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The weak State of Peru in its Bicentennial (2021)



Antonio Peña Jumpa

Professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. Lawyer, master’s in social sciences and PhD. in Laws. The author appreciates the comments of Leonidas Peña Jumpa.


200 years have passed since Peru's declaration of independence, but its State continues to be very weak. Its institutions and levels of government become illegitimate before the population shortly after starting their administration, due to misunderstanding, ineptitude, or the involvement of their authorities in acts of corruption. The problem is exacerbated when faced with a disaster or crisis such as the one generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the causes of this problem are not only found in public management, but in the historical social structures and the spirit of those of us who make up the country.

Before independence, it was about 300 years of Spanish colonialism (1533 to 1821) that transformed Peruvian society. In those years the Spanish culture was transplanted and with it the Western or European culture of that time. Spanish culture was imposed militarily, not peacefully integrated, subjecting the various pre-existing cultures: the Incas and their Quechua culture, and the hundreds of diverse cultural groups that populated the territory such as Aimaras, Ashánincas, Aguarunas, among others. This imposition also included the introduction of new forms of privilege, selfishness and ambitions that responded to the interests of the European metropolis.


Independence has not been able to recover Peru from that colonial transformation.

The liberating hosts under the command of José de San Martín first (1821) and Simón Bolívar later (1824) managed to free us from the Spanish viceroyalty, but not from their culture. The liberation meant a change of people in the government, but not of the content of this government. Thus, after the expulsion of the Spaniards, the criollos (Peruvian children of Spaniards) and some mestizos came to rule, maintaining the very oligarchic and racist colonial structure and mentality.


The support of this cultural, social, and political continuity has its explanation in a concept little understood and studied in the history of Peru: the legal culture. The institutions of the State, the election of authorities, the way of governing, as well as the content of how to legislate, reform, teach and learn the law, comprise this legal culture that has remained intangible since the colony.

First the conquerors, then the colonial authorities and finally the republican authorities have continued with the application of a legal system like that of the Spanish metropolis or that of the French Revolution; both from European legal culture. It was thought that European civilization was the best, and that through its model of legal system or law we could achieve this civilization.


It was also ethnocentrically thought that the cultural groups pre-existing to the Spanish had no legal culture or this was primitive. In this sense, only in a dependent or complementary way did they recognize certain constitutional or legal provisions of the original legal culture (recognized today in the form of peasant communities, native communities, or peasant patrols).

The weak character of the just Peruvian State resides in that dichotomy: to emulate the European legal culture (or, lately, the Anglo-Saxon-North American), although its society identifies with the legal culture of the various native peoples.


The last presidential elections have confirmed this reality. The various political parties have come forward with proposals for changes in the face of the health or political crisis, but without changing the legal system that today supports the economic model that, in turn, privileges certain economic groups. With some exceptions, the legal system is not questioned and the validity of a legal culture different from the dominant one can be proposed even less.


After a close electoral second round, which also revealed our discriminatory and racist awareness on social networks, the current presidency of the government has a political party that is in those exceptions. The new president is a rural schoolteacher who has even proposed a new political constitution for the country, but without a program and without institutional and social support for it.


What to do?

The Spanish colony and the Creole republic of 500 years ago has transformed the country by including a European legal culture in our institutions and in society. An objective change consists of initiating a renewed return, transforming that legal culture through a new institutional and social order that values ​​our original diversity in the context of globalization.


However, this return cannot be made improvised. It takes a collective understanding of the need for change, and a show of its success. A new constitutional order without institutional and social support does not guarantee this return and, even more, would weaken the State. A 500-year transformation process cannot be reversed in 1 or 5 years. But if it can be started.


One possible solution is to materialize cultural return in those regions where indigenous peoples or communities are found. With the implementation and effectiveness of the legal culture of these peoples or communities, others will seek to emulate the model and the return process would begin.

The current health emergency has shown this need. The various cultural groups neglected by the central government urgently demand a change. It is an opportunity to build a strong State in Peru based on its diversity and on its bicentennial.


Lima, July 31, and 1st. August 2021.


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