In recent years, no doubt reflecting their govemment’s desire to forge closer political ties with certain Latin American countries, French scholars have been intensively engaged in studying Peruvian society. Operating out of the highly respected Institut Français d’Études Andines of the University of Bordeaux and its local headquarters in Lima, French scholars such as François Chevalier, Claude Collin Delavaud, Olivier Dollfus and others have been producing a small but sophisticated number of studies dealing with a variety of Peruvian subjects. The latest of these works, an excellent analysis of the dynamics of Peruvian politics, has just appeared in its English translation from the pen of François Bourricaud.
To most foreign observers Peruvian politics with its penchant for creolismo often appears as an unintelligible jungle. Happily this is the first book to appear in English in which the author fully understands the particular Peruvian political mentality with all its attendant quirks and nuances. With this understanding Bourricaud, whose credentials include numerous field trips to Peru and a solid monograph entitled Changements à Puno, succeeds in isolating and then explaining the working parts of the political system of this Andean nation of 13 million people.
In the first part of his book the French political sociologist discusses the process of social mobilization in this traditionally dualistic society, focusing particularly on the growing political consciousness of the lower sectors—“los olvidados” as he calls them, the psychology of the emerging middle classes, and the changing nature of the oligarchy. Bourricaud’s major contribution here is his incisive analysis of the political behavior and motivation of the middle classes which he draws from an imaginative and brilliant examination of the characters who populate the novels of Ciro Alegría and José María Arguedas. For Bourricaud the middle class Peruvian is a person who “longs to kill [the despised oligarch] but, knowing himself too weak to do so, seeks to use another as the instrument of his murderous passion,” thereby diverting or displacing his aggression. Such an interpretation, when applied to the realm of politics, enables us to more fully understand the “rebellious yet circumspect middle classes who grumble fiercely, yet submit.” Moreover, viewed within this particular framework the contradictory political trajectory and behavior of the Aprista movement, which was primarily a vehicle of the mobilizing Peruvian middle classes during the 1920s and 1930s, becomes at last explicable.
In the second section Bourricaud turns his attention to the variety of solutions proposed by the four main parties or political groupings in the country to cope with the changing socio-political realities brought on by the mobilization process. Here Bourricaud competently dissects the doctrines and machinations of APRA, the political groups of both the right and extreme left and Acción Popular. Particularly good in his chapter on APRA which constitutes by far the best short study of the party to appear to date. Moreover, the author illustrates, in his superb examination of symbolism and imagery in the speeches and writings of Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, how effective a tool the use of careful text analysis can be for the social scientist. Bourricaud concludes with a searching examination of the period 1956-1964, placing such events as the important “Convivencia” and the 1964 Agrarian Reform Law within the framework of his earlier analysis.
In sum this is an extremely well conceived book, full of fresh insights and interpretation and, in this reviewer’s mind, the finest analytical study of Peruvian politics now available in English.