La Piel y La Pluma: Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Prior to my visit to Peru, I studied transitional justice and civil conflict. Examining the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), its findings, and its progress thus far, seemed like the natural next step in my studies. I had spent a semester evaluating the theory and process of political reconciliation, and was convinced that I had a complete historical picture of the civil conflict that ripped through Peru in the 1980s and 1990s.

Socioeconomic inequality, lack of political representation, government corruption – these were all well-supported and plausible explanations for the brutal conflict of the 80s and 90s. However, upon my arrival in Lima, I found that there was another, more powerful explanation. All of the aforementioned issues were symptoms of a greater problem, diagnosed by the TRC upon the completion of its truth-gathering process: discrimination.

Félix Reátegui, sociologist and former Senior Associate at the International Center for Transitional Justice (2003-2015), spoke to us at the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights in Lima (IDEH-PUCP) about the issues surrounding the conflict, and how many continue to plague Peru today. “Some Peruvians will call this type of discrimination ‘racism,’ Reátegui said, but many are hesitant to suggest it is explicitly institutional or systematic.” The problem is the inherent discrimination and belief in the inferiority of indigenous people, which affects how other Peruvians see them and their rights. Although there are no explicit laws that exclude indigenous people from acquiring rights, there is little push-back against unfair policies or lack of protection for indigenous rights.

What this means for the peace process in Peru is that the government will focus on paying reparations and will consider instituting policies recommended by the TRC (such as educational reforms), but the attitudes that led to much of the discontent of lower socioeconomic classes will not be addressed. Although the Shining Path, a radical left-wing terrorist group, was created by middle class individuals and brought to rural areas based on Maoist theory that specified that revolution should begin in the countryside, it was the lack of recognition and the presence of discriminatory attitudes towards rural and indigenous persons that helped fuel support for the group. This is especially problematic because, even after the conflict was over, many of the people of Peru – especially indigenous people – resented the State more than the Shining Path.

During our meeting, Reátegui further discussed the future of Peru and its TRC. He acknowledged the problem of discrimination, stating that, although it had abated somewhat over the past year, it was returning to its previous levels now. He spoke about the need for the Peruvian state to repair relations with the Peruvian people, and emphasized that Peruvians need to repair ties with each other. The structural and educational reform recommended by the TRC could certainly help in this area, but there is more work to be done. Political participation and inclusion are key, as are public awareness of the conflict and restoring respect for all groups in Peruvian society.

Reátegui spoke about how the creation of the Republic instilled a sort of racism in Peru that was different from the social hierarchy and discrimination that existed during colonial times. Prior to the Republic, “elite” indigenous leaders were respected, even by the colonizers – something which does not occur anymore. However, in order for the state to truly heal after the divisive and violent conflict of the 1980s and 1990s, the trust of the Peruvian people in the state must be restored. To restore that trust, the State must follow up on its promises to the Peruvian people, at all levels, for every ethnicity, including Afro-Peruvian, Andean, and Amazonian. The diversity of Peru can be a gift – but for those on the fringes of society, or those looked down upon because of their identity, it can also be a curse.

[Note on the title: La piel y la pluma: escritos sobre literatura, etnicidad y racismo is a book by Peruvian historian, sociologist, and journalist, Nelson Manrique. It is about ethnicity and racism in Peru’s history.]

For more information on the final report of Peru’s TRC, visit: http://www.cverdad.org.pe/ingles/pagina01.php or https://www.ictj.org/news/ten-years-after-peru-truth-commission

– Maya Camargo-Vemuri

Transitional Justice for Sustainable Peace and Prosperity

There is nothing more distressing than first-hand experience of armed conflict as a victim. I have seen people living through brutal war and later recovering from the trauma with an expectation of justice and harmony through the transitional justice arrangement. I grew up in Nepal during the Maoist insurgency and witnessed post-conflict transitional politics and the complexities of the transitional justice process. Nepali people have yet to see the conclusion of the process of truth seeking and reconciliation that transitional justice usually involves. Is this the case also with Peru?

Nepal ended the decade-long Maoist conflict through the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006 and concluded the peace process by integrating Maoist combatants into the state army and Nepali society in 2011-12 and by writing a new constitution through an elected Constituent Assembly in 2015. However, Nepali society still contains seeds of conflict because the process of transitional justice has not yet healed the wounds of war and addressed minority concerns.

My interest in Peru was to see if transitional justice could address issues and concerns of minorities there. The tradeoff between development and justice is also a concern for scholars of transitional justice.[1] My focus was to see to what extent Peru’s transitional justice paved the way for sustainable development with its three pillars of economic development, social justice, and environmental protection so that Peruvians could expect a sustainable peace.

In Lima, our group had an opportunity to discuss with Félix Reátegui, Director of Sociological Research at the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights of La Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (IDEHPUCP), a sociologist and human rights activist who played an important role as Final Report Coordinator on Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) between 2001 and 2003. At IDEHPUCP our group viewed a documentary video on the war with the Shining Path and Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) that occurred during the 1980s and 1990s. This visually illustrated how devastating the war was and its impact and aftermath. I felt that those two decades were a particularly significant part of modern Peruvian history that had proved costly for the Peruvian people.

The Peruvian conflict was born out of inequality and social injustice – especially racism and extreme poverty – the victory of Cuban rebels, and Maoism-inspired local revolutionaries in the 1970s. The war occurred mainly in rural, sierra areas of Peru led by middle class, educated rebel leaders who inspired some poor farmers and laborers to join them. Grievances and mobilization are common to most of the conflicts in developing countries, including in Peru and Nepal. Grievances, usually raised by feelings of injustice, are used as opportunities for mobilization for a conflict. The only difference I observed between Nepal and Peru was that Nepali Maoists learned lessons from the earlier brutal ending of the Peruvian revolutionaries and thus agreed to end the war when they still had control over much of Nepal’s rural areas.

In Peru, feelings of injustice were ripe for political manipulation by some. Over time it got worse and gave birth to the Shining Path and MRTA, which devastated Peru during the 1980s and 1990s in the war with the also brutal Peruvian military. Injustice often occurs when the powerful are privileged over the powerless, and a lack of minority economic and social rights played a large role in the conflict.

Peru concluded the TRC committee process in 2003 with its nine-volume report consisting of 8000 pages, which involved 17,000 testimonies, 14 public hearings, and hundreds of archives. The report concluded that an estimated 70,000 people had been killed or disappeared, 54 percent by the Shining Path and 37 percent by the armed forces.[2] The TRC also confirmed that the war affected historically marginalized indigenous and rural people particularly heavily with huge social and psychological costs. I was touched by the narration, the brutal reality of innocent people caught between two sides in that violent war. Both the state and the rebels were found responsible for criminal human rights violations: massacres, kidnappings, forced disappearances, and sexual violence.

We might hope that a process of transitional justice could go some distance towards reconciliation in Peru. Mr. Reátegui was not entirely optimistic about the implementation of TRC recommendations and the overall outcomes of the transition process. I believe that it’s not a lack of resources, but a lack of political culture, combined with both a political failure to address the issues of marginalized people and corruption across all sectors of government that may be the main factors behind Peru’s continued stagnant development (as sustainable development) after almost two decades.

Three major aspects of sustainable development: economic development, social justice and inclusion, and environmental well-being should be addressed properly for effective transitional justice. As commonly practiced, transitional justice and the process of repairing post-conflict trauma should not involve a trade-off between justice and development.[3] Sustainable development may therefore offer some way out for transitional justice. In the process of sustainable development, civil society – including organizations of indigenous people and peasants – should have a role. I strongly agree that transitional justice cannot be effective in impoverished and devastated societies if the questions related to connection between development and transitional justice are not meaningfully addressed.[4] How should transitional justice have a more direct impact on reducing social and economic inequality/injustice? How can transitional justice be justice-with-development, not simply a trade-off between justice and development? How can transitional justice prevent the continuation of natural resource-based war economies and conflict-related environmental destruction in a post-conflict context? And, how can transitional justice effectively address the spiraling levels of criminal and social violence that may occur in post-conflict societies?

TRC/transitional justice often focuses on prosecutions and institutional reforms and reparations. I am glad to know from Mr. Reátegui that those attempts have turned out quite well in Peru. Overall, transitional justice should be a way to bridge the gap of inequality at the root of the conflict and balance sustainable development with social justice for sustainable peace. Government, political parties, civil society, NGOs, INGOs, and local communities all have critical roles to play in this process.

[1] Rama Mani, “Dilemmas of Expanding Transitional Justice, or Forging the Nexus between Transitional Justice and Development”, The International Journal of Transitional Justice, 2 (2008): 253–265. https://academic.oup.com/ijtj/article/2/3/253/2356985/Dilemmas-of-Expanding-Transitional-Justice-or

[2] Lisa J. Laplante and Kimberly Theidon, 2007, “Truth with Consequences: Justice and Reparations in Post-Truth Commission Peru” Human Rights Quarterly, 29, p. 233

[3] Ram Mani, “Dilemmas…”,  p. 253.

[4] Ram Mani, “Dilemmas ..” p. 253-254.

– Rajendra Pandey

The Mix of Spanish Colonial Influence with Indigenous Culture in Peru’s Architecture and Art

Walking around in Lima, the feel of Spanish colonialism is everywhere: the historical buildings, the cathedrals, and the churches. I previously lived in Spain for almost a year and have been to other Latin American countries, yet I believe there is something different and unique about Peruvian architecture and arts.

In 1532, Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro defeated the Inca Empire and took control of Peru. The Spanish ruled the land until independence in 1824. This almost 300-year span left Peru with a heavy colonial influence. Pizarro and his men built the City of Kings (La Ciudad de los Reyes) in what is today the historical center of Lima.[1] Spanish conquerors spread their language and religion and used them as instruments to control their colony. To further bolster their rule, the colonial government ordered European architects to build religious sites such as cathedrals, churches, and palaces.[2] Despite forceful suppression by the colonial government, local and indigenous architectural elements, often dismissed by scholars, found their way into these buildings and the fusion of styles became an important component of the unique culture of Peru.[3] For instance, in Lima’s historical district, almost all the buildings come with strong and clear colonial characteristics. But there is something more underneath the surface. For instance, Peruvian architects prefer heavier and bigger forms on their buildings, doors, windows, and balconies. And they often come with spiral patterns divided into many compartments. This unique style was mostly due to the infusion of Peruvian indigenous culture with colonial influences.

Outside Lima, another great place to observe the interweaving of colonial influence and local culture is Cusco. Cusco was once the capital of the Inca Empire, but in today’s city of Cusco, architectural elements of Incan culture are hard to see among the Spanish colonial buildings. In the Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús, a local guide told me that in Cusco, 80% of the people are Catholic; however, 80% of those Catholics also believe in Incan religions and practice both religions. In turn this influences the art works and paintings inside the church. First, all the Saint Mary’s statues inside the church have big triangular dresses and are holding babies. The big triangular dress symbolizes the mountains, which in the Incan religion represents the mother earth; and with Saint Mary herself as the symbol of motherhood, the Catholic Saint Mary’s statues also represent the beliefs of the Incan people. Moreover, in one of the paintings of the Great Angel Gabriel, his wings are very colorful instead of pure white as in European traditions. In addition, the paintings of Jesus Christ were also very different from European styles. Jesus is often depicted wearing a long dress, which is an Andean tradition for young kids, and the skin color, hair style, and facial characteristics all resemble local Andean people instead of the Spaniards.

The altarpiece in Cusco is said to be the tallest in Peru, and it was built by local artists and architects with a mixture of indigenous culture as well.  For example, in the holy trinity presentation part of the altarpiece, the Holy Spirit is represented by a very large goose (in Andean culture, the goose represents the sky) which is different than the European style which often depicts the Holy Spirit as being very small. Lastly, the most famous interaction of the cultures is the Qurikancha, which means the Temple of the Sun in the Incan language. Built on top of the temple is a Spanish Catholic Church, Santa Domingo. There is clear co-existence of Incan and colonial cultures within and surrounding this church. These architectural and artistic examples all illustrate the unique mixture of indigenous and colonial cultures in Peru.

In all, throughout the 300 years of Spanish rule, the architecture and art styles have been heavily influenced by colonial culture. It has left clear marks on Peru but local people have found ways to express their own culture under colonial influence, which created the colorful and diverse architectures and arts Peru has today.

Figure 1. Barranco colonial style building

Figure 2. Vice-royal style building, Larco Museum

Figure 4. Basilica of San Francisco

Figure 5. Cathedral of Lima at Plaza Mayor

Figure 6. Qurikancha

Further Readings:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/500

http://motherearthtravel.com/history/peru/history-5.htm

http://peru6thperiod.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-spanish-influence.html

http://wanglophile.com/essays/colonial-architecture-of-the-viceroyalty-of-peru-the-necessary-and-continued-role-of-the-indigenous-in-christianity/

[1] History of Peru, Area Handbook of the Library of Congress, http://motherearthtravel.com/history/peru/history-5.htm

[2]Historical Center of Lima, UNESCO,  http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/500

[3] Colonial Architecture of the Viceroyalty of Peru: The necessary and continued role of the indigenous in Christianity, April 2015. http://wanglophile.com/essays/colonial-architecture-of-the-viceroyalty-of-peru-the-necessary-and-continued-role-of-the-indigenous-in-christianity/

– Diwei Tao

Chinese Influences on Peru

China and Peru are very far apart geographically. In fact, 10,000 miles separates their respective hemispheres. China and Peru have had a long relationship, however. It originated in immigration. In the mid-1800s, Chinese laborers started to migrate to Peru.[i]

Chinese influences are visible in Peru. I saw many Chinese restaurants, called “Chifa” in  Peru, almost every couple of blocks. Some Chifas even have Chinese-version menus. Chinese products exist in almost ever corner in Peru. When we flew into the Amazon jungle, we saw Chinese merchandise, motorcycles, and cars at the port. We asked the locals why there are so many Chinese products, and their responses always referred to the low prices and maintenance costs of the Chinese products. Apart from what can be easily seen, other Chinese influences also exist; for instance, the mixture of Chinese culture with indigenous and colonial cultures.

Let’s take a closer look at the Chinese influences.

The first and the most obvious influence is on gastronomy. Since Chinese immigration to Peru, Chinese-Peruvian culture has revolutionized Peruvian cuisine[ii]. This great fusion is one of the reasons that Peruvian cuisine is one of the best in South America. Chifa, as an indicator of this fusion, is a loan word from Chinese “吃饭” (eat rice). Arroz chauf,  a popular Chifa dish, is a traditional Chinese fried rice that we can order from any Chinese take-out in the United States. Tallarin Saltado, a Chinese-Peruvian style chow mein, is also a popular chifa dish. These dishes reflect the fusion and cultivation of the products that the Chinese brought with them and those they found in Peru.

The Chinese influences on Peru’s cuisine due to the large Chinese immigrants to Peru historically. As I mentioned before, from 1849 to 1874, over 100,000 Chinese contract labors, called “coolies,” settled in Peru. [iii] They arrived as indentured servants or transitional labor in the mines and sugar fields to meet the Peruvian need for labor after the slaves were freed in 1854. [iv] When their contracts ended, Chinese laborers integrated into Peruvian society through marriage and business, which is also a part of the historical transition from slave to free labor in Peru.[v] Some freed laborers and later immigrants married Peruvian women and established many small businesses, which included “chifa”s. [vi] Chinese workers also participated in the building of railroads and development of the Amazon rainforest.[vii] These transitions have in turn impacted the Peruvian culture, combining Chinese culture with local and colonial cultures, and becoming a part of Peru’s modern identity.

Apart from Chinese historical influences on Peru’s cuisine, the two countries now have deeper economic ties. Trade and investment contribute to these ties, which are strengthened by the fast growth of China’s economy. In many small towns, even in the Sierras, you can see large trucks owned by Chinese mining companies rumbling down the narrow streets. Their presence indicates the large-scale direct Chinese investments going into Peru.

In fact, Chinese mining companies have been investing in Peru since Peru started privatizing mining enterprises in the early 1990s.[viii] The two countries also signed a bilateral free trade pact in 2009.[ix] In 2010, a group of Chinese companies announced their plans to invest more than $7 billion in Peruvian mining projects by 2017[x]. Every day, ships full of minerals leave Lima for China. Trade and investment have further solidified China’s status as a major strategic partner for Peru.

In all, despite the fact that Peru and China are so far from each other, their cultural interactions have a long history in Peru’s heritage. Chinese influence has contributed to the diversity of Peruvian culture, especially Peruvian cuisine. With the rising importance of trade between the two countries, they will only have stronger ties together in the future.

Figure 1. Chinese-made shirt at Puerto Maldonado, the tag is totally Chinese

Figure 2. Inside a Chifa restaurant in Lima

[i]  Nathaniel Parish Flannery, “How China’s Relations with Peru Explain its Approach to Diplomacy”, The Atlantic, Sep 12, 2013

https://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/09/how-chinas-relations-with-peru-explain-its-approach-to-diplomacy/279618/

[ii] Nathaniel Parish Flannery, “How China’s Relations with Peru Explain its Approach to Diplomacy”, The Atlantic, Sep 12, 2013

https://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/09/how-chinas-relations-with-peru-explain-its-approach-to-diplomacy/279618/

[iii] World Heritage Encyclopedia, “Tusán”, World Heritage Encyclopedia

http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/eng/Tus%C3%A1n

[iv]  Isabelle Lausent-Herrera, “Tusans (tusheng) and the Changing Chinese Community in Peru,” Journal of Chinese Overseas 5 (2009): 116.

[v] World Heritage Encyclopedia, “Tusán”, World Heritage Encyclopedia

http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/eng/Tus%C3%A1n

[vi] Justina Hwang, “Chinese in Peru in the 19th century”, Modern Latin America web supplement for 8th edition

https://library.brown.edu/create/modernlatinamerica/chapters/chapter-6-the-andes/moments-in-andean-history/chinese-peru/#_ftn1

[vii] World Heritage Encyclopedia, “Tusán”, World Heritage Encyclopedia

http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/eng/Tus%C3%A1n

[viii] Cynthia Sanborn, Victoria Chonn, “Chinese Investment in Peru’s Mining Industry: Blessing or Curse?” Global Economic Governance Initiative Discussion Paper, Aug 2015

http://www.bu.edu/pardeeschool/files/2014/12/Peru2.pdf

[ix] Evan Ellis, “China’s Engagement with Peru: An Increasingly Strategic Relationship”, Jamestown China Brief, Nov 11, 2011

http://209.157.64.201/focus/f-news/2807582/posts

[x] Nathaniel Parish Flannery, “How China’s Relations with Peru Explain its Approach to Diplomacy”, The Atlantic, Sep 12, 2013

https://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/09/how-chinas-relations-with-peru-explain-its-approach-to-diplomacy/279618/

– Tian Xu

The Roles and Relationships of Stakeholders in Posada Amazonas Ecotourism Development

When dealing with different stakeholders – in the present case, this includes the local community, an ecotourism company, the Peruvian government, tourists, nature conservation advocates, nonprofits, academic organizations, and even the media – it is important to gain insight into their relationships in order to know what would be the key issues in establishing an appropriate benefits distribution system.

The present case is the 20-year joint venture of Posada Amazonas by the Ese’eja native community of Infierno and Rainforest Expeditions (RFE), a contract begun in 1996 and originally slated to end in 2016. The contract was recently extended to 2019. The Posada project had some support from foundations like MacArthur at the outset, but has been owned and operated by RFE and Infierno. Both sides of the Infierno-RFE agreement originally hoped to transfer full ownership and management to the local community by 2016. For years, the company has managed the website and bookings, the construction of the lodge in consultation with Infierno’s communal committee, and has handled many other logistics, particularly those involving marketing, management, and accounting skills. However, as many in the community have come to see the importance of the posada project and ecotourism business, the desire for greater autonomy has grown, especially given the potential for mistrust and conflicts of interest in developing an effective partnership with the company. What are both sides’ expectations and how could the partnership either continue or end?

After my talk with one of the guides while we were staying at Posada Amazonas, I realized that for at least some of the people employed by the Posada, there has been an information asymmetry problem in dealing with RFE. For example, when information is provided by the local lodge, RFE typically selects what to post on the website and limits members of the Infierno community from fully knowing what other lodges associated with RFE might be doing or having problems or successes with; RFE is not exclusively bound to its relationship with the native community and the Posada but has other partners on other lodge projects. This information asymmetry has sometimes led the people of Posada Amazonas to feel that they have a lack of consultation and decision-making power, while believing that they know better about the ground-level situation than the company does. Moreover, some view their salary as being rather low in comparison to what they feel they contribute to Posada Amazonas in terms of creating values and profits for the company. Some at the Posada want not only more balanced information, but more economic returns and autonomy in building their own lodge. However, that expectation is still a lofty goal.

RFE’s main idea in setting up the joint venture consisted of three aspects: rainforest experience for visitors; rainforest conservation; and community capacity building (to create more options for people to live a better life). The idea was to add/create market value to the forest reserve rather than let the forest degrade due to unmanaged logging, hunting, or farming activities. As a for-profit company, RFE focuses on access, services, and product. Rainforests and the indigenous culture are part of the services and products and indigenous people are also the executives of the services and products. It is understandable that, to date, transferring full ownership to the community is not a top priority for the joint venture. For the co-founder of RFE, timing is the primary factor in transferring ownership. The project has provided options for families in the community. In my opinion, however, the company is not 100% sure that the community has the ability to run the eco-lodge on its own; neither are some members of the community.

RFE is still exploring better ways to maintain the partnership. This includes attracting true fans (better quality but not quantity of visitors to expand markets), defining a community member in better distributing dividends, understanding mega-family business and the Ese’eja identity in order to speed the process of decision making while incorporating representation of the community, etc.

In conclusion, the native community and RFE hold similar goals of preserving the rainforest and running the ecotourism project in the best way to create the most returns, both economically and educationally. The perspectives of both sides are different but not without common ground. The community wants to make sure that their efforts are appropriately valued and that their home (the rainforest) is not misused and the company wants to make sure that the project is well-managed. This is probably normal.

I do not know the exact details of previous and ongoing areas of disagreement as I am only an outside observer of the Posada Amazonas project. However, from my experience in talking with both sides, I saw space for negotiation and flexibility. What could be possible is that the local community gains more bargaining power with the company as the “experts” of their home territory while the company continues to play a role in training and in those management aspects of the business that some community members do not wish to assume a leadership role in, like marketing. In many ways, I feel the Posada can be a good model for Amazon ecotourism.

Last but not the least, we need to acknowledge that RFE has to deal with visitor demands and feedback, and that the community has to deal with complicated relationships within the community and between other communities in the Madre de Dios area as well as with the local government. This broader range of stakeholders all have influence on the development of ecotourism businesses but I think the partnership between the Infierno native community and RFE will continue to be better coordinated in the coming years.

Website: http://www.perunature.com/

– Yihong Liu

Street Vendors and the Informal Economy in Peru

After a long trip in the Amazon rainforest, wandering around the cities of Lima and Cusco presented very different scenes. In contrast to the tropical Amazon rainforest, these arid cities conformed more closely to my preconceived ideas about Peru. One of the most impressive things, especially in Cusco, was the street vendors.

A vendor in Cusco

I was initially not so surprised that street vendors could be found everywhere in the city since this kind of scene is common in China, even in the mega-cities of Beijing and Shanghai. However, when I found the problem behind was about the informal economy, this phenomenon turned out to be an investigable topic and could be served as a proxy of informal economy. Street vending is a typical informal trade, as mentioned in a Hernando De Soto study, and one of the “three major areas in Peruvian society dominated by informality” (De Soto, 1989). Informal trade, according to De Soto, is pervasive in Peru. “There are around 1,500 informal street vendors in downtown Lima” (Vigo, 2013). In Cusco, street vending is a part of local traditional culture that has been part of the downtown of Cusco since pre-colonial times (Steel, 2012). Street vendors seem a crucial part of the city rather than a nuisance because these street sales are all about local items, such as Peruvian barbecue with grilled beef, pork and chicken mixed with potato. Others sell handicrafts, including stone carvings, necklaces, and scarves. In my view, they are the cultural symbols of Peru, similar to the gorgeous cathedrals and incredible ruins of the ancient Inca Empire, which representing the iconic features of Peru.

However, in the Peruvian government’s view I must be a weirdo since they treat street vendors as a constraint on the national economy.

 

As in other developing countries, Peru has been undergoing rapid urbanization, which has stimulated a tremendous increase in urban economic activity in the formal and informal sectors. Based on a lecture to our group by Fernando Villarán, professor and former Minister of Labor, 19 percent of Peru’s GDP in 2007 was from the informal economy. Informal employment dropped from 79 percent to 75 percent of the workforce from 2007 to 2010. National governments often suggest that informality can jeopardize a country’s economy. The control of street vending intensified when the historic center of Cusco started to attract national and international attention. “In line with the modernist development visions that permeated the academic reasoning of the 1950s and 1960s, these forms of commerce were thought as backward, inefficient and detrimental to national development programmes” (Cross, 2000). Although local municipalities have adopted regulations to attempt to discourage street vendors (Steel, 2012), these itinerant sellers have never surrendered to central power and continually search for ways to remain on the streets, playing a cat-and-mouse game with municipal managers.

De Soto explains, however, that the street vendors were not productive due to their poor ability of providing sufficient goods and services (De Soto, 1989). Moreover, informal vending does not contribute revenue to the national economy and instead has costs in terms of public services.

Personally, informality is a phenomenon that can be transformed with higher efficiency rather than a simple problem that should be solved by aggressive governmental involvement. In De Soto’s view, institutional reforms for addressing informality should involve abandoning current government regulations of trade and other areas. The informal economy needs free capital and free markets to become essential players in the economy, “thereby creating a path of market-oriented reforms” (Marquez, 1990). Instead of condemning informality as a nuisance to the economy, the government ought to recognize informality by reducing burdensome restrictions and cutting bureaucracy’s role in the economy, informal trade will expand, and their incorporation into the formal economy will benefit both sectors of the economy (De Soto, 1989). Fernando Villarán suggested something similar at our meeting in Lima. He also supported the idea that the government should allow market forces to compete under appropriate regulations. Economic reform requires a comprehensive and well-designed plan that includes all the main actors.

References

Marquez, A. (1990). The Other Path by Hernando De Soto. Boston College Third World Law Journal, 204.

Soto, H. d., & Instituto Libertad y Democracia (Lima, Peru). (1989). The Other Path : The Invisible Revolution in the Third World (1st ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

Steel, G. (2012), Whose Paradise? Itinerant Street Vendors’ Individual and Collective Practices of Political Agency in the Tourist Streets of Cusco, Peru. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 36: 1007–1021.

Vigo, M. (2013). Downtown Lima Sees Increase in Informal Street Vendors. Retrieved from http://www.peruthisweek.com/news-downtown-lima-sees-increase-in-informal-street-vendors-13521

Cross, J. (2000) Street Vendors, Modernity and Post Modernity: Conflict and Compromise in the Global Economy. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 20.1/2, 30–52.

– Zili Zhang

Giant River Otters of the Amazon

Photo: Araguaia

Giant river otters (scientific name:  Pteronura brasiliensis) are an endangered species among the three top predators in the  Tambopata River and its oxbow lakes (the other two being anacondas and caimans). They are piscivores, eating the fish that live in the river. Typically, groups of otters will have nine to twelve members. River otters are monogamous (mating for life), and live in groups, often composed of one or more “families.” A typical litter of river otters will have four pups. The pups that are born to a couple will stay with the parents until maturity (approximately two years), after which they will separate and go off on their own, looking for a mate and a new group. The average lifespan for a giant river otter is eleven years.

River otters are extremely territorial, and will fight with other animals in the river over territory, including caimans, anacondas, and even other giant river otters. When encountering other predators such as caiman in their territory, river otters will attack as a group, killing their opponent. For this reason, they are called “lobos del rio” in Spanish, which translates to “wolves of the river.” River otters will also fight with opposing groups of otters if they come into their territory; the “winner” of these fights can take over (or keep living in) the territory in question, with the “losing” group having to find a new place (or return to their old sanctuary).

Despite being one of the top predators in the region, giant river otters are very shy around humans. While some guides in the region have sighted them many times, tourists in Madre de Dios have a lower likelihood of seeing giant river otters.

– Maya Camargo-Vemuri