During the turbulent decade of the 1930s, political competition in much of the Western world was shaped by fascism’s mounting challenge to liberal democracy and communism. In Latin America, the outcome of that conflict should have never been in doubt, since the region lacked the economic, social, and psychological conditions that had made possible the rise of fascism in Europe.1 Even so, there was much about fascism that appealed to important sectors of Latin American societies. Anticommunism, anticapitalism, militarism, defense of national unity and honor, protection of family, and other traditional values struck a responsive chord among intellectuals, politicians, members of the ruling classes, and military officers seeking solutions to the profound crises spawned by the Great Depression. Fascism seemed to offer them a panacea for national problems as well as an opportunity to join a glorious movement certain to overwhelm all who might try to resist it. These Latin Americans clearly misjudged the determination of the enemies of fascism to arrest its growth, and they certainly overestimated its appeal within their homelands. However, in spite of its ultimate failure, fascism in the 1930s turned Latin America into a battle-ground for competing political ideologies.

The contenders in this conflict often bore little ideological resemblance to their European counterparts, and their movements usually reflected Latin American political and social peculiarities. The fixing of European labels on such movements, though perhaps inevitable in light of the state of international affairs, had the effect of distorting political reality and giving national political conflicts unwarranted international significance.2 Thus, debates on social and economic modernization, political participation, and institutional reforms provided arenas in which the proponents of warring ideologies could promote their message, and, at the same time, advance their strategic interests in Latin America.3 An unfortunate consequence of this distortion was the unwelcomed interference in the region’s internal affairs by powers seeking to advance or protect their position. A more serious result was the deepening of already existing political divisions, which continued long after the international conflicts of the 1930s had ended.

Even after more than 50 years, the political distortions caused by the misuse of ideological labels still cloud our understanding of the politics of that era. In the case of Peru, for example, only recently has the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA) been able to shed the communist label imposed on it in the 1930s by its rightist enemies. The party largely represented frustrated middle-class and elite Peruvians hurt by the modernization of the sugar industry in the 1920s. Its leader, Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, was anything but a revolutionary. Although he had skillfully won the loyalty of the popular sectors, he strictly controlled their activities, fearing the destructiveness of their pent-up anger and violence. In spite of its mildly reformist program, the party was labeled a communist organization and declared illegal throughout most of the 1930s to the delight of foreign powers, including the United States and Italy, which had also come to see the party as a front for bolshevism.4

While the APRA has been rescued successfully from the simplistic corner into which it had been painted, the same cannot be said for other participants in the political drama of the 1930s. This is particularly true of the assorted individuals and organizations which, whether by choice or not, bore the fascist label. Recent studies have added credence to widely held assumptions in the 1930s that large segments of the Peruvian ruling classes were fascist.5 An excellent example of this new scholarship is José López Soria’s El pensamiento fascista (1930-1945). The book lists dozens of supposedly well-known Peruvian fascists in the 1930s and groups them into three distinctive categories depending on class and ideological orientation. The first, “aristocratic” fascism, sought a restoration of the values of the old aristocracy. Its best spokesman was José de la Riva Agüero, one of Peru’s most renowned intellectuals and historians who embraced fascism after his return to the Catholic faith in 1932. Appalled by the social and political chaos of the early 1930s, and convinced that liberalism would be ineffective in containing the advance of leftist ideologies, he embraced the view that the only way to contain socialism and populism as well as greedy bourgeois capitalism was “to return to the medieval, Catholic, Hispanic tradition as embodied now by fascism.”6

“Mesocratic” fascism represented the aspirations of middle-class professionals and intellectuals, many of them tied to the Universidad Católica and to Acción Católica. They had no sympathy for the traditional ruling class, which they blamed for many of Peru’s problems, and were even more alarmed by the despised Aprista and communist alternatives. They proposed to bring social reconciliation between the diverse components of Peruvian society—the Indian and the Western—by championing the ideology of mestizaje. They also proposed to bring political order by imposing restrictions on competitive capitalism and, especially, on communism. Mesocratic fascism was championed by intellectuals like Raúl Ferrero Rebagliati, who drew ideological inspiration, according to López Soria, from Italian fascism, Spanish falangism, and German nazism.7

