Peru has been inhabited since at least the 9th millennium B.C., and the earliest known American civilization, sometimes called the Caral-Supe, emerged there in the Norte Chico region by c.3200 B.C. Peru was later the center of several developed cultures, including the Chavín (see Chavín de Huántar), the Chimu, and the Nazca. In the 12th cent. A.D., the Quechua-speaking Inca settled around Cuzco, and in the mid-15th cent. they established by conquest a large, well-organized empire that included most of present-day Peru and Ecuador and parts of Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia. Their fortress city of Machu Picchu is perhaps the most extraordinary ruin in the Americas. Around 1530 the empire was weakened by civil war initiated by Atahualpa and Huáscar, who had been designated as dual heirs by their father, Huayna Capac.
Atahualpa had defeated Huascar for control of the Inca empire by 1532, when Francisco Pizarro, a Spaniard, arrived on the coast of Peru with a small band of adventurers. Atahualpa agreed to meet Pizarro at Cajamarca, where he was imprisoned after refusing to accept Spanish suzerainty and Christianity. Although the emperor's followers collected a huge ransom in gold and silver for his release, the Spaniards executed him in mid-1533. By late 1533, Pizarro had captured Cuzco, the Inca capital, and the empire had disintegrated. In 1535, Pizarro founded Lima, which in 1542 became the center of Spanish rule in South America.
From 1536 to 1544, Manco Capac, who had succeeded Atahualpa as emperor, led several unsuccessful uprisings against the Spaniards. At the same time, Pizarro and his brothers and companions (including Sebastián de Benalcázar) were unsuccessfully challenged by Pedro de Alvarado and then by Diego de Almagro and his son, who was defeated (1542) by Vaca de Castro, a representative of the Spanish crown sent to restore order. Pizarro forced the natives held in encomienda to work in the mines, on the lands of Spanish landlords, and in the small textile mills ( obrajes ).
The New Laws of 1542, which would have ended the abuses of the encomienda system, caused Gonzalo Pizarro to revolt (1544). He defeated the viceroy, Blasco Núñez Vela, but was in turn defeated (and executed) by Pedro de la Gasca in 1548. However, the New Laws were never administered for the benefit of the native peoples.
Francisco de Toledo, who was viceroy from 1569 to 1581, improved administration, defeated a revolt under the Inca Tupac Amaru, and resettled the natives in new villages, or reductions. The viceroyalty of Peru was expanded to include all of Spanish-ruled South America except Venezuela, and the mining of silver and gold increased. Lima was the administrative, religious, economic, and cultural center of the viceroyalty.
In the 18th cent. Peru was drastically reduced in size by the creation of the viceroyalty of New Granada and a viceroyalty centered at Buenos Aires (see Argentina); as a result, Lima lost control over considerable trade and mineral wealth. At the same time, government in Peru was reformed, but Spaniards retained almost complete control in the viceroyalty, and the indigenous peoples and creoles (persons of Spanish descent born in Peru) remained powerless and poor. Led by a man who called himself Tupac Amaru in reference to his alleged Inca ancestor, the native inhabitants revolted in 1780, but were defeated by 1783. There were a few additional uprisings in the early 19th cent.
The ideas of the French Revolution, and Napoleon I's conquest (1808) of Spain, led to strong independence movements in all of Spain's Latin American holdings except Peru. Peru's loyalty to Spain was due to the relatively large number of Spaniards who resided there, to the concentration of Spanish power at Lima, and to the efficiency of the government in the viceroyalty. As a result, Peru achieved independence (1821) largely because of the efforts of outsiders, notably José de San Martín and Simón Bolívar.
After he had ended Spanish rule in Chile in 1818, San Martín captured the Peruvian port of Pisco in 1820. Shortly thereafter the viceroy evacuated Lima, and on July 28, 1821, San Martín proclaimed the independence of Peru. However, Spanish forces remained in the interior. Bolívar took over the leadership of the liberation movement in 1822, and in 1824 he and his aides Antonio José de Sucre and Andrés Santa Cruz assured Peru's independence by defeating Spain at the battles of Junín and Ayacucho.
Santa Cruz left Peru to govern Bolivia in 1828, and government in Peru became confused as several military leaders vied for power. Taking advantage of the disorder, Santa Cruz joined Bolivia and Peru in a confederation in 1836. Fearing the power of the new state, Chile intervened militarily and the confederation was terminated (1839) after the battle of Yungay. Peru continued to be torn by civil strife until the emergence of Gen. Ramón Castilla, who was president from 1844 to 1850 and from 1855 to 1862. Under Castilla, Peru enjoyed stability and economic development.
