Fernando Belaúnde Terry

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Fernando Belaúnde Terry

An architect, educator, and politician, Fernando Belaúnde Terry (born 1912) was twice elected president of Peru. In a country known for stagnant dictatorship, he sought to bring progress through democratic means.

Fernando Belaúnde was born in Lima, Peru, on October 7, 1912, to a distinguished family. His great-grandfather had been president, and an uncle was one of the country's foremost intellectuals. Rafael Belaúnde, Fernando's father, was a diplomat whose overseas assignments and dozen-year political exile caused the future president to spend most of his youth abroad. After attending high school in Paris, Belaúnde entered the University of Miami, where his father served on the faculty. Fernando later transferred to the University of Texas, which awarded him an architect's degree in 1935.

Belaúnde returned to Peru the following year and quickly climbed to the top of his profession. He taught architecture and urban planning at Lima's Catholic University and then at the National Engineering University, where he became dean of the School of Architecture. Belaúnde founded Peru's major architectural journal and established the Peruvian Urban Institute.

Entrance into Politics

In 1945 Belaúnde won election to congress as a member of the National Democratic Front, a reformist coalition supporting President José Luis Bustamante y Rivero. With the overthrow of that government by General Manuel Odría in 1948, Belaúnde returned to his profession. Meanwhile, he enhanced his reputation as a national leader by traveling extensively throughout the country and presenting his ideas in two books. Belaúnde advocated programs for economic development and social justice through the active intervention of a technocratic but highly democratic government. He placed special emphasis on plans for the neglected Peruvian hinterland.

Belaúnde ran for president in 1956 with the support of the hastily-formed National Front of Democratic Youth. After losing that contest to Manuel Prado y Ugarteche he founded the Popular Action Party, which he forged into a broadly-based national organization. In 1962 Belaúnde vied for the presidency with Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre, founder of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), and former dictator General Manuel Odría. Haya defeated Belaúnde by a handful of votes, but the armed forces charged that fraud had marred the election and annulled the contest. In a 1963 rematch between the same three contenders, Belaúnde triumphed with a substantial plurality.

His First Administration

The new administration posted several impressive achievements during its first two years. Large sums were spent on health and, especially, education. Under Belaúnde, Peru devoted a larger share of its national income to schools than any other Latin American nation. The regime also launched several expensive irrigation, highway, and public housing projects. Belaúnde's highly successful Popular Cooperation program provided tools, technical assistance, and money to local communities, whose members volunteered their labor for various public works. A weakened version of the administration's agrarian reform bill became law in 1964.

An opposition coalition of APRA and Manuel Odría's UNO party controlled the congress, however. They rejected several of the president's proposals and denied him the taxes needed to fund his other programs. Belaúnde sought low-cost development loans from the United States government. But these were denied because of Peru's enforcement of a 200-mile fishing limit and Belaúnde's demands for the nationalization of the International Petroleum Company (IPC), a Standard Oil subsidiary. Determined to continue his programs, Belaúnde secured less advantageous loans from European commercial banks. He also engaged in deficit financing which produced mounting inflation.

Belaúnde signed a compromise agreement with the IPC in August 1968. Surrounded by controversy, this negotiation produced a storm of protest from critics who charged that the president had been overly generous to the foreign firm. Reform-minded military officers earlier had offered to suppress the obstructionist congress and allow Belaúnde to institute his programs dictatorially by decree. The democratic president had rejected their offer. Now the generals took advantage of the IPC controversy to overthrow him. General Juan Velasco Alvardo ousted Belaúnde on October 3, 1968, nine months before the expiration of his six-year term.

The Second Administration

Belaúnde spent the next decade in the United States, teaching at Harvard and other universities. Meanwhile, the radical military regime established by General Velasco instituted sweeping but ill-fated reforms. In April 1980, with Peru's economy in deep depression, the military administration permitted an election for the restoration of constitutional rule. Belaúnde won a five-year term, polling an impressive 45 percent of the vote in a 15-man contest.

Although Belaúnde enjoyed a congressional majority during his second term, economic and political problems plagued his administration. A towering foreign debt, large budget deficits, rampant inflation, costly natural disasters, and weak markets for Peru's exports stifled his programs and forced the imposition of severe austerity. At the same time a Maoist guerrilla organization, the Shining Path, waged an unrelenting terrorist campaign against the government. Vigorous efforts by the police and armed forces to suppress this group produced widespread abuse of innocent citizens and denunciations from human rights groups.

In the presidential election of April 1985 the candidate of Belaúnde's Popular Action Party polled an embarrassing five percent of the vote, finishing last in a four-man contest won by Alán García of APRA. Since the end of his administration Belaúnde has largely played the role of diplomat. In 1985 he inaugurated Loyola University in Chicago's Latin American Studies Program, acted as Columbia University's visiting scholar for Latin American and Iberian Studies, and, since November 1986, served as a member of the Carter Centers' Council of Freely Elected Heads of Government, a panel which promotes and reinforces democracy in North and South America and observes elections in newly democratized nations.

Called "The Architect" by his admirers, Belaúnde was a spellbinding orator whose democratic ideals and visionary programs inspired the masses. He was more successful in the role of candidate than as chief executive, and has enjoyed much more respect and honor since the end of his presidency.

Further Reading

Belaúnde expressed his ideas in Peru's Own Conquest (1965) and Pueblo por Pueblo (1995). Pedro-Pablo Kuczynski, Peruvian Democracy under Stress (1977) is a sympathetic account of Belaúnde's first administration by a cabinet minister. David P. Werlich's Peru (1978) traces Belaúnde's career through his first term and provides background for his second presidency. The latter period is examined in David P. Werlich, "Peru: The Shadow of the Shining Path, " Current History (February 1984), and Ronald Bruce St. John, "Peru: Democracy under Siege, " World Today (July 1984). □

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