Cablegate: Peru's Evangelicals: A Rising Force

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




State for International Religious Freedom Office
DRL for KBrokenshire, CNewling, KCumberland, DWalters
G for Laura Lederer
G/TIP for Linda Brown
WHA/PD for Mary Dean Conners

E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Peru's Evangelicals: A Rising Force

REF: Religious Freedom Report 2004

1. (SBU) This is the first in a three-part series on Peru's
Evangelical Christians. This cable traces the recent
history of this key emerging sector. The second will
delineate the Evangelicals' political strategy for the
upcoming presidential and congressional elections. The
final cable will point to outreach possibilities and speak
to Peruvian Evangelical Christians' potential as USG allies
on narcotics, trafficking in persons, and in countering anti-


2. (U) Peru's growing Evangelical Christian Community could
be an important factor in the upcoming presidential
elections. Over the last twenty years, this highly diverse
community has grown from 1-2 percent of the population to 10-
15 percent today. Peru's Evangelicals have already made a
strong, thought not sustained, impact on Peruvian politics.
They participated in the defeat of Sendero Luminoso (SL),
helped transform Alberto Fujimori from a long-shot candidate
into Peru's President in 1990, and, more recently, provided
a counterweight to Nelson Palomino's cocalero movement in
the Apurimac River Valley. Since the early 90s, when
Evangelical Christians provided key support to Fujimori,
their numbers, levels of organization, and social reach have
increased. End Summary.

Evangelicals: Two Decades of Growth

3. (U) Over the last twenty years, Peru's Evangelical
Christian community has grown rapidly, from an estimated 1-2
percent of the population to 10-15 percent today. Peru's
Evangelicals are enormously diverse. The Union of
Evangelical Churches (UNICEP), one umbrella organization,
represents over 7,000 churches with 600,000 members.

4. (SBU) Poloff recently discussed the Evangelicals'
potential influence in the upcoming presidential and
congressional elections with a wide variety of contacts
within the movement, including:

-Robert Barriger. An American Citizen, Barriger is the
President of UNICEP and founder of the 12,000 member, Lima-
based "Road to Life" (Camino de Vida) Church.

-Humberto Lay Sun. A Peruvian architect of Chinese descent,
Lay Sun is the founder and leader of the 20,000-member
Emmanuel Church. He is also an announced presidential

-Peter Hornung. Hornung is a successful businessman who
leads the 50,000-member Agua Viva Church in Lima. Hornung
is also a presidential candidate, though it remains unclear
if his has a viable party behind him.

-Cesar Castellanos. Founder and leader of the 300,000
strong "Road to Destiny" Church in Colombia, Castellanos'
Church is closely allied with Hornung's. Reportedly,
Castellanos also enjoys close ties to Colombian President
Alvaro Uribe. (Castellanos' wife is Colombia's Ambassador
to Brazil.) Castellanos recently preached to Promise-
Keepers style meeting of 15-20,000 men in Lima.

-Walter Alejos. The only Evangelical member of the Peruvian
Congress, Alejos is a former professor at the University of
Huamanga in Ayacucho (where he knew personally Abimael
Guzman) and former Director of the NGO World Vision in Peru.

5. (U) Poloff also discussed Evangelical Christians'
relationship to experts in other sectors. SL scholars
Carlos Tapia and Ponciano del Pino described the Evangelical
Christians role in turning back Sendero in the Apurimac
River Valley, and sociologist Jaime Antezano laid out the
recent history of the Evangelicals' strong ideological
divergences with the Cocaleros of that same region.

From Countryside to City

6. (U) Historically, Peru had a small Protestant community.
Evangelical Christians figured among them, but, until the
1980s, they had confined their conversion efforts to rural
areas, working with the poor. Their preaching urged people
to withdraw from an immoral society and practice faith in a
private way. These conditions changed dramatically in the
1980s as the Sendero Luminoso terrorist campaign sent
desperate campesinos streaming into the cities. At the same
time, the urban churches began to convert more members of
the middle class, giving the community far more potential
political leverage.

Grassroots Appeal

7. The reasons for the fast growth of the Evangelical
Churches became evident during a recent series of visits
Poloff made to Robert Barriger's Road to Life Church. The
Church's message is individualistic, positive, and relevant
to many Peruvians, particularly to formerly middle class
persons battered by the economic difficulties of the 80s-
90s, and to upwardly mobile rural immigrants to the cities.
Both in preaching and in teaching, Road to Life emphasizes
self-improvement and family reinforcement. Road to Life
offers an array of workshops on family issues, particularly
on the responsibilities of men (similar to Promise Keepers
in the U.S.). The Church provides a social safety net for
members, maintaining a list of low-cost doctors. Finally,
Road to Life runs its own social programs, including a home
for street children in Ayacucho and a highly successful
program - with U.S. partners - to distribute low-cost
wheelchairs to handicapped and impoverished Peruvians.

