"Indian Problem" In Peru:
From Mariategui To Today
By Hugo Blanco
29 March, 2007
By Phil Courneyeur
This article was first published
in Spanish in the magazine Sin Permiso on March 4 this year. Sin Permiso
(www.sinpermiso.info/) is a Spanish-language quarterly socialist magazine
and a monthly e-zine published by a multinational editorial team. The
article was translated for Socialist Voice by Federico Fuentes.
Hugo Blanco was a leader
of the peasant uprising in the Cuzco region of Peru in the early 1960s.
His book about the struggle, Land or Death, was published in English
by Pathfinder Press in 1972. This mass upsurge, which led to armed clashes
with the repressive forces of the regime, eventually led to vast changes
in the Peruvian countryside, including an extensive agrarian reform.
Here Blanco recounts the story of how the indigenous movement brought
about the destruction of the brutal, semi-feudal system of landholding
and exploitation of the indigenous population known as Gamonalismo.
The Peruvian socialist leader
José Carlos Mariátegui was the first to offer a Marxist
appreciation of Gamonalismo and of the vital role the indigenous people
had to play in the struggle for national liberation in Latin America.
In his 1928 book Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality Mariátegui
dedicated a chapter to this question, titled "The Problems of the
Indian," from which Blanco also takes the title of his article.
"The term Gamonalismo
designates more than just a social and economic category: that of the
latifundistas or large landowners. It signifies a whole phenomenon.
Gamonalismo is represented not only by the gamonales but by a long hierarchy
of officials, intermediaries, agents, parasites, et cetera. The literate
Indian who enters the service of Gamonalismo turns into an exploiter
of his own race. The central factor of the phenomenon is the hegemony
of the semi-feudal landed estate in the policy and mechanism of the
government. Therefore, it is this factor that should be acted upon if
the evil is to be attacked at its roots and not merely observed in its
temporary or subsidiary manifestations." [www.ilstu.edu/class/hist127/docs/jcmindio.html
Following the military suppression
of the Cuzco upsurge, Blanco was imprisoned and tortured. Only a massive
international defence campaign, which won the support of such outstanding
figures as Ernesto Che Guevara, Simon de Beauvoir, and Jean Paul Sartre,
saved his life. He was forced into exile, spending time in Mexico and
Chile. Fleeing from the Pinochet coup in Chile, Blanco then found exile
in Sweden. During that second exile Canadian socialists, who had played
a significant role in the international defence campaign of the sixties,
organized a successful cross-Canada speaking tour for Blanco in 1976.
Upon his return to Peru Blanco
was elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1978 and later to the National
Parliament under the banner of the United Left movement.
Hugo Blanco remains today
an outstanding voice of the campesino and indigenous movements in Peru,
and is a leader of the Federation of Campesinos of Cuzco. He is a member
of the editorial board of Sin Permiso, and a long standing leader of
the Fourth International.
Blanco's most recent writings
have stressed the strategic importance of the rise of indigenous consciousness
and militancy to the mounting anti-imperialist struggles in the hemisphere
– a question that is poorly understood on the international left.
In a September 2006 article
"Progress of the indigenous movement against the system,"
also published in Sin Permiso, Blanco explained that "[t]he indigenous
movement is in the vanguard, not in the sweeping sense that it must
guide the rest of the oppressed people (each social sector will be its
own guide, each of them forging its own leadership through its own struggles);
it is the vanguard in the narrow sense that it is the most advanced
sector in the struggle against the system and in the building of an
alternative organization for society. Against neoliberal individualism,
the collectivism of the 'ayllu'" [the indigenous communal form
of social and economic organization].
In other articles Blanco
has also stressed the critical role of the victory of Evo Morales in
Bolivia and the rise of indigenous struggles in Ecuador.
Problem" in Peru: From Mariátegui to Today
By Hugo Blanco
I was invited last month by a heroic community to the commemoration
of a massacre of campesinos [peasants] who were fighting for land, and
who, at the cost of their blood, were able to pass it on to those that
work it. The recreation of the massacre was very moving.
I recalled the phrase that
was stuck in the mind of Mariátegui: "The problem of the
Indian is the problem of land."
That was the terrible truth.
Now it no longer is so.
Before the Invasion
Before the European invasion,
across the entire continent of Abya Yala (America), individual ownership
of land did not exist. The people lived on it collectively.
Unlike in Europe, the development
of agriculture and cattle grazing in America did not lead to the emergence
of slavery; instead primitive collectivism gave way to other forms of
collectivism as privileged layers and privileged people arose. Some
forms of slavery may have existed for domestic work, but agricultural
production was not based on slavery as it was in Greece or Rome. Rather
it was based on collective organization, called by different names in
the various cultures (ayllu en Quechua, calpulli en Nahuatl).
The European invasion lead
to the imposition of semi-feudal servitude. The land was stolen from
indigenous communities, and the new owners allowed the serfs to use
small parcels of land, who had to pay for that concession by working
a few days a week work on the best land -- on the "property"
of the latifundista [large landowner], and for his benefit.
This was the central feature
of servitude, but more was involved. The indigenous people also had
to "pay" with cattle for feeding on the natural grass that
"pertained" to the property. The landowner's cattle was looked
after by indigenous people – in return, as "payment,"
they received the right to pasture a few head of cattle of their own.
The campesinos were arbirarily sent to go by foot through rain and wind
for days, to haul loads of products from the "hacienda" to
the cities and returning with urban products for the hacienda. Pongueaje
and semanería were terms for the forms of domestic service that
campesinos had to carry out in the house of the owner.
There were many other obligations,
made up according to the imagination of the master. He was the judge,
he owned the jails, he arrested whomever he pleased, he physically mistreated
someone whenever he felt like it (Bartolomé Paz, a landowner,
branded the backside of an indigenous person with hot iron.) Murders
were committed with impunity, and so on.
In Peru, the revolution for
independence broke the chains of direct political domination by Europe,
but economic dependence was maintained, to the benefit of foreign interests,
firstly European and then later Yankee. The latifundio (large estate)
system also continued with the implicit suppression of indigenous peoples
and the descendents of African slaves.
That oppressive latifundio
system, and all the servility it brought with it, began to collapse
with the insurgency of the La Convención movement of the 1960s.
The indigenous peoples of this country who lived through those times
did npt struggle in vain; even today, despite of the many forms of oppression
that they still suffer, they can say, "Now we are free!"
End of the Hacienda
The high prices obtained
for exportable products from the semi-tropical zone of Cuzco gave an
incentive to the gamonalismo serrano [the ruthless landlord system of
the mountain areas] to usurp the land from the communities in the Amazon
region. Because the people from the Amazon area refused to be forced
into servitude, the landlords moved in campesinos from the mountain
areas, who were used to such treatment.
The system of oppression
was the same as that in the mountains; but it was exercised in a more
forceful manner -- in this area the "law," that provided some
slight protection in the mountain areas, did not exist.
The immigrant campesinos
suffered due to the climate, illnesses, and unfamiliar food. Large numbers
died due to malaria. Work was hard, because they had to first clear
the forest before they could start their plantations. Unlike products
from the mountain areas, their crops -- cocoa, coffee, coca, tea, fruit-bearing
trees -- could only be harvested once a year
The greedy landowners demanded
ever more workdays per month, while the campesinos who needed time to
cultivate their own products in order to earn any money, sought to reduce
the days spent working for the landowners.
In the mountain areas, centuries
of exploitation gave the system some protection of custom, but they
were challenged on the edge of the jungle areas where this form of exploitation
was new. Unions, organized by the Federation of Workers of Cuzco, demanded
a reduction in the obligations of campesinos to their bosses. They used
lawyers to present their claims.
There was some push and shove
between landowners and campesinos, some pacts were signed in which the
landowners ceded a bit.
But not all the landowners
accepted the agreements. The most ferocious would say: "Who came
up with this crazy idea that I should discuss with my Indians how they
will serve me? I am going to boot out the ringleaders and put them in
jail!" And that is what they did, using their close ties with the
judicial power, the political power, the police, and the media.
The multiplication of unions
strengthened the campesinos. By mobilizing they were able to impede
"legal" evictions and get their compañeros [comrades]
out of jail. When there was no discussion on the list of demands, the
campesinos initiated strikes demanding an agreement. The strikes consisted
off not working for the landowners and working on their own parcel of
land instead. In that way the campesinos did not suffer as a result
of the strikes, as workers or employees do, but rather enjoyed it.
In 1962, after 9 months on
strike, we unanimously decided in an assembly of unions from Chaupimayo
that, since the owner did not want to discuss with us, we would drop
our demand for negotiations. On that day, the strike ended and became
an "Agrarian Reform." We decided we would never return to
working for the owner, since had no right to the land -- he had not
come carrying the land on his shoulder.
The strikes extended across
more than 100 haciendas which, though not as explicitly as in Chaupimayo,
but rather in an implicit form, produced an agrarian reform in the valleys
of La Convención and Lares, carried out by the campesinos themselves.
The landowners went around
armed, threatening the campesinos. When the campesinos complained to
the police, they responded: "What do you shameless Indians want?
You are robbing land from the owner and he has the right to shoot you
like dogs!" So the campesinos had to organize themselves into self-defense
groups and they selected me to set them up. Afterwards, the government
of the landowners ordered repression against us. They persecuted me.
They prohibited the assemblies of the federation. And they began to
carry out acts of aggression against campesinos, including the gunning
down of an 11-year old child by a landowner. An assembly of four unions
ordered me to lead an armed group to bring the landowner to account.
Along the way we could not avoid an armed confrontation with the police,
where a police officer fell. Later two more fell in another clash. The
police massacred unarmed campesinos. After a few months our group was
dispersed and its members captured.
Nevertheless, the armed resistance
alarmed those in the military that were in the government. They thought:
"If these Indians have resisted the commencement of the repression
with arms, this zone will burn when we try to oblige them to return
to work for the landowners, which they haven't done for a number of
months. It would be preferable to legally recognize what the Indians
have done, and thereby pacify the zone".
And that is how the law of
Agrarian Reform for La Convención and Lares came into being in
It is true that this helped
bring calm to the area, but it lit up the rest of the country, because
the campesinos from other zones said: "Is it because we have not
taken up arms that they have not given us land?"
Land occupations were initiated
in the mountains, including in the department of Lima. The president
of the landowners, Belaúnde, responded with massacres like that
of Solterapampa, which I mentioned at the start. Those in the military
remained worried that the obsolete semi-feudal haciendas would provoke
an expansion of the movement. Given the experience that they had in
La Convención, they decided to take power and expand to the whole
country what they did in that zone. In 1968, Velasco Alvarado took power
and extended the Agrarian Reform at a national level. The official lack
of respect towards the indigenous community apalled the campesinos,
but the latifundio, the feudal landed-estate system imported from Europe,
That is how the axis of the
indigenous problem moved away from being a problem of land. Oppression
continued, but in other diverse aspects, which were derived from the
The indigenous struggle continued
and continues combating all forms of oppression and achieving advances:
Education: In the era of
the latifundio the indigenous population did not have a right to education,
despite what the law said. In the midst of the struggle against the
latifundio, schools with teachers paid collectively by the campesinos
of an area who also constructed the schools, began to appear. (The landowner
Romainville kidnapped a teacher and took her as a cook. The landowner
Marques ordered the destruction of a school whilst students where still
inside; the children fled frightened). After the victory over the latifundio
came the struggle that won the right to have schools paid for by the
state, and secondary education was implemented. Now there exist professionals
who are children of indigenous campesinos.
Healthcare: In this aspect
as well, the indigenous campesino sector created sanitary posts with
their own resources, and later managed to get the state to maintain
The illiterate did not have
the right to vote; now they do.
Municipalities: In the era
of gamonalismo, it was unimaginable that there could be an indigenous
campesino mayor. Now there are a number of municipalities governed by
them, some more democratic than others.
There are indigenous people
Public order and justice:
in many places there has been a partial substitution of the judicial
power and corrupt police by organized campesinos.
There is a permanent struggle
against corrupt authorities.
Probably the most important
struggle today is against contamination from mining.
Neoliberalism attacks campesino
products through low prices. There is a resurgence of huge landed estates,
no longer in a semi-feudal form, but rather capitalist, with paid workers.
The struggle encompasses all aspects of indigenous oppression: social
organization, language, medicine, music, customs, native foods, coca
History, seen with the hindsight
of decades, shows us that with the breakdown of the system of semi-feudal
servitude denounced by Mariátegui, the floodgates were opened
for the indigenous struggle across all fields.
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