How to Fix Peru

Alternate Title: My Ugly American Recipe for Political Reform in Latin America

The protests in Peru were abating as I published the last piece, with what seem like semi-permanent standoffs taking shape in Cusco and Puno, underscoring the identity angle in Peru’s indigenous strongholds and battleground of Tupac Amaru’s rebellion against Spain.

The protesters had various and conflicting demands. The most unlikely with the least support was restoring Pedro Castillo to office. That train left the station when he tried to dissolve Congress, Fujimori style, but with his signature ineptitude for not getting the military on board beforehand. In fact, that demand is why more Peruvians did not join the protests.

The most common demand with the most public support is for new elections to be held. The problem with that is, without changes to the system, new elections will yield the same goofy outcomes as they have been. Not just the fluke of Peru Libre, but the weirdo fundamentalist sect who won five congressional seats in 2020. You’re going to get ineffectual makeups in congress, shitshow after shitshow in Peru.

Political impotence is not unique to Peru, and my proposal can be applied to most of Latin America.

Four Parties

The most important change is to limit the number of political parties. There are dying parties and new upstarts with a dozen competing in each cycle, parties coming and going the only constant. Sometimes they just change names. Most of their brands don’t mean much, and the Balkanization in government guarantees little gets done.

In this last election, the center-right would have won if it had coalesced behind one candidate. But instead of joining together, the tinhorn leaders of likeminded parties would rather keep control of their fiefdoms, too petty to relinquish control of a larger party. They’d rather be big fish in a small pond.

This realization came years ago, when leftist party Frente Amplio split because Marco Arana wouldn’t yield the top spot to surging leader Veronika Mendoza. So they split the socialist vote (less than a quarter in Peru) into three parties (there were two before!). One of these three only won because the centrist and right-wing ideologies are equally divided among weak parties, so who makes the runoff is a roll of the dice. In this case, you had the daughter of the dictator facing off against the socialist goon in a farmer’s hat.

I would have the state formalize four parties. Only four parties are legally allowed on the ballot nationwide, and each one must hold primaries overseen by the national election authority. The politico idiots need to be forced to play nice in the sandbox. For the same reason Latin America splintered into two dozen countries (inability to compromise), they can’t build coherent, principles-based political parties. Make them.

Two of these legally allowed parties would be the Liberals and Conservatives. And yes, you force them to use those names. The idea is to get away from personality-driven parties, where fealty is to whatever the figurehead says and not the political and economic principles of the party. Leaders should come and go, which they do not in Peru (Acuña, Fujimori, Arana).

The other two parties will represent the right and left peripheries, with names like the Greens (or Reds) for those who want to nationalize copper mines and build Hugo Chavez statues, and something more generic for the hard right depending on whether the season favors the kind who want to jail trannies and deport Venezuelans or those who want to abolish public schools and seniors’ pensions.

These parties will be required to publish platforms, and these platforms must address specific issues. You have the country’s leading pollsters define the issues each cycle by reaching out to voters. Let voters name the top 10 or 20 issues. If a platform doesn’t address each issue, they get fined, they lose ballot access or pay a consequence. You force these four parties to agree on and write down what they support.

I have more recommendations: scrapping term limits in Congress, expanding it to two chambers with staggered elections and implementing new decentralization measures such as letting regions levy taxes and raise their own police forces. But the more I think about it, the more I think this one will deliver the most bang for the buck. Limit political parties to four and force all the politicos to organize themselves inside those.

Peru’s politics looks like Italy or Spain, the poorest countries in Western Europe. Just because you’re culturally closer to the Mediterranean doesn’t mean you have to imitate their inferior political systems. Try to leapfrog their mistakes and copy a country that’s done well over the last century or two. Don’t like the United States? Fine, copy Germany or Britain. But limit the actors to four political parties.

There is in fact progress on this front. In what is otherwise a basket case, Argentina has effectively consolidated to two parties in its Chamber of Deputies. They still have over a dozen parties, but those have grouped themselves into two coalitions with control over 90% of seats. These coalitions broadly represent capital vs. labor, the natural order of politics.

If they don’t turn things around over the next generation, you can blame it on Argentines themselves. Not their political system.

The graphic at top of post is from Ipsos Peru. Here’s another that gives an idea what kind of leadership would emerge with a smaller field.


  1. Colin!

    I think the wordpress does not want to allow my reply. I have attempted to do so using your older gmail address. Good Luck.

    Note: your suggestions are no good!

    Kind regards Dave


    1. Send the email, I’ll post.

      This reform won’t do much for the Cholo Divide, which I imagine is your beef. But I don’t think there is much that can be done. Not armed revolution (Velasco and Comrade Gonzalo tried that). But forcing consensus will more effectively advance change by un-splintering oficialismo and opposition, no matter who is in power.

      I will hand you a point. You’ve been sounding the alarm on identity and the Cholo Divide for a long time. It came to pass.


      1. Thanks for that.
        My access problems relate to your wordpress site. Using a VPN all is visible. You may wish to review this as not everyone will react by investigating, some will just sigh and forget.

        What you are suggesting in the blogpost is imposition. Subjects of the Conquista have been imposed-on for a few centuries. They do get history in school and they do have an investigative and polemic literary tradition. White imposition has an inglorious history in the region.

        One of the roots of the problem is that ancient america brought a living tradition of mutual respect when THEY invaded several millennia ago. Applying that respect to a brutal and narcissistic race like those of Western Europe will never change the balance.

        As mentioned in his epic “Tragedy and Hope” the eminent Carroll Quigley analyses the future of the Latin American Colonies (!) on the basis of whether or not the dominant Class will ever be able to grow a conscience.

        I find it strange that your earlier experiences, which evinced an amount of empathetic understanding, seem to have evaporated. Time to relax and think, Colin! …


  2. Do some research on the “liberation” of Peru, the south was the most hardcore, pro-royalist place in the country and last major redoubt of the Spanish. Most of the “royalist” forces where raised in the south.
    Tupac Amaru is not whom you think he is. He’s, by today’s standards, a hardcore catholic conservative, pro-royalty who wanted to be the king of Peru. Also a business magnate who killed his friend whom he coincidentally owed money to, and then tried to color his revolt as “pro peasant” since he needed troops.

    About the elections, there are already reforms in place, more are needed, but right now, if a party doesn’t cross 5% of the vote they lose their inscription, and have to actually form a real base to be able to run again, this will, in time, purge tiny irrelevant parties, 14 already have been purged, by next election time, there will be new ones ofc, but most will be purged again.

    The rest of your suggestions lack the really important piece, who’s forcing this reforms? a god-king of Peru?


    1. I’m not a Peruvian historian so I can’t speak with authority on every chapter, but you’re assuming a lot that is not written here (again). I didn’t say anything about Tupac Amaru aside from his rebellion took place in the last areas to have protests today. Whatever you think I think about him is a figment of your imagination. It’s not and never was written here.

      I’d disagree that Peru’s south was the most royalist in the country. Given the liberation came from Argentines and Venezuelans, it’s hard to say anywhere was particularly patriotic and not just going with the flow, especially regarding the Creoles. But the few Peruvians who rose up — Melgar, Pumacahua — were in fact southerners. And again, irrelevant to any point I make in this piece.

      I covered Peruvian elections as a hack journalist, I know the valla electoral. Five percent is way too low. I am calling for scrapping the valla electoral. It doesn’t go far enough. I’m calling for legalizing only four parties, with two of them called “Conservatives” and “Liberals.”

      Who will execute on this plan? Nobody! This is an ugly American’s sage advice that will never happen. Maybe after I’m dead. We accept the things we cannot change. Peru will continue to be Peru, Argentina Argentina, Colombia Colombia and so on. Which is to say, fun places to visit and even live. But not great places that attract more people than they export, because of deep structural problems and flawed democracy. Typical Latin American countries, warts and all, still fun in their own unique ways.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s