The Eleven-Year Rule

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The immediate political beneficiary of this turmoil, however, was a dissident Civilista, former president Augusto B. Leguía y Salcedo (1908-12, 1919-30), who had left the party after his first term. He ran as an independent in the 1919 elections on a reform platform that appealed to the emerging new middle and working classes. When he perceived a plot by the Civilistas to deny him the election, the diminutive but boundlessly energetic Leguía (he stood only 1.5 meters tall and weighed a little over 45 kilograms) staged a preemptive coup and assumed the presidency.

Leguía's eleven-year rule, known as the oncenio (1919- 30), began auspiciously enough with a progressive, new constitution in 1920 that enhanced the power of the state to carry out a number of popular social and economic reforms. The regime weathered a brief postwar recession and then generated considerable economic growth by opening the country to a flood of foreign loans and investment. This allowed Leguía to replace the Civilista oligarchy with a new, if plutocratic, middle-class political base that prospered from state contracts and expansion of the government bureaucracy. However, it was not long into his regime that Leguía's authoritarian and dictatorial tendencies appeared. He cracked down on labor and student militancy, purged the Congress of opposition, and amended the constitution so that he could run, unopposed, for reelection in 1924 and again in 1929.

Leguía's popularity was further eroded as a result of a border dispute between Peru and Colombia involving territory in the rubber-tapping region between the Río Caquetá and the northern watershed of the Río Napo. Under the United Statesmediated Salomón-Lozano Treaty of March 1922, which favored Colombia, the Río Putumayo was established as the boundary between Colombia and Peru. Pressured by the United States to accept the unpopular treaty, Leguía finally submitted the document to the Peruvian Congress in December 1927, and it was ratified. The treaty was also unpopular with Ecuador, which found itself surrounded on the east by Peru.

The orgy of financial excesses, which included widespread corruption and the massive build-up of the foreign debt, was brought to a sudden end by the Wall Street stock market crash of 1929 and ensuing worldwide depression. Leguía's eleven-year rule, the longest in Peruvian history, collapsed a year later. Once again, the military intervened and overthrew Leguía, who died in prison in 1932.

Meanwhile, the onset of the Great Depression galvanized the forces of the left. Before he died prematurely at the age of thirty-five in 1930, Mariátegui founded the Peruvian Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Peruano--PSP), shortly to become the Peruvian Communist Party (Partido Comunista Peruano--PCP), which set about the task of political organizing after Leguía's fall from power. Although a staunch Marxist who believed in the class struggle and the revolutionary role of the proletariat, Mariátegui's main contribution was to recognize the revolutionary potential of Peru's native peasantry. He argued that Marxism could be welded to an indigenous Andean revolutionary tradition that included indigenismo, the long history of Andean peasant rebellion, and the labor movement.

Haya de la Torre returned to Peru from a long exile to organize the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana--APRA), an anti-imperialist, continent-wide, revolutionary alliance, founded in Mexico in 1924. For Haya de la Torre, capitalism was still in its infancy in Peru and the proletariat too small and undeveloped to bring about a revolution against the Civilista oligarchy. For that to happen, he argued, the working classes must be joined to radicalized sectors of the new middle classes in a cross-class, revolutionary alliance akin to populism. Both parties--one from a Marxist and the other from a populist perspective--sought to organize and lead the new middle and working classes, now further dislocated and radicalized by the Great Depression. With his oratorical brilliance, personal magnetism, and national-populist message, Haya de la Torre was able to capture the bulk of these classes and to become a major figure in Peruvian politics until his death in 1980 at the age of eighty-six.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress