The Aristocratic Republic

Peru Table of Contents

The Aristocratic Republic began with the popular "Revolution of 1895," led by the charismatic and irrepressible José Nicolás de Piérola (1895-99). He overthrew the increasingly dictatorial Cáceres, who had gained the presidency again in 1894 after having placed his crony Colonel Remigio Morales Bermúdez (1890-94) in power in 1890. Piérola, an aristocratic and patriarchal figure, was fond of saying that "when the people are in danger, they come to me." Although he had gained the intense enmity of the Civilistas in 1869 when, as minister of finance in the Balta government, he had transferred the lucrative guano consignment contract to the foreign firm of Dreyfus and Company of Paris, he now succeeded in forging an alliance with his former opponents. This began a period known as the Aristocratic Republic (1895- 1914), during which Peru was characterized not only by relative political harmony and rapid economic growth and modernization, but also by social and political change.

From the ruins of the War of the Pacific, new elites had emerged along the coast and coalesced to form a powerful oligarchy, based on the reemergence of sugar, cotton, and mining exports, as well as the reintegration of Peru into the international economy. Its political expression was the reconstituted Civilista Party, which had revived its antimilitary and proexport program during the period of intense national disillusion and introspection that followed the country's defeat in the war. By the time the term of Piérola's successor, Eduardo López de Romaña (1899-1903), came to an end, the Civilistas had cleverly managed to gain control of the national electoral process and proceeded to elect their own candidate and party leader, the astute Manuel Candamo (1903-1904), to the presidency. Thereafter, they virtually controlled the presidency up until World War I, although Candamo died a few months after assuming office. Elections, however, were restricted, subject to strict property and literacy qualifications, and more often than not manipulated by the incumbent Civilista regime.

The Civilistas were the architects of unprecedented political stability and economic growth, but they also set in motion profound social changes that would, in time, alter the political panorama. With the gradual advance of export capitalism, peasants migrated and became proletarians, laboring in industrial enclaves that arose not only in Lima, but in areas of the countryside as well. The traditional haciendas and small-scale mining complexes that could be connected to the international market gave way increasingly to modern agroindustrial plantations and mining enclaves. With the advent of World War I, Peru's international markets were temporarily disrupted and social unrest intensified, particularly in urban centers where a modern labor movement began to take shape.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress