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Peru Turns 200: Looks For Bright Future Under New President – OpEd

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Peru, the third largest country in South America, is the birthplace of several ancient civilizations, such as the Inca Empire and Norte Chico civilization. One of its most renowned landmarks is the Machu Picchu, an Inca citadel and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Like Indonesia, Peru has a presidential system, full-fledged democracy and a multicultural society. It also has an emerging social market economy, which the World Bank terms an upper middle income economy.

Peru gained its independence from Spanish colonial rule on July 28, 1821. Today, 33 million Peruvians, including those living in Asia, are celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime event: the 200th anniversary of their country’s independence.

“Our national identity, based on our mighty ancient culture, allows us to build our history and face the challenges of the third century of republican life. The bicentennial year should be a time to gain momentum, propose to better serve the needs of our people and commit ourselves to continue forging the country we want it to be,” Francisco Gutiérrez Figueroa, Charge d’Affaires a.i. of the Peruvian Embassy in Indonesia, told this author in Jakarta recently.

“Now, 200 years later, we have the possibility to rethink, imagine and honor our country at the same time. Beyond standing as a significant celebration, the Peruvian bicentennial should be understood as a space for dialogue and reflection in order to define our future.” 

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a Herculean task to celebrate such an event.

“We celebrate it under challenging, unexpected and unprecedented circumstances marked by the global COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing concerns and threats thereof,” Figueroa said. 

According to Figueroa, many bicentennial events in Indonesia are being held virtually due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

Today, Peru is also busy with another important event. President-elect Pedro Castillo, a former school teacher from the socialist Free Peru Party, will be inaugurated as Peru’s new president on Wednesday (July 28). Most Peruvians are excited to see these two great events.

Castillo, 51, narrowly won his election in the second round against his close rival, Keiko Fujimori, from the rightist Popular Force Party.

During his election campaign, Castillo promised to bring significant constitutional reforms and raise mining taxes. Peru had almost a dozen constitutions in the past, with the present constitution only coming into existence in 1993.

The mining industry, which includes copper, gold, zinc and other minerals, is one of the main lifelines of Peru’s US$225 billion economy. With 2.2 million metric tons of copper production in 2020, Peru is currently the world’s second biggest producer of copper after Chile.

Peru is heavily dependent on its exports. It manages its export earnings carefully to improve the welfare of its citizens. For example, Peru exported $38.8 billion worth of goods in 2020 to foreign countries, mainly Asia, the US and Europe, a significant decrease from $46.8 billion in 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its imports stood at $36 billion in 2020, lower than $40.6 billion in 2019.

In the 21st century, Peru’s biggest achievement was poverty reduction. Despite several political upheavals, Peru was able to cut its poverty rate from 60 percent in 2004 to 20.5 percent in 2018. Its present unemployment rate is 6.68 percent, while the current inflation rate stands at just 1.9 percent.  

Though agriculture is a major sector after mining, Peru is quickly turning into another ‘Argentina’ in terms of urban living. According to the www.worldometers.info website, 92.8 percent of people in Argentina, which is also an agricultural country, live in urban areas. Today, 79.17 percent of Peruvians live in urban areas in Peru.

Peru’s average life expectancy is 77.44 years, much higher than Indonesia’s average of 72.32 years.  

Last year’s COVID-19 pandemic severely hit Peru. Its economy deeply contracted by -11.12 percent in 2020. Its gross domestic product (GDP) grew 2.23 percent in 2019.

In the spirit of bicentennial celebrations and its new president, Peru’s economy is expected to grow more than 10 percent this year thanks to a dramatic increase in mining production and good prices for mining and agricultural products in the international market. It will be a bicentennial bonus for Peru.  

According to Figueroa, Peru is a megadiverse country.

“Under Peru’s national jurisdiction, 10 percent of the worldwide species of flora, more than 2,000 species of fish, 1,858 species of birds and 467 species of mammals can be found. We are proud of our high biodiversity; we value it and we conceive development as inseparable from environmental care and social inclusion,” Figueroa said.   

He was proud about Peru’s past and is optimistic about its future.

“Peru’s rich history, biological and cultural diversity, democratic values and respect for human dignity are the main legacies that will be handed down to future generations. At this date, we have come a long way. We should be proud not only of our heroes, but also all our ancestors, ordinary men and women who contributed with their tireless struggle, tenacity and great courage to achieve independence and progressively shape Peru as a true nation,” Figueroa said.

Peru shares its land borders with Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador. It also shares maritime boundaries with Costa Rica.

Peru is a peaceful country. According to the www.globalfirepower.com website, Peru has just 90,000 active military personnel and a defense budget of $2.70 billion.  

Peru has already realized the importance of rising Asia. It established close relations with countries like China, Japan, South Korea, India and Indonesia. It has also been focusing on Southeast Asia in recent years.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Peru is aware of the emergence of Southeast Asian countries as economic powers, especially Indonesia as the largest economy in the region and the 10th largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity. This is a fact that Peru has taken into consideration in order to define and design its foreign actions in search of greater development opportunities through access to new markets, investment resources, technology transfer and cooperation in various fields,” Figueroa said.

After 200 years of independence, Peruvians can expect a bright future under new President Castillo.

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Veeramalla Anjaiah

Veeramalla Anjaiah is a Jakarta-based senior journalist and the author of the book “Azerbaijan Seen from Indonesia

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