The "Holy War" Against Sendero

8. (U) Evangelical Christians in the Apurimac River Valley
took a lead role in fighting off Sendero Luminoso. The
Valley was important to SL for the way it linked Ayacucho,
Sendero's original base area, and the Ene River, a jungle
region where SL remnants still exist. Peruvian scholar
Ponciano del Pino describes the Apurimac River Evangelicals'
transformation from pacifist believers into holy warriors in
a 1995 Spanish-language article, "Times of War and Gods:
Ronderos, Evangelicals, and Senderistas in the Apurimac
River Valley."

9. (U) When SL first entered the Valley in 1982,
Evangelical Christians refused to take part in violent
actions against the state. In response, Sendero began
killing evangelical leaders and drove all established
religious authorities, Catholic and Protestant, out of the
area. Abandoned by "professional" religious authorities
(pastors and missionaries), del Pino relates, the Indian
peasants of the Apurimac River Valley interpreted their
situation in apocalyptic Biblical terms. Desperate
conditions promoted a surge in conversions. Many
Evangelicals concluded that Sendero represented the anti-
Christ and so eagerly provided much of the manpower for the
self-defense committees (ronderos) that ultimately defeated
the SL terrorists.

Key Support for Fujimori

10. (U) Evangelical Christians made their next impact on
Peruvian politics in 1990, when they helped transform
candidate Alberto Fujimori from long-shot outsider into
President. Carlos Bustamante, a self-made millionaire and
an important Evangelical leader, became an early Fujimori
backer. Fujimori then picked a prominent Evangelical,
Carlos Garcia, to be his running mate. Trained in outreach,
Evangelicals proved to be expert fund-raisers for the
Japanese-Peruvian candidate.

11. (SBU) The alliance with Fujimori proved a bitter
experience, one that is keenly remembered by Peru's
contemporary evangelical leaders. After his election,
Fujimori turned his back on his Evangelical supporters. In
addition, the Evangelicals who served in his government and
those elected to Congress turned in a disappointing
performances. Some became involved in the scandals of the
era. Others, according to contemporary Evangelical
Congressman Walter Alejos, had no idea how to go about the
day-to-day horse-trading that is congressional politics.
Alejos recounts how some of the 17 Evangelical Congressmen
who entered with Fujimori tried to convert other Congress
members during legislative sessions, a practice that puzzled
veteran politicians. Contemporary Evangelical leaders
stress that to influence politics, the movement needs to
develop a cadre of politically savvy, effective leaders.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Countering Cocaleros: Reaction to "the Sacred Leaf"
--------------------------------------------- ------

12. (U) The final Evangelical Christian incursion into
politics has occurred recently. Since 2000, the
Evangelicals in the Apurimac River Valley, motivated by
religious and ideological convictions, have proven to be
counterweight to the Cocaleros, according to rural
sociologist and cocalero expert Jaime Antezano. Antezano
said that in the 1985-1990 period when coca production
surged, the Evangelicals ignored the issue of cultivation
(though drug usage was discouraged among church members).
During the 1995-2000 period, when coca production dropped
dramatically, many farmers abandoned the crop, removing any
potential conflict between the area's Christians and coca.

13. (U) Coca production began a comeback in the Valley in
2000. Two years later, Cocalero leader Nelson Palomino
appeared on the scene and created the cocalero Federation of
Agricultural Producers of the Apurimac River Valley and the
VRAE (FEPAVRAE). Palomino proclaimed that coca was "a
sacred leaf" and wrapped his ideas in a glorification of the
Inca Empire. According to Antezano, the description of coca
as "sacred" and Palomino's quasi-religious references to
"sacred" Inca past proved deeply offensive to evangelical

14. (U) In response, Evangelical Christian farmers in the
southern part of the Valley formed their own Association of
Evangelical Producers (AEP) as a counterweight to Palomino's
group. AEP's leader, Andrez Allcca, publicly stepped
forward and called coca "the damned leaf" and, according to
Antezano, many Evangelicals began to eradicate their own
coca plants. Antezano added that for unknown reasons, the
opposition to coca moderated in the beginning of 2003, with
Allcca adopting a lower profile. Antezano noted that
recently anti-coca militancy among Evangelicals was on the
rise. He cited a recent AEP Congress in Lima where
Evangelical farmers, threatened by the re-emergence of Coca
and renewed incursions of narcotraffickers, came out against
coca cultivation.


15. (SBU) In the last three decades, Evangelicals'
membership has gone from rural to urban, from mostly poor to
increasingly middle class. Evangelicals have excellent
grassroots networks throughout the country and ties to key
groups in the U.S. They agree with the U.S. on a number of
key issues, including narcotics, terrorism, trafficking in
persons, and religious freedom. As Peru continues to
experience a strong wave of Christian revivalism, the USG
would be remiss to not pay close attention to this emerging


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