Local and Regional Government

Peru Table of Contents

Municipal Governments

The process of independent municipal government was initiated with the first nationwide municipal elections in December 1963. This process was halted by twelve years of military rule after 1968, but was reinitiated with the November 1980 municipal elections. Each municipality has been run autonomously by a municipal council (consejo municipal), a provincial council (consejo provincial), and a district council (consejo distrital), all of whose members were directly elected. Municipalities had jurisdiction over their internal organization and they administered their assets and income, taxes, transportation, local public services, urban development, and education systems.

Yet, the autonomy of municipalities may have been reduced by their financial dependence on the central government. Their funds have come primarily from property taxes, licenses and patents required for professional services, market fees, vehicle taxes, tolls from bridges and roads, fines, and donations from urban migrant clubs. In the majority of municipalities, where the bulk of the inhabitants are poor, those with legal title to a home are in the minority; few people even own their own vehicles; roads are not paved; and there is a dramatic shortage of basic services, such as water and electricity. Most municipalities can hardly generate the revenue to cover operating costs, much less to provide desperately needed services. Thus, a degree of dependence on the central government for resources may limit somewhat the potential for autonomous initiative. Although this is hardly unique in Latin America,the shortage of resources in Peru is particularly extreme.

The municipal process has also come under substantial threat from the SL. An important component of its strategy was to sabotage the 1989 municipal and presidential elections. The group launched a ruthless campaign in which elected officials or candidates for electoral offices were targeted. During the 1985- 89 period, the SL assassinated 45 mayors. In a campaign of violence prior to the 1989 elections, it killed over 120 elected officials or municipal candidates, resulting in the resignation or withdrawal of 500 other candidates. In December 1988, dozens of Andean mayors resigned, citing lack of protection from terrorist threats; many rural towns were left with no authorities whatsoever. Voters were also threatened with having their index fingers chopped off by the SL. The threats were most effective in the more remote regions, such as Ayacucho, where null and blank voting in the 1990 elections was the highest in the country.

Regional Governments

The constitution of 1979 mandated the establishment of regional governments in Peru. Regionalization was part of the original APRA program of the 1920s. In 1988 the APRA government finally imitated the process with a law providing for the creation, administration, and modification of regions, which would replace the former departments. Between 1987 and 1990, the APRA government also issued corresponding laws creating eleven of the twelve regions called for under law, with the Lima/Callao region remaining under negotiation. In 1991 debates in Congress continued on the Lima/Callao and San Martín regions, with the latter voting to separate from La Libertad Department. The highly politicized debates centered on whether senators should be elected by region or by national district, and on the method that regional assemblies are elected. Five of the regions held their first elections for regional assemblies on November 12, 1989, in conjunction with the municipal elections, and the other six regions held elections in conjunction with the April presidential elections.

By law each regional assembly consisted of provincial mayors (30 percent), directly elected representatives (40 percent), and delegates from institutions representative of the social, economic, and cultural activities of the region (30 percent). In 1990 APRA and the United Left (Izquierda Unida--IU) dominated the regions, with APRA controlling six, IU three, and the Democratic Front (Frente Democrático--Fredemo) only one.

The process of regionalization was more one of administrative shuffling than of substance. However, the regional governments faced the same resource constraints that substantially limited the ability of municipal governments to implement independent activities. The central government is in theory supposed to transfer funds and assets, such as state sector enterprises, to the regions, but in practice this has only happened piecemeal. This tendency had been exacerbated by the severity of the economic crisis and the poor fiscal situation inherited by the Fujimori government. The dynamic was made more conflictive as the regional governments were controlled by parties in opposition to the central government. The cutting of resources allocated to regional governments in the 1991 budget was a good indication of the constraints that regional governments would face for the foreseeable future. Moreover, the executive had taken back some powers that were originally given to the regions, such as control over the national tourist hotels. The regional governments, meanwhile, had heightened the debate with actions such as the refusal to pay the executive what was owed for electricity tariffs.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress