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A History


new internationalist
issue 197 - July 1989

[image, unknown] PERU - A HISTORY

Illustrations by Brendan McGrath,
after a theme by the sixteenth century Inca-Spaniard Puma de Ayala.


[image, unknown] [image, unknown] A multitude of civilizations flourish in Peru 20,000 years before the time of the Incas. The artistic, sea-worshipping Mochicans, for example, produce fine, decorated pottery and build complex palaces out of sand along the coastal desert. The Nazca mark the desert pampa with vast figures and lines which, mysteriously, are only visible from the air. And the Paracas people appear to practise brain surgery. The designs found on stone engravings of the highland Chavin, dating from around 600 BC, bear a striking resemblance to Chinese culture of the same period. So there could have been a cross-Pacific link centuries before Europe's so-called discovery of the New World.


[image, unknown]

The Inca become the superpower of South America during the fifteenth century, carving out an empire which stretches from modern-day Colombia in the North, into Brazil in the East, and down into Chile in the South. They worship a sun-king and their rule is feudal and authoritarian. But it does guarantee food and employment for all; citizens pay their dues by performing public works such as helping to build extensive communal irrigation systems.


[image, unknown]

But when the Spanish arrive in 1532 they find the Inca kingdom in uncharacteristic disarray. Plague followed by civil war between two royal brothers - Huascar and his half-brother Atahualpa - have caused deep divisions in the empire. Francisco Pizarro, an illiterate Spanish swineherd leading 180 adventurers is able to take advantage of this. He lands in Tumbes in Northern Peru and is allowed to wander freely. Atahualpa, the victor in the internal struggle, is eventually kidnapped by Pizarro's band. Hundreds of unarmed Incas are massacred The Spaniards demand a room packed to the ceiling with gold as a ransom for the king. The room is duly filled - but Atahualpa is murdered by the conquistadors anyway.


[image, unknown] SILVER

Centuries of brutal colonialism ensue. The Spanish send the Indians down the mines to extract, gold, silver and mercury to finance Spain's European wars. Forced labour, hunger and European diseases claim their toll. By 1600 two million Indians have died. The Spaniards and their descendants seize Indian land and establish vast estates or 'haciendas'. Slaves are brought from Africa to work the plantations. The Catholic church is a dominant influence and Lima, as well as being the administrative capital for the whole of South America, also becomes the seat of the Inquisition.


[image, unknown]

Tupac Amaru II, a member of the Inca elite, leads a rebellion in 1780. Indians and blacks support him. So do some creoles (people of Spanish descent born in Peru) but they end up siding with the Crown. Thousands of Indians are killed as the rebellion is put down. The colonial authorities capture, quarter and behead Tupac Amaru and his family and deport many of the Inca elite. All hopes of a national, multiracial independence movement are quashed. And when Peruvian independence comes it is achieved by foreigners - Argentinians, Venezuelans, Colombians and troops led by British freelance naval officer Lord Alfred Cochrane. Argentinian freedom-fighter Jóse de San Martin takes Lima and declares Peru independent on 28 July 1821.



[image, unknown] Excrement from sea birds - to be used as fertilizer - is at this stage Peru's main export. Although this guano briefly turns the Peruvian economy into the most dynamic in Latin America, few Peruvians benefit. In 1848 half of the revenue goes to the Bank of England and in 1879 Peru declares itself bankrupt.

After the 'War of the Pacific' in 1883 (in which Bolivia and Peru are defeated by Chile and Britain), the Peruvian elite rebuilds the economy by exploiting more of Peru's rich and varied national resources: sugar, cotton, wool, rubber, copper and oil. A powerful oligarchy emerges - around 50 families ally themselves with foreign capital and US firms take over major oil and mining interests.



[image, unknown] This capitalism creates a new class of wage labourers who form themselves into trade unions. President Augusto LeguIa, faced with labour unrest, imposes a civilian dictatorship in 1919. Radical political movements then develop and two major parties emerge - the American Revolutionary Alliance Party (APRA) and the Communist Party.

But in 1930 a military officer Luis Sanchez Cerro seizes power, dismantles trade unions and bans the Communist Party. Police kill protesting miners. One of the most notorious episodes in recent Peruvian history occurs in 1932 when 1,000 APRA activists are shot by the army. The fascist Oscar Benavides takes power after this. He is succeeded by another dictator, General Manuel Odria. Peru industrializes rapidly during his rule (1948-1956) and foreign capital invests heavily in the manufacturing industry.



[image, unknown] Land-hungry peasants in the countryside are becoming more militant. They invade haciendas and arm themselves against police repression.

Fernando Belaunde, heading the conservative Popular Action party is elected President in 1962. Meanwhile, left-wing APRA dissidents, inspired by the Cuban revolution, form their own guerilla organization - the MIR (Revolutionary Left Movement). Following Che Guevara's strategy they try to mobilize peasants to start a revolutionary war. The plan fails. Belaunde gets the armed forces to eliminate the guerillas, using US-supplied napalm. The MIR units are wiped out - and so are several thousand peasants. The Government becomes increasingly corrupt, divided and unpopular.


[image, unknown] COUPS AND

It is replaced in 1968 by an unusual phenomenon - a left-wing military coup. The Government of General Juan Velasco marks the first real break with the economic model imposed by the Spanish conquest. It enforces land reform - though only peasants lucky enough to have regular jobs on the big estates benefit. In 1975 Velasco falls ill, the economic situation deteriorates and riots in Lima cause the deaths of 200 people. Velasco is overthrown in a bloodless coup by General Franscico Morales Bermudes. The Government shifts to the Right.



[image, unknown] Years of strikes, price rises and unrest ensue. In 1980 Belaunde's Popular Action party is re-elected and the following year the Maoist fundamentalist guerilla organization, Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), begins a people's war in the countryside. Guerillas take over the town of Ayacucho and the Government declares a State of Emergency. The armed forces take control and commit human-rights atrocities.

In 1985, APRA, led by Alan Garcia, comes to power for the first time, with a massive majority. But the new Government seems even less able to deal with terrorism - or manage the economy.

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New Internationalist issue 197 magazine cover This article is from the July 1989 issue of New Internationalist.
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