A republican constitution was promulgated in 1860 and remained in effect until 1920. After Castilla, Peruvian politics again were in turmoil, due to corruption, growing foreign indebtedness, and an attempt by Spain to regain Peru. Claiming that Peru had not met its financial obligations, Spain seized the guano-rich Chincha Islands in 1863. Aided by Chile, Bolivia, and Ecuador, Peru defeated the Spanish at Callao in 1866; a truce was signed in 1871 and in 1879 Spain recognized Peru's independence. Meanwhile, President José Balta (1868–72) undertook a costly program of public works, including the building of Peru's first railroad, between Mollendo and Arequipa. Foreign debt had risen dramatically by the time the country's first civilian president, Manuel Pardo (1872–76), inaugurated a series of economic reforms.
In 1873, Peru signed a secret defensive alliance with Bolivia, which led to war with Chile (see Pacific, War of the) in 1879. Chile badly defeated the allies and by the Treaty of Ancón (1883) Peru had to yield the province of Tarapacá and also to surrender the other southern coastal provinces of Tacna and Arica to Chilean administration for a period of 10 years, when a plebiscite was to be held. There ensued the Tacna-Arica Controversy, which was not resolved until 1929, and tensions over the border have periodically flared since. Peru emerged nearly bankrupt from the war. President A. A. Cáceres (1886–90) created a syndicate of foreign capitalists to manage the guano deposits and the railroads, and foreign influence and holdings in Peru grew stronger.
The first third of the century was dominated by President Augusto B. Leguía (1908–12, 1919–30), who for much of his tenure was a virtual dictator; he promoted economic development in the interest of the country's dominant oligarchy. In 1924 a new political party, the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA), was founded by Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre; it called for radical reform, especially of the condition of native peoples. The party was banned by Leguía and was again outlawed after Sánchez Cerro overthrew Leguía in 1930.
The 1930s were marked by bitter rivalry between leftists and rightists, with the latter dominating politics for most of the decade. However, a more moderate course was followed by President Manuel Prado y Ugarteche (1939–45). Peru was involved in a serious boundary dispute with Ecuador in 1941 and sided with the Allies in World War II. APRA was allowed to take part in the 1945 elections and backed the victorious moderate, José Luís Bustamante y Rivero. However, APRA split with Bustamante in 1947, and the resulting disputes led to a military coup by Manuel Odría in 1948. Odría, a conservative, was president until 1956, when Prado was again elected, this time with APRA support.
In the 1962 presidential elections Haya de la Torre won by a small plurality, but did not receive the required one third of the total vote. The military seized power and conducted elections in 1963 that were won by Fernando Belaúnde Terry, a moderate reformer. Belaúnde opened up the interior of the country by constructing a highway system through the Andes, but his regime was plagued by budgetary deficits and spiraling inflation. In 1968 he was deposed by a military junta, which installed General Juan Velasco Alvarado as president. Velasco suspended the constitution and assumed dictatorial powers, seeking to diversify the country's economy by exploiting its natural resources (especially petroleum) with foreign help but without foreign control.
In 1970 a severe earthquake in N Peru killed about 50,000 people. In 1975, Gen. Francisco Morales Bermúdez headed a new junta, and in 1980, a new constitution came into force and civilian government was restored. Both Morales and his successor, Belaúnde, instituted austerity programs to aid the failing economy. Inflation soared, leading to civil unrest, much of it led by a Maoist guerrilla group based in the Andes Mts. known as the Shining Path and by the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). Alan García Pérez, elected president in 1985, instituted a broad range of social and economic reforms, but the cost of military actions against the insurgents continued to strain the economy, which suffered from rampaging inflation. His term was also marred by cronyism and corruption and charges of army abuses in actions against the Shining Path, and he left office widely discredited.
In 1990, Alberto Fujimori defeated author Mario Vargas Llosa for the presidency. Insurgent violence continued, and in Apr., 1992, Fujimori suspended the constitution, claiming that emergency action was necessary to fight guerrillas, drug traffickers, and corruption. By Sept., 1992, many Shining Path leaders had been captured and jailed, and the rebel group no longer posed a serious threat to the government. After three years of economic liberalization, hyperinflation was eliminated, and the economy was growing at a good rate. In 1993 voters approved a new constitution that allowed Fujimori to run for a second consecutive term; he was easily reelected in 1995, and his party won a large majority in the new congress. There was, however, international criticism of his authoritarian policies and concern over the power of the Peruvian army. In 1995 Peru and Ecuador clashed in a brief border war; the dispute was resolved by treaty in 1998.
On Dec. 17, 1996, a group of MRTA guerrillas infiltrated a reception at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima and took about 600 hostages, many of whom were soon released; the MRTA's demands included freedom for their jailed comrades. Following months of failed negotiations, Peruvian forces stormed the building on Apr. 22, 1997, saving all but one of the remaining 72 hostages and killing 14 guerrillas. In the late 1990s, Fujimori continued with his privatization program as Peru struggled with a recession due in part to the effects of a particularly damaging El Niño and a financial crisis in Asia; the economy began recovering in 1999.
In the 2000 presidential contest, his government orchestrated widespread media attacks on his opponents, but despite this Alejandro Toledo Manrique, a business-school professor, forced Fujimori into a runoff election. The election commission was accused by observers of vote tampering and trying to steal the first-round election, and Toledo withdrew from the runoff, expecting Fujimori's campaign to engage again in fraud. In the congressional elections, Fujimori's party, Peru 2000, lost control of the congress but remained the largest bloc, with more than 40% of the seats.
In September his chief adviser and head of the intelligence service, Vladimiro Montesinos, was revealed to have bribed opposition lawmakers, and Fujimori abruptly offered to hold new presidential elections in which he would not run. Ongoing political instability and the possibility of a corruption investigation led Fujimori to resign in November while traveling in Japan, where he remained in exile. The congress, however, refused to accept his resignation and declared him morally incapacitated and the presidency vacant.
Congress speaker Valentín Paniagua became interim president, and new congressional and presidential elections were scheduled for the following year. In June, 2001, Toledo was elected president, after defeating former president Alan García in a runoff. Although the electorate showed no great enthusiasm for either candidate, the election was notable for being nearly free of irregularities. Toledo sought to purge Peru's military and security forces of supporters of Fujimori and Montesinos; the latter was arrested in mid-2001 and later convicted of corruption, plotting to overthrow Fujimori, and other charges.
Toledo's popularity subsequently evaporated, however, as a result of political promises that went unfulfilled and ethical scandals involving several ministers in his government. Elections in Nov., 2002, for the newly established regional governments were a victory for Alan García's APRA party. In July, 2004, Toledo was charged by a former aide with taking a $5 million bribe from a Colombian company. Toledo denied the accusation, but the charge further eroded what little public standing he had. In Jan., 2005, a group of 150 army reservists staged an abortive uprising in Andahuaylas, in S central Peru, and called for Toledo's resignation; they surrendered after four days. Charges that Toledo and his party had been involved in forging signatures to register for the 2000 elections led in 2005 to a congressional committee investigation that, after splitting along party lines, accused Toledo of electoral fraud. The congress, however, did not vote to impeach Toledo.
In Oct. 2005, voters rejected a goverment proposal to consolidate 25 of Peru's regions into five "macroregions." An ambush by Shining Path guerrillas in December led to the declaration of a two-month state of emergency in E Peru, and the group experienced something of a resurgence beginning in 2007 due to payments it derived from protecting the illegal cocaine trade. Peru accused Venezuelan president Chávez of interfering in its politics in Jan., 2006, when he met with and offered support to Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala, a leftist nationalist who had led an abortive military uprising in 2000 (and whose brother had led the 2005 uprising). The two nations subsequently (April) recalled their ambassadors, but agreed to resume ties eight months later. Also in January, an attempt to register Fujimori, who had visited Chile and was arrested there at Peru's request, as a presidential candidate was denied.
Humala finished first in the Apr., 2006, presidential election, but fell well short of a majority of the vote. Humala was forced into a runoff with former president Alan García, who won the post after the June vote largely because he was regarded by many as the lesser of two evils. Humala's party, however, won the largest bloc of seats in the Peruvian congress. In Dec., 2006, Humala was charged with rebellion in connection with the 2005 Andahuaylas uprising.
An earthquake in Aug., 2007, caused extensive devastation in the Ica region of SW Peru; more than 500 persons were killed. Fujimori was extradited from Chile to Peru in Sept., 2007, and he was subsequently convicted (2007, 2009) in four cases arising from his presidency. In Oct., 2008, seven members of García's cabinet lost their posts over their possible involvement in a corruption scandal in which a Norwegian oil exploration company was accused of paying kickbacks in return for government contracts. The cabinet changes were also partially prompted by demonstrations over the regional distribution of mining revenue.
In Apr., 2009, there were demonstrations and blockades in Peru's Amazonian region against laws passed by decree in 2007–8 that governed the economic development of government lands; indigenous peoples feared that the laws would permit businesses to gain control of their lands. In June, following a deadly clash between government forces and protesters in which dozens died, the laws were repealed, and the prime minister resigned in July. The incident was the worst of a series of confrontations with indigenous groups over resource development that marked the last half of García's second term.
In Apr., 2011, Humala again won the first round of the presidential election, with about one third of the vote; Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the former president, placed second. In the June runoff, Humala defeated Fujimori by a relatively narrow margin. The new government subsequently faced massive antimining protests that turned violent and deadly, and led to a declaration of a state of emergency. One of Humala's two vice presidents, Omar Chehade, resigned in Jan., 2012, after he faced impeachment over corruption charges; Chehade had resisted Humala's call that he resign. In Apr., 2012, the government said a remnant Shining Path group operating in central Peru had been defeated; other remnants, in SE Peru, were more successful in resisting government forces.