Country Listing

Peru Table of Contents


Guardian of the New Liberal Elite

Peru was left prostrate as a result of the War of the Pacific. To pay war debts of over US$150 million, it gave up its income from guano to British creditors, along with its railroads (for sixty-six years) and a great tract of Peruvian jungle. Most of the country's economic elite was ruined financially. The government became one of the smallest in Latin America in terms of revenues, and the stage was set for an attempt at nation-building. Military leadership returned to the presidency for a time, vested in General Cáceres (1886-90, 1894-95) and Colonel Remigio Morales Bermúdez (1890-94), and the capability and morale of the armed forces began to be restored. However, much of the credit for the creation of Peru's modern professional military goes to civilian president José Nicolás de Piérola (1895-99). Under his leadership, conscription was initiated, a French military mission was invited to train Peruvian counterparts, and the Military Academy at Chorrillos was established.

Peru's one extended period of civilian rule (1895-1919), with regular national and municipal elections, had begun with elected governments, except for one brief coup period in 1914-15. If the civilian dictatorship of Augusto B. Leguía y Salcedo (1919-30)-- brought on by his election followed by a "self-coup"--is included, then the period of civilian rule extended to 1930. Elected or not, these civilian governments represented the newly emerging and consolidating liberal elite. This elite was protected by Peru's armed forces as long as it provided the resources the military believed it needed. This partnership, although sometimes an uneasy one, continued under civilian governments (1939-45, 1956-62) or military rule (1930-39, 1948-56) almost continuously until the 1960s.

For well over half a century, the FF.AA. viewed with suspicion political parties organized from the middle or lower classes. The Democratic Party's 1912 presidential victory by populist Guillermo Billinghurst provoked a coup two years later. A far more serious concern arose in 1930 and after, with the challenge of the avowedly reformist American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana- -APRA) party. APRA emerged publicly in the aftermath of the 1930 coup overthrowing the Leguía oncenio, or eleven-year rule. The coup occurred as the Great Depression was ending the previous foreign investment- and export-led growth years, and was led by Colonel Luis M. Sánchez Cerro, Arequipa garrison commander. Sánchez Cerro then headed the 1930-31 military junta and ran for president in the 1931 elections. APRA mounted a surprisingly strong challenge but lost, claimed fraud, and provoked a strong mass protest.

On July 7, 1932, in an atmosphere of tension, APRA militants confronted an army garrison in the north coastal stronghold of the party, Trujillo, and killed about sixty officers after they had surrendered and had been disarmed. Army reinforcements soon carried out massive reprisals in the city in which at least 1,000 APRA militants and sympathizers were also killed. This event poisoned relations between the army and APRA for over thirty years and was a major factor in postponing the advent of sustained civilian rule in Peru. Sánchez Cerro's assassination in 1933 by a young APRA militant only exacerbated the hostility. APRA was not allowed to run openly for election again until 1962; the military's fear of increased APRA influence in the executive branch through a pact with the conservative National Odriist Union (Unión Nacional Odriísta--UNO) was a major factor in its July 1962 coup, which followed an indecisive election.

Data as of September 1992