The largest of the three fascist groups was “popular” fascism, represented by the Unión Revolucionaria (UR) party. It had a charismatic hero in President Luis M. Sánchez Cerro (1931-33), the leader of the Revolution of Arequipa in 1930, which ended the eleven-year Oncenio of Augusto Leguía (1919-30). A physically courageous, dark-skinned military officer of lower-class origins, familiar with the customs and language of the masses, Sánchez Cerro became the embodiment of the frustrations and aspirations of the poor urban and rural masses as well as the vindicator of their much maligned race.8 Born as a vehicle for Sánchez Cerro’s 1931 presidential aspirations, the UR adopted antiestablishment, anticommunist, and nationalist slogans. It came to symbolize the discontent of the urban petite bourgeoisie, besieged by unemployment and by competition from Japanese artisans in Peru, and it became the champion of the yanaconas, small farmers precariously holding on to a way of life that was threatened by competition from Japanese farmers and, in the province of Lima, by real estate developers.9 The party was also embraced by sectors of the old Civilista oligarchy who wished to utilize it as a shield against attacks from the only other mass political party in Peru, the APRA. Under the leadership of Luis A. Flores, who succeeded Sánchez Cerro in 1933 after the president’s death, the party adopted many fascist trappings and became a very important player in the political drama of the 1930s.10

López Soria’s list of individuals associated with Peruvian fascism includes many of the country’s most prominent intellectuals and public personalities of that period.11 However, aside from such cases as Riva Agüero and Carlos Miró Quesada—the director of El Comercio—whose commitment to fascism was well publicized,12 it is often difficult to ascertain whether the many other Peruvians listed thought of themselves as fascists, and, if so, which model they favored, how deep their commitment to it was, and what relationship, if any, they had with its foreign representatives. Answers to these questions may lead to a fuller understanding of the real dimensions of fascism’s inroads into Peruvian society and of the relationship between its proponents and President Óscar R. Benavides (1933-39), Peru’s most important political figure of the 1930s.

While current scholarship has successfully enlarged the stage on which the political drama of the ’30s was played, and has examined the ways in which self-styled fascists helped make this one of the bloodiest and most turbulent decades in Peruvian history, it has not advanced sufficiently our knowledge of fascism in Peru. In fact, in its broad outlines, the analysis of the fascist presence in Peru, and of Benavides’s connection with it, is generally consistent, in content if not in tone, with that of contemporary observers, who described Peru as a country slipping into the fascist orbit and Benavides as a fascist sympathizer intent on facilitating the economic and political extension of the Italian system of government.13

Whether Peruvian or foreign, most of these observers intended that their polemics serve particular political or economic agendas beyond the question of whether fascism was indeed on the march in Peru, and whether it presented a clear and present danger to national sovereignty. There were those who used the specter of fascist inroads in order to win political legitimacy and power; there were liberal democratic elements in the United States and Europe who exaggerated the fascist threat to Latin America in order to arouse public awareness and to pressure governments into a more active antifascist policy in those regions, such as Europe, where the threat was real; and there were also groups in Western industrial countries which, more than ideology, feared commercial competition, particularly from Germany and Japan.

Whatever the motive, they were unable to offer concrete proof in support of their accusations beyond the certifiable facts that in the 1930s Peru enjoyed generally good relations with fascist countries, particularly with Italy, and that fascism had a sizable group of admirers among the country’s intellectual, political, military, and economic leaders. Quite apart from the paucity of evidence, no author then or now has described satisfactorily the precise relationships that supposedly existed between the Peruvian president and Peruvian fascists, Benavides and international fascism, and international fascism and self-styled Peruvian fascist groups and individuals.

This essay proposes to offer a partial answer to those questions by describing Peruvian politics in the 1930s from the vantage point of Italian diplomats in Peru. This perspective is particularly useful because it was shaped by the establishment of such close ties between Italy and the Benavides regime that, on several occasions, Italian diplomats were inspired to conjure up scenarios having Italy exert greater influence on Peru than any other foreign power—including the United States. Such flights of fancy were short-lived. Nonetheless, they encouraged Italian representatives to observe very closely political events in Peru for indications of any fluctuations in their country’s fortunes. The major focus of their reports was the extent to which Benavides was committed to fascism and to the establishment of ever more fruitful ties with Italy. Of great interest also were the suitability of fascism to Peru and the level of commitment to it by individuals and organizations.

