Peru: Draconian Measures

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"Peru: Draconian Measures"

Magazine article

By: Latin American Newsletters

Date: December 13, 1974

Source: "Peru: Draconian Measures" as published by Intelligence Research.

About the Author: This news report was originally published as part of the Latin American News series from Lettres, UK (now Intelligence Research, Ltd.), a London-based news agency. Established in 1967, the Latin American Newsletters were written by Latin American specialists in London, writing about political and social events throughout Latin America as they unfolded. Printed in both English and Spanish, the Latin American Newsletters were a compilation from a variety of sources, without author attribution.


In contrast to the right-wing military dictatorships that swept through Latin America from the late 1960s through the 1980s, Peru experienced a left-wing military dictatorship from 1968–1975, under the presidency of General Velasco Alvarado. The left-leaning general instituted a wide range of reforms in the country, including land reform, nationalization of private industry, and media censorship and control. Velasco sought out relationships with Cuba and the Soviet Union, a marked difference from fellow military-based governments in Latin America.

While the political violence that occurred during Velasco's administration was similar in scope to standard terrorist acts—bombings, assassinations and assassination attempts, destruction of symbolic property—the source was very different. In stark contrast to the leftist revolutionary opposition most military governments faced, revolutionary activities during Velasco's rule were from right-wing, conservative opponents. As a follower of the National Security Doctrine, holding that development and social reform were key to improving national security, Velasco represented a new kind of military leader. No longer would the military be a defender of the interests of the elite, but instead would use leftist means to achieve the "ends" of stability and security.

At the same time, Velasco faced massive opposition from rural unions. His Agrarian Reform Law of 1969 intended to eliminate large private landholdings and create cooperatives owned by the workers on the estates. The goal of this reform was to destroy the financial (and social) power of the elites in Peru, and to create a supposedly more cooperative society. This "third way" between socialism and capitalism, as designed by Velasco, still used military power, repression, and state control to accomplish its goals.

Rural unions were not pleased with the changes, as disputes broke out in the collectives. The lack of clear managerial authority created problems with production, and eventually led to the bankruptcy of many collectives. By 1974 Velasco faced major crises in Peru from angered elites, disgruntled rural workers, and alienated foreigners upset with nationalization of foreign investment.


Terrorist outrages and assassination attempts are comparatively new features of the Peruvian political scene. Government countermeasures should have the effect of strengthening the 'radical' tendencies within the armed forces.

Government spokesmen have been quick to interpret last week's unsuccessful attempt on the life of the prime minister, General Edgardo Mercado Jarrin, as a further escalation of the right-wing campaign to destabilize the revolution and, more immediately, to take the shine off this week's Ayacucho anniversary celebrations in Lima. Certainly this is not the first time the present government has been shown up in a repressive light in full view of assembled foreign dignitaries; in May 1971, for example, delegates to the annual meeting of the Inter-American development Bank were treated to front-page pictures of police beating ragged 'invaders' of urban land, and the unedifying spectacle of the auxiliary bishop of Lima being hustled off to jail on charges of subversion. In view of the unremitting campaign of harassment and boycott suffered by the Peruvian government over the past six years from disgruntled emigres and alarmed foreigners, it seems reasonable, even obvious, to see conspiracy behind these events. Right-wing activity since the expropriation of the Lima daily press in July has been on the increase, while the United States has a clear interest in isolating Peru from her neighbors and giving support to 'democratic' elements within the country.

However, there are some odd features about the recent wave of terrorism; and the severe government reaction, in decreeing the death penalty and summary trials for terrorists, should be seen in the context of the persistent political crisis over the future direction of the revolution. Some observers have noted that several of the recent acts of terrorism have clearly been intended to look like the work of leftists; the fire bomb attack on the Sheraton hotel, the bomb in the basement of Sears department store, and the dynamiting of the statue of a police officer killed by guerrillas in 1965—all these are the sort of things left-wing extremists might be expected to go in for, though what they might hope to gain from such acts is not clear. Whoever is behind these deeds, the tougher security measures and round-up of suspects considerably strengthens the government's hand in dealing with opposition of all kinds. There can be little doubt that in the long run the government is most concerned about the revolutionary process running out of its control, particularly as a result of activity by the militant unions in the country-side. At the same time, progressive elements in the armed forces will be anxious to prevent conservative officers from making a come-back on a wave of indiscriminate repression.

