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Peru 2020: the penance of the impossible

Adrift. 2020 has been a year that has highlighted the fragile structure that unites the social fabric of Peru. Today, 2021 is viewed with reluctance and melancholy. We are on the verge of a Bicentennial of Independence framed by the ruling class’s stubborn inability to chart a viable course and a plan for a Republic sustainable in time.

The Peruvian business and political elite, stubbornly short-sighted when it comes to reading the national reality, discussed until barely 12 months ago what should be the urgent inclusion of Peru in that “club of developed countries” which is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Such quixotic aspiration was fulminated by the pandemic, which exposed the already starving health system, disrupted the conventional wisdom that disguised economic growth as the “Peruvian Miracle” and kept hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren nationwide in uncertainty.

The blow of reality translates into a 14% contraction of GDP for this year according to the IMF – the second worst recession in Latin America after Venezuela – and the sixth place globally in the mortality rate due to the health crisis. According to The Economist, Peru will barely be able to count on wide availability of vaccines by 2022 and still does not have a purchase or distribution strategy.

This year was also the year of political implosion

This year was also one of political implosion, with three presidents in 12 months and a Congress widely discredited. Political fragmentation, the minuscule agency of the parties and political management as a franchise of particular interests, have led to this catatonia, which opens the way for misgovernment and even an authoritarian resurgence. At the same time, the possibility of a new constituent assembly to replace the 1993 Magna Carta is already being discussed. 

General elections will be held in four months. To date, there are 23 presidential candidates in the race. For the first time in 20 years there is no idea who will end up going to a second round. Just look at the latest IPSOS poll, where up to 11 candidates have the same options to be president. Such uncertainty is a symptom of the collective anomie in Peru. The discouragement and distrust of the population, added to the programmatic poverty of the participants, foresee a grey and turbulent electoral process.

Peru’s Bicentennial

The image is shocking. In the face of this Bicentennial, there is no more room for the complacent vision that reduces prosperity to external economic shocks. It is unfeasible to assume that Peru will be classified as a development-oriented country with poor health and education indicators, endemic corruption, a shackled judicial system, and law enforcement agencies that are urged to make emergency reforms. 

It is unsustainable to plan for the long term if the already miniscule pension system is deprecated under populist promises from those who commodify political action. Economic dynamization must permeate and include, otherwise, a productive reactivation will persist for only three out of every ten contributors. The monumental agenda ahead is not reduced to these issues, but that is where one can start, and wow, what a start it would be.

“The problem is, indeed and unfortunately, Peru, but also, happily, a possibility,” said historian Jorge Basadre. Peru will continue to be, fortunately, a possibility. The impossible, tragically, we seem to be the Peruvians in this endless penance.

Photo by IAPB/VISION 2020 on / CC BY-NC-SA

*Translation from Spanish by Ricardo Aceves


Economista. Profesor adjunto en el Instituto de Empresa de Madrid. Fue consultor en Práctica Global de Educación del Banco Mundial. Máster en Administración Pública por la Universidad de Princeton.


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