Benavides’s rise to prominence in Peruvian public life began in 1911, when he led Peru’s troops in a brief and successful war against Colombia in the Amazon region. In 1913, at the age of 37, he became the army’s chief of staff, and the following year, spurred on by colleagues in the Civilista party, he headed a military coup against the popular reformist government of Guillermo Billinghurst. In 1915, Benavides relinquished power to a civilian president, the Civilista José Pardo, and soon after he served as Peruvian minister in Rome. After suffering imprisonment and exile during Leguía’s regime, he held diplomatic posts in Spain and Great Britain until the outbreak of the Leticia conflict with Colombia in 1932. Benavides was appointed minister of defense in 1933, and on April 30 of that year, following the assassination of Sánchez Cerro, Congress elected him to complete the deceased president’s constitutional term ending in 1936. That year he voided the presidential election returns giving victory to Luis Eguiguren—the candidate supported by the illegal APRA—and ruled dictatorially until the election of Manuel Prado in 1939.

When Benavides assumed the presidency in 1933, Peru was hopelessly mired in a political and economic crisis.14 The value of exports had fallen over the previous three years by nearly 75 percent, that of imports by more than 80 percent, and the government’s income by 45 percent.15 The country’s international image was as low as it had been in decades, because of the xenophobia which had gripped Peru after the fall of Leguía in August 1930 and as a result of the illegal Peruvian reoccupation in 1932 of the Amazon province of Leticia, ceded in 1930 to Colombia. The ensuing border conflict occurred during virtual civil war in Peru between followers of the APRA and the populist government of Sánchez Cerro. Claiming victory in the 1931 presidential election—legally won by Sánchez Cerro16—the APRA resorted to armed attacks against the government, culminating in the July 2, 1932 massacre of more than 60 soldiers and officers at Trujillo. Now supported by a more united army seeking revenge for its fallen comrades, Sánchez Cerro launched a bloody wave of repression which may have resulted in the death of as many as 1,500 Apristas, the arrest of their leader, Haya de la Torre, the exile of many party members, and, ultimately, the assassination of the president himself by the militant Aprista Abelardo Mendoza Leyva.17

Benavides changed the climate of doom and crisis almost immediately. He negotiated a cease-fire with Colombia (a peace agreement was finally signed in 1934), ended the severe repression of the APRA, and released its leader from prison.18 Almost at the same time, demand for Peruvian products (particularly cotton) increased worldwide, so that Peru’s exports gradually came to exceed the pre-1929 levels.19

The return of relative political tranquility and economic well-being, along with the immediate improvements in public finances, allowed Benavides to reduce the military portion of the budget20 and devote substantially larger resources to social and economic needs. Between 1933 and 1939, thousands of miles of new roads were built and thousands more renovated, thereby employing an average of 40,000 workers per month between 1937 and 1939. About 52,000 hectares of new land were brought under cultivation thanks to new irrigation systems. State-owned lands were distributed to landless peasants, and a council of Indian affairs was created (1935) to resolve disputes over Indian lands. Modern water systems were provided for 25 provincial towns. Great numbers of low-cost housing units were built. Popular restaurants, where low-income people could get decent and inexpensive meals, were funded more generously. New schools were built and free breakfasts served to students. Finally, a social security system was established and entrusted to a new Ministry of Public Health, Labor, and Social Security.21 By any measurement, these accomplishments are impressive and make the Benavides regime one of the more constructive in Peruvian history. Nevertheless, in spite of having raised Peru “from the depths to the heights,”22 Benavides, in the end, failed to win the political gratitude of the populace, and was unable to extend his political base beyond the armed forces.

The search by Benavides for a political constituency is a study in frustration. The most dynamic force in Peruvian politics in the 1930s was the APRA. Founded in Mexico in 1924 by Haya de la Torre and other Peruvian exiles, it was established in Peru in 1930 and enjoyed legal status only until 1932. In spite of its illegality and persecution for most of the decade, the party became the largest political organization in the country. Its reformist program, the valiant struggle it fought against overwhelming odds, and the seeming intellectual honesty and purity of purpose of its adherents gave the party a mystical hold over much of the middle- and lower-middle-class population. It also achieved virtual dominance of Peru’s political left and center, overshadowing all other political parties including the Communist.

