Bridging the Gap: The Defensoría, Informal Institutions and the ‘Accountability Gap’ in Peruvian Politics
In: John Crabtree (ed.), Peruvian Democracy: Old Problems, New Challenges (Institute for the Study of the Americas, May 2011)
17 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2014
Date Written: November 22, 2010
The Peruvian Defensoría del Pueblo, or human rights ombudsman, offers a compelling subject for analysis. Emerging in 1996 under the leadership of Jorge Santistevan (1996-2000) amid a process of institutional deconstruction, it nevertheless became, practically, the sole democratic state agent of accountability. Following a democratic re-transition in 2001, the Defensoría, led by (interim) Defensor Walter Albán until 2005 and subsequently by Beatriz Merino, has continued to assert its presence on the public stage in a restored, if fragile, democratic context. Adapting to a radically altered institutional context over its lifespan, the Defensoría remains a key institutional actor in Peru, described recently as holding ‘a solid political position not only in public life in general, but also with regard to the respect that it commands from other state institutions’.
At its most fundamental level this chapter seeks to understand the institutional development of the Defensoría in a country where democratic institutions have been tough to establish and even more difficult to sustain. To this end, the chapter builds upon the elaboration of a ‘primarily political’ causal mechanism by specifying the interplay and impact of formal and political dimensions of institutionalisation upon the Defensoría in Peru. Operating within one of the world’s most unstable electoral democracies, the experience of the Defensoría is also shown to reflect deeper ‘accountability gaps’ in Peru between democratic promise and the failure of the regime to meet pressing social needs and demands.
The chapter begins by with a contemporary review of the Peruvian Defensoría’s formal design features. This is followed by an evaluation of the office’s interaction with organised state and social actors. The third section analyses the Defensoría’s access to formal and informal accountability arenas within and outside state structures. The chapter concludes by reflecting on the implications of this study for understanding how accountability gaps shape institutional politics in Peru.
Keywords: Peru, ombudsmen, human rights, accountability, democratization
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