Peru Historical Overview: History

History

In its early history Peru was variously populated by the Chavín, Paracas, Nazca, Mochica, Tiahuanaco, Huari and Chimu peoples. Perhaps the best known of Peru’s pre-Columbian civilisations, the Inca, rose in prominence from the early 13th century. Their power and influence reached a peak in the mid-15th century under Cusco-based ruler Pachacutec, who expanded his territorial control over south and central Peru, forming the basis of the Inca Empire. Over the next few decades the empire expanded throughout Peru and into parts of modern-day Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and Argentina. Incan society was based on a strict hierarchical power structure.

Attracted by the empire’s legendary wealth the Spanish arrived in Peru in 1531. They gradually conquered the country and imposed their language and religion on the indigenous population. For the next three centuries the country was dominated by descendants of the conquistadores, with indigenous groups suffering discrimination and political marginalisation. At the same time, Peru became the hub of a massive silver trade which helped finance the Spanish empire and its dynastic wars in Europe.

In 1821, following military campaigns led by Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín, Peru won its independence. Despite suggestions that the country establish a monarchy, the first independent Congress decided Peru would instead become a democratic presidential republic. However, for a long period after independence the fledgling democratic institutions remained extremely fragile.

It was during the early years of independence that the coastal areas first established their political and economic domination of the Andean and jungle regions. In this period Lima, not Cusco or Arequipa, consolidated its political dominance as the capital city. Economic activity was also concentrated along the coast from where, as of the mid-19th century, guano was ‘mined’ and exported as a fertiliser. Throughout the twentieth century the country’s economy remained dependent on the export of primary products, especially minerals, leaving much of the population marginalised.

In the 1960s this model reached a critical point when exhaustion of a number of resources and growing social unrest led to the military coup of General Juan Velasco Alvarado. After taking power in 1969 General Velasco introduced an aggressive land reform scheme in an unsuccessful attempt to implement a state-led model of development. Most foreign companies were nationalised. 

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