Believing in its moral superiority and in its own slogan that “only APRA can save Peru,” yet frustrated in its drive to power by an alliance of the military and the oligarchy, the party explored every possible avenue of acquiring legality and, eventually, power. It attempted armed rebellion, elections, subversion of the military, and alliances with every conceivable party—no matter how ideologically incompatible it might be. By the late ’30s, it was embracing the much maligned imperialist enemy of Latin America, the United States.23 None of these opportunistic swings shook loose the party’s loyalists, whose numbers seem to have increased throughout the decade, along with the mythology surrounding the party and its leader.

The APRA’s overwhelming presence was such that it was quite impossible for Benavides, the man incessantly reviled and ridiculed by the party’s clandestine press, to wrest away any portion of the APRA constituency. The right clearly seemed more fertile political territory for Benavides. Yet his search for a political base there proved to be only slightly less futile.

The most powerful force on the political right was the UR, led after April 1933 by former Minister of the Interior Luis Flores, a self-styled fascist, fond of black shirts and flamboyant salutes, who organized armed detachments of black-shirted militants to “promote the defense of public order” and to “defend democratic institutions.”24 This mission entailed the protection of religion and order against the advance of “communist and subversive ideas,” with the APRA understood to be the most dangerous agent of subversion in Peru.25 The party continued to court the same urban and rural constituency that had helped elect Sánchez Cerro in 1931, in part by developing a cult of personality around the fallen president.26 It maintained close alliances with sectors of the traditional oligarchy—particularly landed and mining interests in the sierra—and with representatives of foreign capital. The UR also drew support from commercial and manufacturing interests in Lima, the result of the party’s mounting nationalist campaign against Japanese businessmen.27 The traditional oligarchy was particularly supportive of the party, seeing in its 6,000-man black shirt army both a shield against attacks from the APRA and a club with which to batter its enemies. During the premiership of Riva Agüero (1933-34), this army received substantial aid from the government mainly in the form of military training and assistance, losing it only when sectors of the armed forces became alarmed at the size of the paramilitary force.28

Relations between Benavides and the UR had never been warm. Animosity surfaced in 1933 when the president refused to order the execution of Sánchez Cerro’s assassin and then released Haya de la Torre from prison—fueling speculation that Benavides had been an accomplice in Sánchez Cerro’s assassination.29 Moreover, shortly after taking power, Benavides considerably reduced party representation in the cabinet, withdrew government support from its paramilitary force, and cracked down harshly on its political activities.30 Clearly, Benavides had concluded that, with Flores as its leader, the UR was a serious threat to his government as well as to public order. For his part, Flores had come to believe that Benavides represented a major obstacle to his rise to power and that, therefore, he must be removed from office. An opportunity to do so legally presented itself in the 1936 presidential election in which Flores campaigned as a critic of Benavides, who was not a candidate, and as the champion of a corporate state in Peru, free of Marxism and subversion and ensuring social justice and well-being for all.31

The election was held on October 11. Several days later, with Eguiguren leading Flores in the count, Benavides declared the election null and void. Flores responded to Benavides’s coup with one of his own, leading to his arrest and exile. From there he continued to issue strongly worded anti-Benavides manifestos, advocating in one the assassination of the president.32 Also from exile, Flores tried to thwart Benavides’s efforts to divide the party. Although a split did occur, the president never gained the support of the anti-Florista faction headed by Colonel Cirilo Ortega, which also joined in plotting Benavides’s overthrow.33 Persecuted and divided, the UR came to play a more and more diminished role in Peruvian politics, and by 1940 it essentially ceased to exist.34

With the political left out of his reach and the UR resisting capture, Benavides found few trustworthy allies among the quarrelsome factions of the country’s ruling class—seemingly, his natural constituency. The oligarchy resembled a mosaic of different, often competing, political, economic, and geographic interests: Civilistas and Leguíistas; decentralists and centralists; liberal democrats and fascists; those economically dependent on either U.S. or British markets and capital and those wishing to diminish that dependence; and the landed and mining interests of the sierra and the more powerful financial, commercial, and plantation families on the coast. All these factions shared an aversion to social and political reforms as well as a pathological fear of revolution, yet seemed unable to lay aside, even temporarily, their rivalries—a fact highlighted by the variety of candidates and political organizations they generated for the 1936 election.35 Nor were they inclined to sit passively while Benavides kept order and protected them from dangerous social experiments.

Instead, for a variety of reasons, important segments of the oligarchy opposed Benavides and repeatedly joined in plots to overthrow him. There were Leguíistas who saw the president as simply a tool of their Civilista enemies, and Civilistas who were deeply critical of his excessively gentle treatment of Leguíistas. There were Sánchezcerristas who resented efforts by Benavides to weaken their organization, and who, along with many Civilistas, believed that he had made an unholy pact with Peru’s greatest enemy—Aprismo. Most members of the oligarchy also took exception to being excluded from power by the military—their traditional servants. Indeed, Benavides, a nationalist who held a much broader vision of Peru than most members of the oligarchy, was unwilling to be a mere tool of the ruling class.36 Devoid of a popular base and at odds with large segments of Peru’s social elite, he was forced to rely almost exclusively on the loyalty of the military until he relinquished power in December 1939.

Italian diplomats in Peru followed these developments with considerable interest and wrote extensively about them. During the generally prosperous and politically stable Oncenio, these reports were usually confined to routine commercial and diplomatic matters. Officially, fascism was still considered an Italian phenomenon, and Italian diplomatic activities in Peru were confined to efforts at increasing commercial sales and at preserving loyalty to the mother country and to Italian culture among nationals residing in Peru.37

The nature of these reports changed very little during the violent and depressed Sánchez Cerro era. They acknowledged with satisfaction growing Italian prestige because of the country’s ability to remain an island of social and political order amid the turbulence wrought by the Great Depression, but they ascribed little significance to it beyond the commercial and other similar benefits Italy could derive from such prestige. Indeed, in their reports, Consalvo Summonte (1931-32), Alberico Casardi (1932-33), and Vittorio Bianchi (1933-36), the Italian representatives during this period, rarely mentioned the word fascism in connection with Peruvian politics. They counted President Sánchez Cerro among Italy’s best friends in Peru,38 and hoped that he might be able to consolidate his power so that the country could be spared revolution and chaos—neither of which served the interests of Italy or of the Italian colony.39

Italian interest in Peruvian politics increased dramatically during the Benavides regime. This was in part due to fascism’s growing appeal resulting from the foreign policy successes of the Axis powers at the expense of the Western democracies. Such victories were welcomed by some Peruvians, who saw in fascism the answer to many of their country’s most vexing social and political problems. Another factor was the unexpectedly widespread sympathy Peruvians, or at least the Peruvian press—mouthpiece of the coastal elite and the government—demonstrated for Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia and for its bitter struggle against the League of Nations.40

The most important reason, however, for Italy’s widening interest in Peruvian politics was the growing evidence that Benavides, indeed, wished closer ties with Italy. Historically, the two countries had enjoyed warm relations, bolstered by the presence in Peru of a large, wealthy, and well-integrated Italian colony, most of whose members had been born in or had been long-time residents of Peru.41 However, perhaps more than any other previous ruler, Benavides demonstrated his friendship toward Italy in very tangible ways. He purchased substantial amounts of Italian armaments, allowed the Caproni company to establish in Lima the only Italian airplane factory in Latin America, sent Peruvian air force officers to Italy for training, and enlisted police and air force missions to train Peruvian pilots and security forces. Benavides also maintained close ties with Italy’s diplomatic representatives, had extensive dealings with the Banco Italiano—Peru’s largest42—and, throughout the ’30s, his government faithfully protected, through threats and censorship, Italy’s good name against would-be critics.43

It may be impossible to know all the reasons for these policy decisions. Certainly, they stemmed in part from Benavides’s admiration for and confidence in Italian equipment. They may have resulted also, in part, from friendly pressure put on the Peruvian president by Gino Salocchi, the director of the Banco Italiano, the major financial backer of the Peruvian government.44 And they may have arisen partly from a desire by Benavides to assert, even if to a limited degree, Peruvian independence from the United States and England by diversifying the sources of Peru’s armament suppliers. The need for Peru to broaden such markets was demonstrated during the Leticia conflict. Peru had experienced serious difficulties in obtaining needed weapons from its traditional suppliers —the United States and other Western countries—most of which sided with Colombia. In light of continuing problems with Colombia (the dispute was not settled until September 1935) and growing border tensions with Ecuador, Benavides may have feared that Peru would face the same predicament in case of another conflict.45 It is likely that there were still other reasons for the deepening relationship between Peru and Italy. One, however, which should be discounted is the one most widely accepted at the time, that Benavides had embraced the fascist idea.

Italian representatives themselves at first interpreted Benavides’s friendliness as an indication of the president’s hidden sympathy for fascism, which he would reveal at the appropriate moment. Thus, as early as 1934, Bianchi began writing hopefully of Benavides’s fascist “sympathies,” “tendencies,” and “orientations,” continuously raising the possibility that the president would demonstrate, by concrete examples, his supposed ideological inclinations. In private conversations with the Italian minister, Benavides was reported to have expressed admiration for Italy and Mussolini, and to have raised the possibility of rewriting the Peruvian constitution along Italian-style corporative lines.46

The 1936 election and its subsequent annulment, which had prevented a victory by the left and thus averted, according to Bianchi, a Spanish-style civil war, were believed by the Italian minister to have been especially important in convincing Peruvians that their country must be inspired by fascism if it wished to have tranquillity and order.47 This position, Bianchi reported, was now argued by Peruvians who had previously propounded “the old liberal democratic ideas” but who now were urging the president to apply a modified form of Italian corporativism to Peru. Bianchi was told that Benavides’s closest advisers were pushing the president along the same lines, and that the president had agreed to invite Italian experts at the earliest possible time to study the feasibility of applying the corporative system to Peru.48

Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano took note of Bianchi’s reports, and urged a prudent increase in propaganda to take advantage of the propitious conditions “to strengthen Italy’s position” in Peru.49 At the same time, in an internal memorandum, he reaffirmed the position that Italy must “look … [to the Benavides regime] as the only force having the will and the means” to bring about the success of fascism in Peru.50

Italian hopes for fascist inroads were further heightened by the dramatic success of Italian propaganda in turning the Lima press into one of the most vocal outside of Italy supporting the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Throughout 1936, El Comercio, La Prensa, La Crónica, and El Universal inundated their readers with an avalanche of stories—most of them produced by the Ministry for Press and Propaganda—defending Italian actions, condemning the League of Nations-imposed sanctions against Italy, and creating a very positive image of Italian fascism—favorably comparing its achievements with the “tragic” shortcomings of liberal democracy. Also in 1936, the Lima press enthusiastically embraced the cause of the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War and of Italian policy there, presenting the conflict in terms of a Manichean struggle between good and evil, civilization and barbarism.51

Italian optimism was not diminished by Benavides’s continuing failure to translate his private expressions of fascist sympathy into a public affirmation of his ideological leanings. Publicly, in fact, Benavides continued to define his government’s ideological position with the slogan “neither communism nor fascism.” Nor was that optimism tempered by the knowledge that the loyal support of Italian imperialism in Africa by the Lima press was largely purchased with monthly subsidies to editors and newspapermen, and that, therefore, it could easily be lost.52

The rosy picture painted by the Italian legation in Lima was effectively and permanently tarnished by Giuseppe Talamo, Italy’s minister in Lima from December 1936 to January 1938. After at first reinforcing the perception that Benavides leaned toward fascism, beginning in early 1937 Talamo’s dispatches grew increasingly pessimistic. He proceeded to dispel the myth of Benavides’s fascism, painting in the process an unflattering portrait of the president. Talamo also raised serious doubts about Peru’s social and political suitability for fascism, displaying a condescension toward Latin Americans in general.

