The Political Role of the Military: An International Handbook

By Constantine P. Danopoulos; Cynthia Watson | Go to book overview

PERU

George L. Vásquez

Few countries anywhere in the world have experienced as much military intervention in domestic politics as Peru. "From 1821, when Peru became independent, until 1968, the presidency (or its equivalent) has been held by seventy-six individuals; fifty of them were military men who led the country for eighty-six years."1 More than half of the civilian presidents who led the nation came to power through the use of force and depended upon the military to remain in office. "The first civilian president was elected to the post in 1872, but his followers had to defeat a coup led by four brothers, illiterate colonels, who could not bear the sight of a Peruvian president who was not a military man."2 The single longest continuous administration in Peruvian history was the leftist military government that governed the faction-ridden nation from 1968 until 1980. The military, which in the Peruvian context almost always means the army, has not always ruled in its own name. There have been long periods in which the Peruvian oligarchy governed with the tacit consent of the military. The philosophy that excused, if it did not condone, military government said, "Leave it to the soldiers... to clean up the mess."3 No one else wanted to soil their hands and risk their reputations in the quagmire of Peruvian politics. And yet, "Ever since independence the Peruvian army had constituted the only relatively unified and coherent institution in an extremely fragmented and disarticulated polity."4 This chapter examines the role of the Peruvian army in the politics of Peru during the twentieth century. It starts with the period of reform during the aftermath of the disastrous war with Chile and continues through Augusto Leguía's civilian dictatorship in 1929. This period witnessed two fundamental changes affecting military/civilian authority, commenced by Nicolás de Piérola and the beginning of the professionalization of the Peruvian army with the arrival of the French military mission in 1896. The next period to be examined is the generation of the last of Peru's military caudillos ( Sánchez Cerro, Bena

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