Morality in Peru

We can also affirm that the people's awareness of the negative perception of morality can change. 

Morality in Peru

By Antonio Peña Jumpa*

May 17, 2024.- What is morality? What is morality in a country like Peru? These are very difficult questions to answer, especially given the enormous number of cases of corruption, contract killings and organised crime, as well as the different forms of abuse and appropriation (illicit or licit) of goods and services that people carry out by taking advantage of the country's legal imperfection.

In this way, cases of corruption break into the country's legal system, violating different types of civil or criminal law, but contradicting popular morality as acceptable. “That person steals, but does works”, is an expression that is followed in different regions of the country, and in the capital, when supposing that an authority or politician is allowed to appropriate part of the resources or the budget of his/her entity, but as long as he/she does outstanding works in favour of his/her community. Only the scandalous cases, those that are exaggerated because appropriating part of the resources or budget directly affects a person or group of people, are the ones that explode and are prosecuted. But in most cases, the very procedural system used by lawyers to advise and release those involved in corruption cases ‘legitimises’ this popular expression.

Hitmen and organised crime are an offshoot of the enormous number of corruption cases in the country.

On the other hand, cases of hired killings and organised crime are in the news more than corruption cases. In most of them, the two are connected.  Hitmen and organised crime are an offshoot of the enormous number of corruption cases in the country. Hitmen is a profession for many young people who have had no other guidance from their environment or who, having had it, their need has led them to join this macabre profession. ‘Killing for money’, and in some cases for a few soles (500 soles or 120 dollars can cost a life), is an unacceptable activity for those of us who respect life. Organised crime is consolidated by this trade. Drug trafficking, illegal mining, illegal human trafficking, prostitution, illegal logging and timber trafficking, extortion loans, among others, are examples of criminal activities that are reproduced under the cover of hired killings.

But, in front of these two types of ‘illegal’ activities, there is another type of ‘legal’ activity that develops in the same way as the first, contributing to the configuration of a questionable morality in the country. The cases of abuse and appropriation (illicit or licit) of goods or services are these ‘legal’ activities that end up shaping a complex morality in the country. ‘Every person has to take advantage of the situation, otherwise he/she ceases to be a person’ is the simile of the expression ‘THE MORE THE PERSON LIVES OR AWAKENS, THE BETTER’. This means that, if the opportunity presents itself, you have to take it. Thus, if you have the opportunity to evade or avoid paying taxes, or if you can pay a person to speed up the processing of an order, or if you have the opportunity to sell at three times the value of a good because it has become scarce, or if you can lie or pay a commission to favour yourself in the election or appointment of a position or the awarding of a work or service, you have to take advantage of it. In the popular sense, the person who does not take advantage of this opportunity is either FOOLISH or CRAZY.

Given these examples, it is difficult to have a positive definition of morality. Morality is complex, it is questionable or, quite simply, morality in people's practice is perceived as a bad, opportunistic and negative thing to do or not to do.

Morality, today in a country like Peru, simply lacks values. In the three groups of examples, of people linked to cases of corruption, to cases of hired killings and organised crime, and of ‘living’ people, there are no values, or the underlying values are negative.

What is to be done?

Faced with the above facts, it is very difficult to have a definition of morality. Or rather, it is difficult to have a positive definition of morality.

Moreover, in a country like Peru, morality is relative, considering the cultural diversity of the country, but even more so because of the particular practical or opportunistic sense that predominates in the perception of the popular conscience.

In order to come closer to a definition, even if it is questionable, it would be necessary to look at specific cases of how morality is obtained. So, we would have to ask ourselves, each and every Peruvian, how we obtained what we understand as morality and from there, how we obtain the concept of morality.

Starting from the particular case of a person like the writer, we can say that morality was formed at home, in the family, with the contribution of Mum or Dad especially, and developed in the neighbourhood, at school and college, and was further developed at university or in our centres of higher education. If we had the opportunity to travel for studies to other regions of the country and abroad, morality continued to develop in the diversity of these different places and foreign study centres. Finally, morality is further developed, and especially put into practice, in our workplace and in our new home with our partner or married couple and our children.

Based on this experience, we can affirm that there is a concept of morality in countries such as Peru. Morality is a doing and not doing that involves the family and the community, and which is developed from childhood and does not end until a person and his or her environment disappear. Morality lives in this formation; it is a constant learning. Values such as NOT LYING, RESPECTING THE LIFE OF ANOTHER PERSON or NOT TAKING ADVANTAGE OF A SITUATION BY HARMING ANOTHER PERSON OR THE COMMUNITY are found in this formation. It is from this morality and its values that we can analyse cases of corruption, the activities of hired assassins and organised crime, and cases of abuse or legal or illegal appropriation of goods or services, in the actions of certain people and judge these actions as contrary or negative.

We can also affirm that the people's awareness of the negative perception of morality can change.  But how? This is a great task: with the daily actions (which become dominant) of those of us who share that learned and constantly forming morality.

(Written in Lima, May 13 and 15, 2024)

*Antonio Peña Jumpa is Professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and lecturer at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. Lawyer, Master in Social Sciences and PhD in Laws. The author is grateful for the conversation with Carlo Peña Campos on 13-05-2024.

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