The 20th Century
As foreign investors increased their grip over Peru’s main industries, worker dissent began to simmer following the October Revolution in Russia. In 1924, exiled political leader Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre founded the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana—APRA, a workers’ party that continues to exert a tremendous influence over Peruvian politics. When Haya lost the 1931 elections, his supporters accused the government of fraud and attacked a military outpost in Trujillo, killing 10 soldiers. In response the Peruvian military trucked an estimated 1,000 APRA supporters out to the sands of Chan Chan and executed them in mass firing squads.
Peru’s economic development in the mid-20th century was hampered by the hacienda system of land ownership inherited from the days of the viceroyalty. The independence movement had passed leadership from the españoles to the criollos, but otherwise Peru’s economic structure remained the same—a minority of Peruvians, of direct European descent, still controlled the bulk of Peru’s land and wealth. As Peru moved from an agricultural economy to an industrial one, campesinos flocked to Lima in search of a better life and built sprawling shantytowns, or pueblos jóvenes, around the city. Pressure for land reform began to grow.
Fernando Belaúnde, architect and politician, was president of Peru during much of the 1960s and instituted a few moderate reforms, but he was overthrown in 1968 by General Juan Velasco, who despite being a military man launched a series of radical, left-wing reforms that stunned Peru’s white elite and transformed the Peruvian economy. He expropriated nearly all of Peru’s haciendas and transferred the land to newly formed worker cooperatives. Velasco kicked foreign investors out of the country and nationalized their fish-meal factories, banks, oil companies, and mines. He introduced food subsidies for urban slum dwellers and, in a profound gesture of recognition to Peru’s Indians, made Quechua the official second language of Peru.
Velasco’s restructuring was so rapid and ill-planned that nearly all of Peru’s major industries plunged to new lows and the country entered a severe economic crisis. Velasco was overthrown—some historians assure the CIA was behind the coup—and replaced by another pro-U.S. military leader, Francisco Morales Bermúdez, who attempted to control the economic chaos of the 1970s. Amid widespread strikes in the late 1970s, APRA politician Haya de la Torre headed a constituent assembly that finally secured full suffrage for all Peruvian citizens and the return to democracy.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition