President Alejandro Toledo was the first person of Quechua decent to be elected president of Peru, serving from July 2001 to July 2006. Toledo grew up in a large, poverty-stricken family that struggled to support itself. As a young boy, Toledo saw the value of education and became involved in politics and journalism at the age of eleven.
In 2000, Toledo was a leading figure in the movement that toppled President Alberto Fujimori’s authoritarian regime. Following Fujimori’s controversial re-election, which was surrounded by fraud allegations, Toledo organized mass street protests that ultimately forced the President’s resignation. Toledo emerged victorious in Peru’s subsequent presidential election in April 2001.
As president, Toledo implemented policies to reduce poverty by investing in the country’s health and educational systems. As a result of sustained economic growth and deliberate social policies directed at assisting the poor, extreme poverty was reduced by 25 percent in five years.
Since leaving office, Toledo has continued to be a leading voice in international development. He recently founded the Lima-based Global Center for Development and Democracy; through this organization, Toledo works to promote sustainable democracies and economic self-sufficiency in the developing world.
It was an extraordinary experience [speaking about running for president in Peru’s 2000 elections]. I wrote books about poverty at Harvard, at Stanford. But I realized that I was just writing books for the library that didn’t affect the lives of the poor. And although I escaped extreme poverty due to a statistical error, I couldn’t forget about my brothers and sisters who still remained in the dark hole of poverty or extreme poverty.
Yes, I entered politics without ever having participated in my life and without having a party. I decided to start a political party, Perú Posible, with five former students in ’96 and 2000. But in 2000, it wasn’t my turn to be a candidate. It was my turn – destiny charged me to first lead a democratic movement to recover democracy, and then after that we would think about elections. We did the March of the Four [name given to opposition street protests organized against President Alberto Fujimori's fraudulent presidential victory in 2000 and a reference to the four corners of the Inca Empire.]
I participated in the year 2000 – April of the year 2000, and I won the elections. I had 49 percent, and [former Peruvian President Alberto] Fujimori had 41 percent. However, when he heard what the results, he ordered them changed, because he controlled everything, the National Jury of Elections, the office of the ONPE [National Office of Electoral Processes], which is in charge of conducting elections.
At 4:00 in the afternoon, we knew the results, and at 8:00 at night, they were reversed. He had 49 percent and I had 41 percent. And the television channels were blank and put on “Donald Duck” and “El Chavo del Ocho.” [a Mexican sitcom]
It was my turn to be a strong leader. They robbed me. And I have to say, frankly, that there was a U.S. ambassador who was conspiring with Vladimiro Montesinos [the head of Peru’s intelligence agency under President Fujimori] and Fujimori.
It was President Clinton. He called me one night, in the middle of the crowd, 750,000Seven hundred and fifty thousand people in the street, young people from the university who were outraged about the theft of the elections, the – all the political parties. That night there were 750 [thousand] again, a million in the streets, outraged youth.
I say to the youth of the United States and the world that they must never lose the ability to become outraged in their search for dignity, for being just and being free. It was up to me to lead them, to march, to gather the four regions of the Incan empire. The 28th of July, the 26th, 27th, 28th of July, we had an extraordinary demonstration at which all of the political leaders spoke. President Fernando Belaúnde Terry spoke. [President of Peru from 1963-1968 and 1980-1985] They came from the four regions, and I went to seek them. They tried to get rid of them. They did everything to prevent them from coming. Many people came from all corners of Peru. Not everyone arrived. Some never made it because they were stopped along the way.
However, when they stole the election, I decided to mobilize the streets with a sweatband at my brow. It was very hard, because I was fighting against a regime that had, first, a lot of money, narcotrafficking and arms trafficking.
They found a presidential airplane full of cocaine, a ship full of cocaine. And they found arms purchased in Belarus. They went through Jordan to cross Peru, but just to give them to the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a Marxist guerilla organization] in Colombia. And they controlled everything: the judicial power, the Congress, the National Jury of Elections, the ONPE, responsible for holding elections, the armed forces, the church. They had everything. This is what I saw controlled.
And only with the strength of legs that never bow were we able to recover democracy. Nineteen death threats, tear gas – we’ve swallowed tear gas. But we won. We overthrew a dictatorial, corrupt government.
President Fujimori took advantage of an APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum] meeting in Brunei. He left on the presidential airplane from here [Peru] to Los Angeles. He left the presidential airplane in Los Angeles and continued on a commercial plane to Brunei so that afterwards he could go to Japan and renounce the presidency by fax as if it were a Hitchcock movie or political surrealism. And we discovered when they went to his province, we discovered that he had a birth certificate and he wasn’t Peruvian. And I don’t know how it is in the United States, but in Peru, to be president, one must be Peruvian by birth. I understand that is how it is in the United States as well.
He got involved with the Japanese mafia of Yakuza. He presented himself to the Japanese senate with his Japanese nationality and begged. They named a transitional president, President Valentín Paniagua. And they held elections. I participated in these elections.
Fortunately, we won, and I had the privilege of leading the country to its destiny.
Peru is a democracy located on the west coast of South America. It has a multiethnic population of approximately 30 million people and is bordered by Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile and the Pacific Ocean. Peru has a dynamic and growing economy, but a sharp income gap. Approximately one-third of the population falls below the poverty line. Important industries include mining, agriculture, textiles and fisheries. Despite ongoing efforts at control, Peru is also a major source of illegal drugs.
The territory that is now Peru was the heart of the Inca Empire. In 1532, Spanish conquistadors conquered the Incas and established a colonial government. Peru obtained its independence from Spain in 1821.
For much of the 20th Century, Peru alternated between periods of democracy and military rule. Beginning in 1980, a Marxist terrorist group known as Sendero Luminoso (“Shining Path”) posed a persistent and severe challenge to the government. In 1990, Alberto Fujimori, a Japanese-Peruvian, was elected president. Once in office, Fujimori suspended the constitution and the legislature with the support of the Peruvian armed forces. The powers appropriated by Fujimori in this 1992 “auto-coup” enabled the government to largely eradicate the Sendero forces, but at great cost to Peruvian democracy and human rights.
In 2000, Fujimori ran for a third term, thanks to a questionable ruling by the electoral bodies in his favor. The elections were widely denounced as falsified, as Fujimori claimed a narrow victory over opposition candidate Alejandro Toledo. Embroiled in a corruption scandal and facing rising domestic and international opposition, Fujimori resigned and took up residence in Japan. He was later extradited back to Peru and convicted of a number of charges, including embezzlement and human rights violations.
New presidential elections were held in 2001 and won by Alejandro Toledo. Toledo was the first indigenous Peruvian to be elected as president and worked to restore democratic institutions and revive the economy. Since the restoration of democracy in 2001, Peru has held regular and democratic elections.