. Constitutional guarantees could also be suspended during states of siege, defined as an invasion, a civil war, or imminent danger that one of these events may occur. At least half of the nation lived under state-of-emergency conditions beginning in the second half of the 1980s, owing to the increase in insurrectionary activities by the nation's two major guerrilla groups.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress