About Peru

Peru lies on the Pacific coast of South America just south of the Equator. To the Quechua Indians Peru means “land of abundance.” Sites such as Machu Picchu and Cusco recall the wealth of the Inca civilization, destroyed in the early 16th century by Spaniards, who built an empire on Peru’s gold and silver. Today Peru ranks among the world’s top producers of silver, copper, lead, and zinc. Its petroleum industry is one of the world’s oldest, and its fisheries are among the world’s richest.

The Inca capital was Cusco, but the Spanish founded Lima in 1535 along the coast and made it their capital. The Spanish preferred the lowland coast because of the climate and for trade links to Spain. The western seaboard is desert, where rain seldom falls. Lima is an oasis containing more than a quarter of Peru’s population—most of European descent or mestizo. The Andean highlands occupy about a third of the country and contain mostly Quechua-speaking Indians. Quechua was the language of the Inca Empire. East of the Andes lies a sparsely populated jungle; the major city of this region is Iquitos. Iquitos can be reached by ocean-going vessels coming 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) up the Amazon River; recent oil discoveries have brought more people.

Geography Area: 1.28 million sq. km. (496,225 sq. mi.). Peru is the third-largest country in South America and is approximately three times the size of California. Major cities: Lima (capital), Arequipa, Chiclayo, Cuzco, Huancayo, Ica, Trujillo, Ayacucho, Piura, Iquitos, and Chimbote. Terrain: Western arid coastal plains, central rugged Andean mountains, and eastern lowlands with tropical forests that are part of the Amazon basin. Climate: Arid and mild in coastal area, temperate to frigid in the Andes, and warm and humid in the jungle lowlands.

People Nationality: Peruvian. Ethnic groups: Indigenous (45%), mixed background (“mestizo”) (37%), European (15%), African, Japanese, Chinese, and other (3%). Population (2008): 28.7 million. Approximately 30% of the population lives in the Lima/Callao metropolitan area. Annual population growth rate (2007): 1.6%. Religions: Roman Catholic (81%), other (10%). Languages: Spanish is the principal language. Quechua, Aymara and other indigenous languages also have official status. Education: Years compulsory–11. Attendance–92% ages 6-11, and 66% ages 12-16. Literacy–96% in urban areas, 80% in rural areas. Health: Infant mortality rate (2006)–29.96/1,000. Life expectancy (2007)–68.33 years male; 72.04 years female. Unemployment in Lima (2008): 8.4%; underemployment (2008): 49.7%.

Government Type: Constitutional republic. Independence: July 28, 1821. Constitution: December 31, 1993. Branches: Executive–president, two vice presidents, and a Council of Ministers led by a prime minister. Legislative–unicameral Congress. Judicial–four-tier court structure consisting of Supreme Court and lower courts. Administrative divisions: 25 departments subdivided into 180 provinces and 1,747 districts. Political parties: Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA), Popular Christian Party PPC), Peruvian Nationalist Party (PNP), Peru Posible (PP), Popular Action (AP), National Solidarity (SN), Union for Peru (UPP), Somos Peru (SP), National Restoration (RN). Suffrage: Universal and mandatory for citizens 18 to 70.

Economy GDP (2008): $127.8 billion. Annual growth rate (2008): 9.8%. Per capita GDP (2008): $4,477. Natural resources: Copper, gold, silver, zinc, lead, iron ore, fish, petroleum, natural gas, and forestry. Manufacturing (15.5% of GDP, 2008): Types–food and beverages, textiles and apparel, nonferrous and precious metals, nonmetallic minerals, petroleum refining, paper, chemicals, iron and steel, fishmeal. Agriculture (7.6% of GDP, 2008): Products–coffee, cotton, asparagus, paprika, artichokes, sugarcane, potatoes, rice, banana, maize, poultry, milk, others. Other sectors (by percentage of GDP in 2008): Services (55.1%), mining (5.7%), construction (5.9%), fisheries (0.5%). Trade (official Government of Peru customs statistics): Exports (2008)–$31.2 billion: gold, copper, fishmeal, petroleum, zinc, textiles, apparel, asparagus, coffee, others. Major markets (2008)–U.S. (18.6%), China (12.0%), Switzerland (10.9%), Canada (6.3%), Japan (5.9%), Chile (5.9%), Venezuela (3.5%), Germany (3.3%). Imports (2008)–$27.7 19.6 billion: petroleum and products, vehicles, plastics, steel, telephones, wheat, soy oil and products, corn, machinery, processed food, and other. Major suppliers (2008)–U.S. (18.9%), China (13.4%), Brazil (8.2%), Ecuador (6.2%), Argentina (5.0%), Colombia (4.4%), Japan (4.1%).

PEOPLE Peru is the fifth most populous country in Latin America (after Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina). Twenty-one cities have a population of 100,000 or more. Rural migration increased the urban population from 35.4% of the total population in 1940 to an estimated 74.6% as of 2005.

Most Peruvians are either Spanish-speaking mestizos–a term that usually refers to a mixture of indigenous and European/Caucasian–or Amerindians, largely Quechua-speaking indigenous people. Peruvians of European descent make up about 15% of the population. There also are small numbers of persons of African, Japanese, and Chinese ancestry. Socioeconomic and cultural indicators are increasingly important as identifiers. For example, Peruvians of Amerindian descent who have adopted aspects of Hispanic culture also are considered mestizo. With economic development, access to education, intermarriage, and large-scale migration from rural to urban areas, a more homogeneous national culture is developing, mainly along the relatively more prosperous coast. Peru’s distinct geographical regions are mirrored in a socioeconomic divide between the coast’s mestizo-Hispanic culture and the more diverse, traditional Andean cultures of the mountains and highlands.


The Inca Empire and Spanish Conquest When the Spanish landed in 1531, Peru’s territory was the nucleus of the highly developed Inca civilization. Centered at Cuzco, the Incan Empire extended over a vast region from northern Ecuador to central Chile. In search of Inca wealth, the Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro, who arrived in the territory after the Incas had fought a debilitating civil war, conquered the weakened people. The Spanish captured the Incan capital at Cuzco by 1533, and consolidated their control by 1542. Gold and silver from the Andes enriched the conquerors, and Peru became the principal source of Spanish wealth and power in South America.

Pizarro founded Lima in 1535. The viceroyalty established at Lima in 1542 initially had jurisdiction over all of the Spanish colonies in South America. By the time of the wars of independence (1820-24), Lima had become one of the most distinguished and aristocratic colonial capitals and the chief Spanish stronghold in the Americas (along with Mexico City).

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