I thought this weeks video was fascinating. Peru’s unique history holds a lot of interest for me- and I think there’s a lot we can learn from it. In my opinion, one of the most fascinating things about Peru’s military takeover in 1968 is that, for maybe the first time ever- and since- there was a coup that resulted in a progressive military government; one that attempted to better the lives of its people through land and social reforms. I still can’t wrap my head around that. For once, there was a military government with unquestionable force, and with that power they tried to do something good. Even more amazing in my eyes, is that their attempts failed. The uniqueness of the tragedy is noteworthy. I wonder how things might have resolved had Sendero Luminoso never risen to power. Would the government have the want or the ability to first restore order in the agricultural societies, and second pursue other social reforms? Of course, we know that power would’ve been transferred from a military government in the democratic 1980 elections, so its not like all of these acts would’ve been under an autocratic government. However, when you consider the means the government did adopt during the Sendero Crisis, one starts to wonder if there was any significant difference. I do not believe that the sender Luminoso were in the right, nor do I condone any of their actions, which I believe to have done far more damage than good. But that doesn’t mean everything the government forces did in retaliation were right either. In class we asked the question “is violence ever justified?”, which is a question I believe to be very pertinent to the situation at the time. At the time, violence may have been necessary for either side to prevail, but only because both sides worked themselves into that state. I don’t want to be too naïve, but I do think that violence can be avoided. The events that lead up to the conflict may have been convoluted and hard to piece together, and I’m not sure that anyone can be blamed if they did not see it coming. However, if we look back and learn to recognize patterns of behaviour that lead to violence and abuse perhaps we can avoid future crimes. Peru, I think, has many lessons for us to learn, if we have the aptitude to learn.
Our group project focuses on Peru’s internal conflict. I will be speaking on the global contextualization of the conflict, particularly in regard to the Soviet Union. As described by Ruben Berrios and Cole Blasier in Peru and the Soviet Union (1969-1989): Distant Partners, the same events that would eventually lead to the conflict also opened the door for Soviet influence in Latin America. The Soviet Union desperately needed a standalone base of operation in mainland Latin America, one they could reach without relying on western services. (Berrios & Blasier, 366) It was really the beginning of the Peruvian conflict that both made Soviet presence in Peru desired, as well as possible. On the 3rd of October 1968, there was a military coup in Peru that resulted in the replacement of a pro- United States president with a non-partisan general, Juan Velasco Alvarado. Alvarado was himself both against communism and capitalism, and wished to create a more nationalistic political culture in Peru, one that would be less easily influenced by outside powers. (367) Shortly after his installment as president, trade relations between Peru and prominent western countries began to crumble. In particular, the US and France refused to make trades of military supplies on equal ground with Peru. Denied favorable trading with the western powers, Peru took its business to the socialist powers. Not even half a year after Alvarado took power, diplomatic relations were established with the Soviets on the 1st of February, 1969. (367-368) The Soviet Union now had their foot in the door to Latin America. Trade between the two nations would fluctuate over the years, but experienced a largely upwards growth, peaking between 1975 and 1980. It is worth noting that the bulk of Peruvian imports of the time were military hardware, something that would become more relevant after the start of Peru’s internal conflict in 1980. (370) While Peru did benefit economically from its trade with the socialist nations, it was really the Soviets who would get the most out of the deal, as they secured a firm purchase on the continent. The Soviets were in fact less interested in supporting the communist revolutionaries in Peru than they were in establishing a strong relationship with the country, one which they could use to serve their own goals of global expansion. Indeed, when the Maoist communism splinter party “The Shining Path” (Sendero Luminoso) first emerged in strength in 1980, the Soviet Union did not support them, and were critical in particular of their violent methods. One Moscow-line party leader was quoted with saying “the acts]…[ not only are not revolutionary but they benefit counter-revolutionary groups because they facilitate repressive plans.” (380) The Soviet Union did of course lend support to more moderate left leaning groups, but were decidedly anti-Sendero Luminoso, a view they shared with the Peruvian government. The Soviet Union’s powerplay in Peru meant that it was preferable for them to side with the existing non-communist government, even if that meant going against fellow communists. (380-381) The role of the internal conflict in Peru in the larger ongoing cold war is nothing to be taken lightly; it served as a catalyst for Soviet influence to spread further West, increasing their power on the world stage.
Berrios, Ruben and Blasier, Cole. “Peru and the Soviet Union (1969-1989): Distant Partners.” Journal of Latin American Studies. Vol. 23, No. 2 (May, 1991), pp. 365-384. JSTOR, JSTOR http://www.jstor.org/stable/157029
It seems to me that there are really only three paths to political power. You can listen to your voters, and honestly try to represent their interests; you can convince your voters that you will look after them, but serve your own (or your parties!) interests first; or you can disregard the will of the public and the ideals of democracy and seize power by force. Given the definition of a populist then, which is “a member or adherent of a political party seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people,” it would follow that there are only three types of political leaders: populists, those who appear to be populists, and dictators. And yet populism is usually considered a negative characteristic. Surely a true populist would be infinitely preferable to either a two faced politician or a dictator. I think the problem with populism arises from the fact that a populist tries to make everyone happy all the time- something not even the smoothest political representative can pull off. Take Peron, for example, who promised far too much to far too many, and delivered far too little- resulting in his eventual downfall. My father always says that a perfect compromise is one that leaves everybody a little unhappy, but a populist promises to make everyone happy, something I believe to be both very idealistic and, in its own right, unachievable. You could, as a leader, attempt to make everyone in your constituency agree on every topic, but I think that would be a Sisyphean task. The more popular (haha) route seems to be to promise different things to different people, always avoid conflict whenever possible. Compromise is like poison to a populist. Of course, the only way to ensure that you never anger anybody through your actions is to never take action, which results in no change, or real representation, for your people or your country. To use Peron again, during his exile from Argentina, he made many conflicting promises to polarized groups, like communists and right wing members. At the time, this was an okay strategy, as, being out of office, he had no power to act on his promises, and could thus be excused for not taking action. However, when he did return to office, in 1971, his various assurances came back to bite him. Populism may get you to power, but it doesn’t seem to be very good at keeping you there. Politics, even when perfect, will never be able to make everyone happy.