Community Leadership

Peru Table of Contents

Throughout the highlands, there are vestiges of the colonial civic and religious organizations of "indirect rule" originally implanted by Spanish officials. Where they survive in Peru, principally in Indian communities, there are networks of villages tied together in an association broadly supervised by a parish priest or his surrogate. The village religious leaders, who are called by various names such as alcaldes pedáneos (lesser mayors) and varayoq or envarados (staff bearers), plan and carry out elaborate yearly festival cycles involving dozens of lesser special lay religious authorities. Often referred to as carrying a "burden" or responsibility (cargo), all of these village officials are selected annually by elaborate systems of prestige rankings based on prior experience and local values of devotion, honesty, reputation for work, and capacity to underwrite the costs of office.

The principal officials in these hierarchies carry holy staffs of office, often made of chonta (tucuma) palm wood brought from the tropics and adorned with silver relics and symbols. The additional duties of the varayoq include the supervision of village morals, marriage, and the application of informal justice to offenders of village norms. Although specifically outlawed in several of Peru's older constitutions, the system has endured throughout the highlands. Changes have occurred, however, when communities, under pressures to modernize, abolished the varayoq institution. In other cases, the system has evolved into a more formal political apparatus, leaving the religious activities in the hands of the parish priest, lay brotherhoods, and other devotees. The multicommunity Peasant Patrols (rondas campesinas) in the highlands have acted as informal but powerful self-defense forces controlling rustling and, beginning in the 1980s, the intrusion of unwanted revolutionaries like the Shining Path. In aspects of their orientation and organization, they may aspire to resemble the varayoq as moral authorities.

The formal political and social organization of Peruvian towns and cities of course follows the outlines laid down in the constitution of 1979 and various laws enacted by the Congress. One of the somewhat confusing arrangements, however, pertains to the officially constituted corporate community enterprises, the Peasant Communities, and their offshoots--such as the Social Interest Agrarian Association (Sociedad Agrícola de Interés Social--SAIS) and the Social Property Enterprises (Empresas de Propiedad Social--EPS). There is disagreement over how these entities fit into the community and political picture because their constituencies overlap with the political divisions. The districts and provinces are political subdivisions with elected mayors and council members charged with administering their areas. Corporate communities are a form of agrarian cooperative business that own inalienable land, with memberships that are not necessarily restricted to a single residential unit like a town.

The Peasant Communities and other units conduct their affairs through a president, as well as administrative and vigilance committees elected by the general assembly of the membership. Community property and members (comuneros) are within the administrative domains of districts and provinces for all other civic purposes. In some areas, the boundaries of the Peasant Communities coincide with those of a district, as is frequently the case in the Mantaro Valley. In other areas, community lands occupy only a portion of the district; there may also be two separate Peasant Communities within a district, or districts with residents who do not belong to the corporate organization.

Members of Peasant Communities and other corporate groups constitute about 30 percent of all rural people and therefore have been a significant factor in economic and political affairs throughout the highlands and in some areas of the Costa, where the former plantations passed into workers' hands after 1969. On the coast, there have long been linkages between worker unions and the regional political powers, but in the Sierra these ties have not developed strongly. The exception is in the central highland department of Junín and in the southern department of Puno, where in the 1980s there were powerful, organized movements based on Peasant Communities and independent small farmers groups allied with political parties. The influence of these groups was, for the most part, localized.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress