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Nationalizations and State Firms

The industrialization drive was meant to be primarily a Peruvian process not totally excluding foreign investors but definitely not welcoming them warmly. In that spirit, the Velasco regime immediately nationalized IPC in October 1968 and, not long after that, the largest copper mining company, while taking over other foreign firms more peacefully through buy-outs. The government put into place new restrictions on foreign investment in Peru and led the way to a regional agreement, the Andean Pact (see Glossary), that featured some of the most extensive controls on foreign investment yet attempted in the developing world.

The decision to nationalize the foreign oil firm was immensely popular in Peru. It was seen as a legitimate response to many years of close collaboration between the company, which performed political favors, and a series of possibly selfinterested Peruvian presidents, who, in exchange, preserved the company's exclusive drilling rights. Nationalization was perhaps less a matter of an economic program than a reaction to a public grievance, a reaction bound to increase public support for the new government.

Subsequent nationalizations and purchases of foreign firms were more explicitly manifestations of the goals of building up state ownership and reducing foreign influence in Peru. The leaders of the military government subscribed firmly to the ideas of dependency analysis (see Glossary), placing much of the blame for problems of development on external influences through trade and foreign investment. Foreign ownership of natural resources in particular was seen as a way of taking away the country's basic wealth on terms that allowed most of the gains to go abroad. Ownership of the resources was expected to bring in revenue to the government, and to the country, that would otherwise have been lost.

In contrast to its abrupt nationalization of the IPC and then of the largest copper mining company, the government turned mainly to purchases through negotiation to acquire the property of the International Telephone and Telegraph Company (ITT) and foreign banks. Partly in response to United States reactions to the earlier nationalizations, and perhaps also partly in response to the realization that foreign investment might play a positive role in the industrialization drive, the government began to take a milder position toward foreign firms. But at the same time, it pursued a policy of creating new state-owned firms, in a sense competing for position against domestic private ownership, as well as against foreign ownership.

State ownership of firms was, of course, consistent with the nationalizations but reflected a different kind of policy objective. Whereas the nationalizations were intended to gain greater Peruvian control over the country's resources and to reduce the scope of foreign influence, the proliferation of state-owned firms was meant to increase direct control by the government over the economy. State firms were seen as a means to implement government economic policies more directly than possible when working through private firms, whether domestic or foreign-owned. The goal was not to eliminate the private sector-- it was encouraged at the same time by tax favors and protection-- but to create a strong public sector to lead the way toward the kind of economy favored by the state.

The new state firms created in this period established a significant share of public ownership in the modern sector of the economy. By 1975 they accounted for over half of mining output and a fifth of industrial output. One set of estimates indicates that enterprises under state ownership came to account for a higher share of value added than domestic private capital: 26 percent of GDP for the state firms, compared with 22 percent for domestic private firms. The share produced by foreign-owned firms dropped to 8 percent from 21 percent prior to the Velasco government's reforms.

Contrary to the expectation that the earnings of the state firms would provide an important source of public financing for development, these companies became almost immediately a collective drain. In some measure, the drain was a result of decisions by the government to hold down their prices in order to lessen inflation or to subsidize consumers. In addition, deficits of the state-owned firms were aggravated by the spending tendencies of the military officers placed in charge of company management and by inadequate attention to costs of production. The collective deficits of the state enterprises plus the subsidies paid directly to them by the government reached 3 percent of GDP by 1975. State enterprises were not able to finance more than about one-fourth of their investment spending. The government attempted to answer the investment requirements of the state firms by allowing them to borrow abroad for imported equipment and supplies. They did so on a large scale. The external debt rose swiftly, for this and for other reasons discussed below.

Nationalizations and the creation of new state firms stopped abruptly after Velasco lost power. In 1980 the Belaúnde government announced a program to privatize most of the state firms, but it proved difficult to find private buyers, and few of the firms were actually sold. In the opposite direction, the subsequent García government, in addition to nationalizing in 1985 the offshore oil production of the Belco Corporation, a United States company, tried in 1987 to extend state ownership over banks remaining in private hands. The attempted banking nationalization created a storm of protest and was eventually ruled to be illegal. The failures under both Belaúnde and García to change the balance left the state-enterprise sector basically intact until Fujimori implemented major changes.

Data as of September 1992

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