Peru in the 20th-century was characterized by the urban bourgeoisie. A former president, Augusto Leguía, proclaimed himself in 1919 as dictator and endeavored for a decade to modernize Peru by undermining landlords and opening the country to foreign capital. US-American companies extracted copper and oil but also produced sugar cane, cotton and tobacco. The countrys economic structure was changed, but it was still populated by millions of hard working Indians living in semi-feudal conditions. Resistance was brutally knocked to the ground.
In some circles in the cities – especially in Cusco – a neo-Inca movement emerged, both intellectuals and sections of the bour-geoisie found it smart to dress up as Inca or princess and play Inca-theater one evening; the movement did not establish any major connection to the countrys overwhelming Indian population.
A newly formed party, Allianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana, the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), would from 1924, with support of peasants, workers and intellectuals, limit US-American imperialism and nationalize land and industry.
When the party was banned, it was reorganized with limited member influence, so the masses could not develop awareness of their own power. In 1945, the party supported the election of José Luis Bustamante as president and gained some influence, but in return abandoned its original program. When the military seized power three years later, the party was again banned.
In the nineteen-fifties, the leftwing in Latin America – also in Lima – demonstrated against the United States, and not least the then Vice President Richard Nixons 1958 visit sparked fierce protests.
A demonstration leader, Hugo Blanco – member of the Trotskyist Partido Obrero Revolucionario, the Revolutionary Workers Party, who had been a university student in Argentina but had given up his studies – led in the early sixties a peasant revolt in the Cusco area. Here he mobilized 2,000 farmers to occupy a hacienda and organized the defense against other hacienda owners and the police. In the occupied territory, a land reform was implemented, the administration and the judicial system were reorganized.
Allegedly, Blanco arrested a hacienda owner accused of raping a little girl, and allegedly he in selfdefence shot a police officer. Although it could not be proved that Blanco was nearby these events, he was punished with 25 years in prison. In 1971, after international pressure, he was released and traveled in exile.
Not all radical students were socialists. In a Catholic student organization, Acción Católica, Catholic Action, they felt pressed by the leftwing criticism of social misery and by APRAs anti-church position. These Catholic students would strengthen the church with a new evangelization movement and engage in social change processes. Their answer was the liberation theology, later put forward by theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, who in the summer of 1968 had counseled Latin American bishops at a conference in Medellín in Columbia.
The Christian doctrine of salvation was combined with ideas of economic, political and cultural freedom, which was contrary to the mission and colonialism of the old world. The mission should be based on the reality of the Indian population. Sin was designated as source of poverty and oppression, which Jesus could redeem the people from. The Church was to stir up the oppressed for resistance. In cooperation with radical priests, the liberation theology spread among the poor and oppressed in Peru.
On October 2, 1968, a military junta, led by General Juan Velasco Alvarado, took power by a bloodless coup. Unlike those days – most often CIA-backed – military dictatorships in South America, the junta in Peru led a nationalist policy toward the United States and implemented land reform. The junta promised a new economic order, which was neither socialism nor capitalism, but to be based on nationalization of the fishing fleet, oil and mining companies and telecommunications.
As in the other dictatorships, freedom of speech was curtailed, but the military carried out only widespread acts of violence and it sought to reduce the discrimination of Indians who now were to be called campesinos, countrypeoples or peasants, rather than Indios, Indians.
Landlords raged over the expropriations. The redistribution of 60 percent of agricultural land implied that large farms were left to those who had been responsible for the daily cultivation. Although cooperatives were set up, the reform failed. Only a quarter of the families got land, and disagreement over the distribution of the expropriated machinery park – tractors, plows, combiners – led to manual power becoming normal and thus a tremendous decline in production. The peasants stood powerless and the agricultural country of Peru had to import food.
In the cities, the military dictatorship fought the US-American influence by banning rockmusic, for Perus own culture was to be strengthened. In 1972, bilingual education was introduced in parts of the country, so that both Spanish and Quechua respectively Aymara, two of the Indian languages that many so long had despised, were taught.
After seven years, Velasco was replaced by another general who totally changed the policy and privatized the newly nationalized industries. The country began to look like a ‘common’ ‘South American military dictatorship’.
In 1980, Peru became parliamentary again with Fernando Belaunde Terry as president – it was him who had been overthrown by the military junta in 1968. He followed the guidelines of IMF, the International Monetary Fund, with a steep rising unemployment and rising inequality as consequence.
The terrorist movement Sendero Luminoso, Shining Path, arose, and under leadership of philosophy professor Abimael Guzmán from Ayacucho, it wanted to mobilize the peasants – and did so, among other things by executing the peasants who did not obey the movement; the horrific notion of the movement was that misery would radicalize the peasants. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission made in 2003 up that the terrorist movement AND the states fight against it in the 1980s and 1990s had cost 70,000 lives.
In Peru, the militant movements have been organized by student-led parties or by populist officers, but not by the peasants and workers, who are the large oppressed majority of the society.
Today, local and national elections in Peru trigger meetings, demonstrations as well as political slogans and symbols on walls in big cities and in the countryside. There are many parties and the electronic media are used extensively.
Still, I have heard of popular loathing by politicians and have sensed anger and resentment.
Perus extremely heavy polls may be due to the fact that it is mandatory for everyone aged 18-65 to vote; failure to participate costs a fine. Candidates donations to the attending voters can influence the voting.
(pp. 469-473 in volume 2, reproduced without notes and illustrations):
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AZTECS AND INCAS: MYTHS AND STORIES FROM MEXICO AND PERU. Edited, translated, retold and commented by Mikael Witte. Volume 1 + Volume 2
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