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August 2005

Peru, 1991

Peru, 1991

Peru is the third largest country in South America 1.28 million sq. km. (496,225 sq. mi.), bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and from north to south on the east by Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile. Peru is a constitutional republic, declaring its independence July 28, 1821. The principal language is Spanish, while other languages such as Quechua and Aymara also enjoy official status. Most Peruvians are Roman Catholic (90%). Peru's distinct geographical regions are mirrored in a socioeconomic divide between the coast's mestizo-Hispanic culture and the more diverse, traditional Andean cultures of the mountains and highlands.

During pre-Columbian times, Peru was one of the major centers of artistic expression in America, where pre-Inca cultures, such as Chavin, Paracas, Wari, Nazca, Chimu, and Tiahuanaco developed high-quality pottery, textiles, jewelry, and sculpture. Drawing upon earlier cultures, the Incas continued to maintain these crafts but made even more impressive achievements in architecture. The mountain town of Machu Picchu and the buildings at Cuzco are excellent examples of Inca architectural design.

When the Spanish landed in 1531, Peru's territory was the nucleus of the highly developed Inca civilization. Centered at Cuzco, the Inca Empire extended over a vast region from northern Ecuador to central Chile. In search of Inca wealth, the Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro, who arrived in the territory after the Incas had fought a debilitating civil war, conquered the weakened people. The Spanish had captured the Incan capital at Cuzco by 1533 and consolidated their control by 1542. Gold and silver from the Andes enriched the conquerors, and Peru became the principal source of Spanish wealth and power in South America.

Peru’s economy is one of the most dynamic in Latin America, showing particularly strong growth over the past three years. During the 1990s, Peru was transformed by market-oriented economic reforms and privatizations, and met many conditions for long-term growth. From 1994 through 1997, the economy recorded robust growth driven by foreign direct investment, but stagnated from 1998 through 2001. Private investment is rising and becoming more broad-based. Abundant mineral resources are found in the mountainous areas, and Peru's coastal waters provide excellent fishing grounds. Peru is a source of both natural gas and petroleum, although the country is a net energy importer.

U.S. State Department Background Notes, CIA World Factbook, 6/2005

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