Peruvian Aprista Party (PAP/APRA)

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Peruvian Aprista Party (PAP/APRA)

In 2006 the venerable Partido Aprista Peruano (Peruvian Aprista Party, PAP), also known as the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), won its second presidential election in Peruvian history under the leadership of Alan García Pérez, whose term as president from 1985 to 1990 had left the country in economic ruins. Running on a social democratic platform promising to preserve Peru's free-market economy (honoring a free-trade agreement with the United States), control the deficit, exercise fiscal restraint, and bolster the country's fragile democracy, García decisively defeated his ultra-nationalist opponent, former military officer Ollanta Humala, by 53 to 47 percent of the vote. Despite APRA's no longer being the political powerhouse it had been for much of the twentieth century, a breakdown of the vote by region still showed the party's strength in attracting votes in the modern sector of Peruvian society. The party won an overwhelming majority along the coast—including in Lima, whose population is one-third of the country's total population of 27 million—but lost by two-to-one or more in the heavily indigenous and impoverished central and southern highlands.

APRA was founded in 1923 in Mexico by Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, a charismatic young politician who went into exile after making a reputation as a student leader agitating for university reform and an eight-hour workday and against President Augusto B. Leguía's 1923 reelection. He designed the party's five-point program, advocating the political unity of Latin America, nationalization of land and industry, internationalization of the Panama Canal, and solidarity with oppressed people around the world, and resisting Yankee imperialism. Having witnessed the detrimental effects of foreign control over the traditional Peruvian sugar industry, Haya developed a strong anti-imperialist and nationalist outlook. He was also influenced by strong currents of indigenismo, a social and intellectual movement in favor of the redemption of the oppressed Indian masses and celebration of the great pre-Colombian civilizations of the past in what he called Indo-America (Meso-America and South American Andes).

In many ways his model for APRA was the new Mexican revolutionary state, his goal to overturn a dominant oligarchy, expand the power and reach of the state, nationalize a predominantly foreign-controlled mining industry, and carry out massive agrarian reform. He also drew on foreign sources, both right and left, during the twenties and thirties, when fascism, socialism, and communism emerged to challenge the liberal Western democracies and capitalism. Because many Latin American intellectuals of the period saw the West as having fallen into decline after World War I and the Depression, they viewed Western states as inappropriate developmental models for Latin America.

Returning to Peru after Leguía was overthrown in a military coup, Haya ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 1931. Party militants claimed electoral fraud and organized sugar workers near Trujillo, Haya's hometown, to rebel against the government, a revolt that was brutally suppressed by the army. As a result of human rights violations on both sides, APRA became an anathema to the armed forces and the object of a generation-long vendetta to keep the party from power. APRA, declared illegal, went underground during much of the 1930s and early 1940s, when it developed a hierarchical organization, sectarian tendencies, and a psychology of martyrdom that unified the party and enabled it to survive years of persecution by hostile regimes. During these years the Peruvian polity assumed a tripartite shape, in which the military, allied with the ruling oligarchy, sought to control the insurgent popular forces led by APRA.

The victory of the Allies in World War II marked a turning point in the fortunes of the party. A democratic wave washed over Latin America, opening the way for the party's legalization and election in a coalition reform government led by independent José Luis Bustamante y Rivero (1945–1948). By this time, Haya's early radical anti-imperialist and quasi-socialist views had been modified to embrace foreign investment and pro-American, democratic sentiments; this was partly in response to the outcome of the war and partly out of the party's desire to differentiate itself from its rival, the Peruvian Communist Party (PCP), so as to win the allegiance of the country's nascent working classes and labor movement. However, in 1948, in the increasingly tense geopolitical atmosphere of the Cold War, the reform government was overthrown by a military coup, and the subsequent dictatorship of General Manuel Odría (1948–1956) forced APRA once again underground, with Haya taking sanctuary in the Colombian embassy for five years.

Another major turning point for the party's electoral fortunes came with the so-called Convivencia Pact of 1956, in which Haya decided to support his archenemy for the presidency, the oligarch Manuel Prado, in return for the legalization of APRA. This political about-face led to a major rupture in the party and the departure of many long-time party loyalists; nevertheless, it enabled Haya to win election to the presidency in 1962. However, he was denied power once again by the intervention of the armed forces, which still harbored strong anti-Aprista sentiments dating back to the 1932 Trujillo Revolution. Subsequently, APRA and Haya were relegated to the opposition during the reform government of Fernando Belaúnde Terry (1963–1968) and the revolutionary government of the armed forces (1968–1980). Ironically, the latter government up to 1975 carried out many major structural reforms, including the nationalization of land and industry, that Haya and APRA had espoused during the 1930s but largely abandoned after World War II. In 1979 Haya, in his eighties and suffering from cancer, capped his long political career by being selected to lead a constitutional convention, which opened the way for the return of the military to the barracks and the redemocratization of the country beginning in 1980.

Alan García Pérez, Haya's former personal secretary, became his hand-picked successor and in 1985, five years after Haya's death, won the presidency. Under García APRA espoused a social democratic program at a time when the country was engaged in a vicious civil war with the radical Marxist Shining Path guerrilla movement. His five-year term in office was marred by serious human rights violations as well as a financial meltdown, when he impulsively nationalized the banking system, causing the sudden flight of capital and foreign investment and an inflationary spiral of historic proportions. García left office in 1990 under a cloud of government mismanagement and corruption, only to rise phoenix-like from this first-term debacle, after nine years in exile, to become president again in 2006.

See alsoGarcía Pérez, Alan; Haya de la Torre, Víctor Raúl; Indigenismo; Peru, Revolutionary Movements: Shining Path.


Graham, Carol. Peru's APRA: Parties, Politics, and the Elusive Quest for Democracy. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1992.

Klarén, Peter F. Modernization, Dislocation, and Aprismo: Origins of the Peruvian Aprista Party, 1870–1932. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973.

Pike, Fredrick B. The Politics of the Miraculous in Peru: Haya de la Torre and the Spiritualist Tradition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.

Planas, Pedro. Los orígens del APRA: El joven Haya, 2nd edition. Lima: Okura Editores, 1986.

Stein, Steve. Populism in Peru: The Emergence of the Masses and the Politics of Social Control. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1980.

                                          Peter KlarÉn