The Governmental System of Peru

By Graham H. Stuart; Carnegie Institution of Washington | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II. THE CONSTITUTION OF 1920.

Discussing in his brilliant fashion the constitutional development of his country, Francisco García Calderón thus summarizes the problem:

Republican Peru, created by a single gesture from autocracy, was, according to the classic tradition, a masterpiece of romanticism. A divorce existed between the perfect and finished form of the constitution and its political principles and the character of the country. Liberty prematurely acquired was bound to produce disintegrating effects. A general anarchy which hid an uneasy and rebellious individualism, a soaring towards all the liberties, a lyric spontaneity, a horror of all rule and guidance, the destruction of power to accept a dictatorship afterwards; inconsistency, lack of discipline, the cult of form and word, sonorous utterance and enthusiasm became the characteristics of this great political movement. Liberty destroyed order and it was an undecided and troublesome liberty.1

It does not require a very extended study of the history of Peru since her independence to appreciate the force and aptness of these remarks. Rebellions individualism is the bête noir of Peruvian politics and Peruvian government. Perhaps nowhere can be found a greater respect for the theories of constitutional government or keener appreciation of its value than in Peru; yet, at the same time, there is a careless disregard of or a smiling indifference to the practice of its principles. An appreciation of the universality of law, coupled with a spirit of obedience to it on the part of its citizens, would lighten the burden of the government immeasurably; for without this habit of respect for law, there is bound to be a constant appeal to force, and under such conditions only an autocratic system or a dictatorship resting upon force can insure peace. The constitution then ceases to be the foundation of the government. It must either serve the power in control as a sort of first wall of defense, or else be torn down and reshaped to the exigencies of the occasion.

Therefore, although the constitution of 1860 remained the organic law of Peru and in constant operation from 1886 until 1920, there were occasions when its powers were seriously strained. This was particularly true during presidental election periods. At the death of President Berm£dez in 1894, a revolution rather than the constitution decided the succession. The resignation of President Billinghurst in 1914, and the election of Benavides as provisional president by the congress, were hardly in strict accord with the spirit of the constitution. Even though it was generally conceded that President Legufa

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1
Le Pérou Contemporain ( Paris, 1907), p. 78.

-19-

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