It appears that the decision to clamp down on the activities of rural unions had already been taken before the latest events, and in this respect, the recent appointments of Generals Gallegos and Hoyos to ministries dealing with the rural sector are particularly significant. As experienced and resolute leaders of the 'radical' tendency within the government, these generals can be expected to push for tighter central control over the rural sector, including disciplining the sugar cooperatives and eliminating opposition unions; the latter is a particularly pressing task in view of the failure of SINAMOS to cope with them even within the cooperatives. The way the government handled the Andahuaylas problem may give a foretaste of things to come. Following its apparent capitulation at the hands of the local peasant federation FEPCA, the entire leadership of FEPCA was arrested in September and October, together with the secretary general of the Confederacion Campesina del Peru (CCP), Andres Luna Vargas (only recently released from prison) and a well-known left-wing lawyer, Laura Caller.

The way should now be open for a more thorough implementation of the centralised model of development favoured by the 'radicals.' According to the Lima magazine Caretas, the scandal involving the state food marketing company EPSA came just in time to forestall an attempt, initiated by the new general manager, Alfonso Elejalde Zea, to wipe out the company's massive deficit by both opening it up to private investors and paying higher prices to rural producers. This plan, which goes completely contrary to current government policy on both counts, was apparently being supported by Mercado Jarrin, even after Elejalde died of a heart attack in September. The careful timing of the scandal, broken by the pro-government press, which explained EPSA's deficit and rural discontent in terms of corruption and smuggling, shows the 'liberal' tendency represented by Mercado Jarrin is still getting the worst of things. It is interesting to note that in recent speeches the prime minister has become the leading government exponent of participation and limiting the expanding role of the state and state enterprises. These points may also be played down in the near future. Certainly, no concessions to the private sector or foreign capital can be expected in the near future.

On the contrary, the political will that has produced a further radicalization of government policy following every crisis can be expected to push through the expropriation of private manufacturing industry some time next year. This seems to be the crucial point around which the current political debate within the government is revolving, and is being presented by the 'radicals' as the only way left to mobilize the private capital tied up in industry that four years of incentives and exhortations have conspicuously failed to touch. It seems that the 'national bourgeoisie,' like the rural capitalists before them, are about to get their comeuppance.

The outcome of the internecine struggle will presumably be known shortly after the new year, when Mercado Jarrin is due to retire. Already the radicals are occupying the key positions, and have their own men ready to take over the forthcoming vacancies; the new minister of education, for example, General Ramon Miranda Ampuero, is a former member of the president's advisory committee, COAP.


As Velasco proceeded with his reforms, internal strife continued. New problems from foreign investors added to pressure on the military-controlled government. Right-wing elements within the military were carefully weeded out, state control of the press was enacted, and the stripping of rights during trials combined with widespread issuance of the death penalty terrorist acts were all part of Velasco's crackdown not only on violent political acts, but on most forms of political opposition.

Velasco reached out to communist regimes such as Cuba and the Soviet Union, actions that alarmed the United States. As Velasco nationalized industry and expropriated companies such as the International Petroleum Company, his policies alienated foreign investment. The United States took an active role in isolating Peru politically and economically in an effort to stem the spread of communism and socialism in Central and Latin America.

The attempt on Prime Minister General Edgardo Mercado Jarrin's life was the source of much speculation from political analysts and international observers. As one of the more fiscally conservative members of Velasco's government, Mercado pushed for more privative control than was the norm in Velasco's economic plan. In 1973, Vladimiro Montesinos became an aide to Mercado. That same year, General Augusto Pinochet removed socialist president Saldavor Allende from power in a military coup in Chile. Velasco's left-wing administration feared problems with Pinochet's right-wing dictatorship, and Peru began amassing war supplies in preparation for a possible conflict. The next year, Montesinos was accused of sharing military secrets with the United States; Mercado put an end to any investigation into Montesinos' involvement.

Velasco's use of traditional authoritarian tactics to achieve leftist goals angered the rural unions and began a process of leftist discontent that would stretch into the 1990s in the form of political violence. Sendero Luminoso, (Shining Path), a group of Maoist insurgents, formed during Velasco's administration. Future insurgent groups such as Tupac Amaru followed suit. Velasco's rule sowed the seeds of future insurgency.

In 1975 Velasco was removed from power. Most of his reforms were reversed as the country sought to attract foreign investment and to initiate free market policies. His employment of Montesinos and broad use of military and police power to thwart opposition foreshadowed Peru's experiences in future decades. Montesinos staged a comeback in the 1990s during Alberto Fujimori's presidency in Peru, becoming Fujimori's security advisor. He is widely considered, by political analysts, Peruvian prosecutors and investigators, and human rights observers worldwide, to be responsible for military and police policies that led to massive human rights abuses in Peru in the early 1990s.



Starn, Orin. The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1995.

Web sites

The Center for Public Integrity. "The Spy Who Would Rule Peru" < > (accessed June 29, 2005).