Sirens wailed, church bells rang and a sea of confetti fluttered through Lima's historic central plaza at the stroke of noon Thursday, alerting...

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LIMA, Peru — Sirens wailed, church bells rang and a sea of confetti fluttered through Lima’s historic central plaza at the stroke of noon Thursday, alerting Peruvians to synchronize their watches at the start of a nationwide campaign to promote punctuality.

Chronic lateness is often overlooked by Peruvians who consider it an endearing cultural trait. But President Alan García thinks otherwise.

It’s a “horrible, dreadful, harmful custom,” García said as the nationally televised ceremony kicked off the campaign, “La Hora sin Demora,” or “Time without Delay.”

The Forum for National Consensus, a government-led council of business and citizens’ groups responsible for the effort, is asking schools, businesses and government institutions to stop tolerating “hora peruana,” or “Peruvian time” — which usually means an hour late.

Peruvian officials proposed the initiative last month, saying that Peruvians’ constant lateness reflects a negative attitude toward work and hurts national productivity.

Short of hoping latecomers will be shamed into mending their ways, the campaign offers no rewards for compliance and no penalties for tardiness.

In a country where weddings, funerals, meals and business meetings rarely begin on time, García says tardiness not only demonstrates bad manners, but also presents a setback for Peru.

“To be punctual is to respect your neighbor,” he said. “When we lose time, Peru loses time.”

Alistair Williamson, 29, a technology consultant from London at the ceremony, applauded the campaign, saying “a lot of Latin American countries lose business” due to lateness.

Former President Alejandro Toledo showed up so late to events — sometimes by two hours — that Peruvians coined the phrase “Cabana time,” referring to his native mountain village.

Toledo even showed up late to García’s inauguration in July by taking 45 minutes to travel four blocks from the National Palace through swarms of supporters while dozens of foreign leaders and dignitaries waited in Congress.

The government could face an uphill battle to make sure 27 million Peruvians keep an eye on their watches: An invitation to the 11 a.m. ceremony was delivered to The Associated Press at 1:30 p.m., well after the ceremony had ended.