The events chronicled in this interesting monograph go far to explain why late in 1968 Peru’s military forces took control of the government. The book limits itself in the main to politics in one portion of the altiplano and does not cover the situation much beyond the middle 1960s. However, the story which it tells of political ineptitude and personalistic rather than programmatic party activity is so representative of Peru’s experience with civilian governments since 1956 that the military’s action of 1968 seems almost inevitable. One wonders, in fact, why the University of Texas Press did not open the galley proofs to permit the author to make so obvious a point.
Edward Dew, a historian, attempts here to show the struggle between the old, established elites based on a provincial landholding aristocracy and newer, challenging elements from outside the region whose power grows out of commercial activity and more direct contact with the Indian masses. To do so, he offers case studies concerning distinct phases of a continuing battle for ascendency between the traditional center of power—Puno—and the newer, more economically dynamic railroad transfer point nearby—Juliaca. In these he describes intradepartmental manipulations to capture central government benefits for the advantage of the two cities and their dominant interests. The rivalry resulted in distortion of so-called national party programs and goals and amply explains why apparently national-integrating mechanisms failed to unify the country and ultimately led to authoritarian stabilization by the army. What took place in Puno was also happening in many other regions of Peru, as growing demands from competing interests swamped a national political system unable either to satisfy or to reconcile a mountain of claims. The breakdown of President Belaúnde’s government, therefore, was hardly surprising.
The insights provided by Politics in the Altiplano help us to understand the problems inherent in nation-building, but the book contains a few flaws. Let me discuss them, not so much to detract from Dew’s notable contributions to knowledge as to suggest some of the traps confronting students doing this kind of study. First, the study does not hold together perfectly. Dew begins with a theoretical chapter, “Political Change in a Plural Society: A Framework for Analysis.” This offers some interesting ideas on problems of social and political integration which attract me especially because they parallel some work on the subject which I am doing at present. But the substantive body of his book does not clearly reflect the theoretical introduction, leaving the impression that Dew added the first chapter after he had finished his research and written up his data.
This weak emphasis on theory limits the analytical potential of the substantive information presented. As one who was present in Puno and Lima during many of the events described, I think that the author fails to realize all the interpretive possibilities of his data. Much of this material could be applied to the broader Peruvian scene or to the problems of development politics in general. It is a shame that he was not encouraged to build upon his really solid foundation, using analytical insights to reinforce facts in discussing more fully the difficulties of national integration. It may be that Dew has not yet had the opportunity for the kind of long-term observation of Peru’s politics that would make such generalization possible. Unlike many “old Peruvian hands,” he seems to accept at face value newspaper reports of occurrences in and around Puno. Those who have participated in political situations and then read about them in local or Lima papers are only too well aware that no newspaper in Peru reports events in a reasonably objective manner. Bach editor has his own sense of good and bad, right and wrong, reflecting one or another of the myriad competing interests in a rapidly changing environment. Somewhat more extensive checking with rival publications and with more of the actors in the political drama might have shifted the author’s interpretations a bit.
But this is minor carping. Dew carried out his original intent well, and it is unfair to complain because he did not do more. Politics in the Altiplano is a useful and welcome contribution to the literature of Peruvian politics. We should be happy to have it.