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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. 

And then I lost my mind. I got into politics. And then I formed a political party, Perú Posible. And with three former students of mine from Peru, I went to Japan to be a visiting scholar at Waseda University. I wanted to know the animal from within. And came back; I had to do this fight first to recuperate freedom and democracy in Peru. It was taken by [former Peruvian President Alberto] Fujimori, who changed the constitution three times and had a project of 30 years, including his family.

And so I became the leader of a democratic coalition. I have 19 death threats. One of them was – I forgot, this is the first time I’m going to say – one of them was ready to – was the day. Fortunately, people around me and some secret agents from other countries were able to detect they hired people from Colombia to shoot [me] one given night. Fortunately, they negotiated in Germany and Berlin for some exchanges and amnesty to life.

But I want to be very clear: I have deep, deep convictions. I’m an activist, an academic activist. And it’s not incompatible. It’s not incongruent. Conviction of freedom, democracy. And democracy’s not only practiced in one election day. Democracy we need to take care every day. And that involves a democracy that delivers concrete and measurable results so people believe in democracy; freedom to say what you believe; freedom of the press and the press that doesn’t sell its editorial line for a given cause as it was sold to Fujimori; human rights.

I belong to several organizations in the world and some board of directors. I have fought for 10 years to take this lady in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, and I just was last week in San Francisco, where she was decorated. [In September 2012, Burma’s most prominent pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi was honored by the Human Rights Foundation at the Freedom Forum in San Francisco]. I went to some states of the former [Soviet] Union to give a speech on democracy, freedom, human rights.

Some people ask me, what in the hell are you doing in Burma or in Georgia, the country Georgia, if you have some troubles in Latin America? And yes, my answer is, democracy does not have a nationality. It’s a universal value, just as much as human rights doesn’t have skin color. And they could try to cut my tongue or try to cut my arm, but they will never stop my convictions. Freedom. I am today free thanks to education. I chose to give you this interview. I have the option. Education provides you freedom. 

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. 

More on this theme from Alejandro Toledo

Alejandro Toledo: Freedom and Democracy as Universal Values “Democracy does not have a nationality. It’s a universal value, just as much as human rights.”

Other videos from Alejandro Toledo

Alejandro Toledo: Organizing Street Protests against President Fujimori “The youth of the world must never lose the ability to become outraged in their search for dignity, for being just and being free.” More +