In the absence of a better decentralization structure, organizations such as AMRESAM should be viewed
as ad hoc intermediaries that can meet some of the demands and channel others to the central
government. Moreover, as the issue of decentralization moves further into the political arena,
organizations such as AMRESAM will likely play a key role in advancing the debate. When and if a
decentralization program is implemented that leads to greater local control over decisions and spending,
and which contains viable revenue mechanisms, those regions that have already developed some form of
intermediate level institutions will be better prepared to govern in the new environment.
The Civil Society Arena
Political theory and historical experience suggest that the development of a strong and autonomous civil
society is fundamental to sustaining political democracy. Private civic associations of all sorts played an
important role in pressing for the transition to democracy in Peru as in much of South America in the
1970s and 1980s. Today, given the decline in credibility of most governmental institutions and political
parties, there are increased expectations that civil society organizations will assume greater responsibility
for the expansion of citizen participation and the articulation of interests in the public sphere.
Strengthening civil society has become a priority for the World Bank, the Inter American Development
Bank, and other bilateral and multilateral agencies operating in this region, as well as for USAID.
How realistic are these expectations? Who actually
civil society in Peru, and what are the real
capacities and limitations of private civic associations? Which actors in civil society are the most
effective advocates for democracy as it is understood in this report (i.e., consensus, rule of law,
competition, inclusion, and good governance), and which actors might be obstacles to such objectives?
he Fabric of Civil Society: Diversity and Fragmentation
Civil society in Peru is much like pre Colombian textiles: it is beautifully woven and richly textured, has
an infinite variety of colors and designs, and is also extremely fragmented and in need of conservation.
Based on ancient traditions of solidarity and mutual self help, Peru's civil society has increased in size
and organizational capacity over the past 20 years. Today's dense social fabric includes over 110,000
private nonprofit organizations working in such areas as education, health and community based social
services, involving more than a million and a half persons or 11% of the population between 15 and 65
years of age. This number, which underestimates the total amount of associational activity, includes
64,905 socially based organizations, 29,491 sports and cultural associations, and 14,346 educational
institutions, as well as an estimated 1,600 self denominated non governmental organizations (NGOs).
Additionally, an estimated 250,000 persons belong to trade unions and 400,000 belong to peasant self
defense leagues (
), while millions of Peruvians belong to the traditional peasant and
native communities mentioned above (Portocarrero and Sanborn, 1998; Sanborn, Cueva and
Although few Peruvians participate today in explicitly political or partisan activity, they clearly organize
in other forms to achieve common objectives. In recent surveys supported by USAID, nearly half of the
population (48.7%) claimed to participate in some form of social organization (Tanaka and Zarate,
Peasant and native communities are not generally considered private and voluntary associations; however,
membership is defined by birth and family ties, and in many parts of Peru these organizations assume the functions
of municipal government.
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