Talamo’s less-than-sanguine reports on Benavides’s supposed fascist tendencies began shortly after his arrival. In February 1937, he wrote that in Peru, as in other Latin American countries, one was too easily inclined to describe as fascist the actions and policies of dictators who intended to benefit personally from them. Benavides himself, whose political base was narrow, was interested not in fascism but in justifying his dictatorship and retaining power.53 In an apologetic tone, he wrote his friend Emanuele Grazzi at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

I am sorry to have to destroy some myths and to have to throw cold water on the reigning optimism; but I think I have, above all, the duty of being honest and clear. The talk about Benavides’s fascist tendencies has been somewhat imprudent. He does harbor sympathies for Italy and even for certain aspects of fascism as an organization and power—but real fascism, not really.54

He then rhetorically asked:

You tell me if an army general, more than 60 years old, born and reared in Peru during a period when the republican-democratic myth was prevalent, who spent many of his years of military service associated with the French army … and who has agitated rather ably in the party politics of a South American parliament, can make the cultural, intellectual, and moral effort required by a transformation to fascism. I am not prepared to believe it.55

Over the course of the year, Talamo’s views acquired greater certainty and force. In July he wrote: “I do not believe in his [Benavides’s] capacity to understand fascism, nor do I believe in his willingness to understand it, because of a substantial and profound defect of intellectual formation which is that of an old liberal democrat.” 56 In this and subsequent reports, Talamo described the president as a “mediocre,” “indecisive,” “timid,” “exasperating,” “irresolute,” “irresponsible,” “perpetually dilatory” man who was clearly “unprepared spiritually and technically for the grave task” of carrying forward the fascist idea in Peru.57

Talamo was also seriously concerned about the precariously narrow power base of the Benavides regime, calling it “an insecure personal dictatorship … without a broad and solid political base and principally dependent on the uncertain support of a small army without prestige and glory.”58 Such a shortcoming would have been less serious, according to Talamo, had Benavides possessed the charismatic leadership qualities of a true caudillo.59 In fact, Talamo believed that Benavides lacked the appropriate “dictatorial temperament,” and that it appeared as if the president was constantly “apologizing for his dictatorship.”60

If Benavides was unsuited for fascism temperamentally, culturally, and psychologically, he reflected the reality of his country and his people. Peru, according to Talamo, had not yet reached the historical level needed for fascism to thrive. It was geographically isolated, disorganized, and lacking in “social experiences.” Its huge Indian majority lived in indescribably low material and moral conditions along with the oppressed small working class. Both were “submitted ... to the most brutal exploitation” by the agricultural and mining elites that “for years have ruled the country … with the blind and at times violent egoism of a colonial oligarchy.”61 Except for a few cultured and thoughtful men who, according to Talamo, were beginning to understand fascism’s “socially constructive aspect,” most elite Peruvians saw it only as a convenient repressive tool for the preservation of a “colonial civilization.”62

Talamo concluded that Peru, politically backward and still in the throes of “digesting with great difficulty” the ideas of the French Revolution, lacked the “secular social experience and unitary civilization” required for the development of fascism.63 His advice to Rome, therefore, was to be on guard against “poor copies [of fascism] … which in no way would benefit the fascist idea in the South American continent,”64 and not to expect in Peru “the immediate application of fascist ideas and measures.”65

In spite of reservations about Peru’s suitability for fascism, Talamo, like Bianchi before him, continued to believe that in “rich Peru” Italy could indeed “achieve many things” by utilizing its vast prestige as well as that of the Italian colony.66 Talamo predicted that, if adequate measures were taken, “we will be able to create in Peru a position of unshakable solidity” which might give Italy “absolute predominance in the country.”67

Such rare flights of fancy by Talamo may have been intended in part to extract some very badly needed funds from Rome for the severely underfunded legation in Peru. Italy’s more realistic goals were succinctly defined by Talamo as consisting of an increase in Italian influence to combat the efforts of the United States to isolate the Western Hemisphere, and to support Italy’s existing position against communism—the same subversive force that Italy was committed to fight throughout the world.68 Talamo referred, of course, to the APRA, which he had come to identify with communism. The third goal of Italian policy was to support measures and parties best equipped to preserve social and political order and prevent “unstable and dangerous experiments contributing to local political chaos.” Instability would harm Italy’s interests as well as those of the Italian colony, which controlled more than 30 percent of the economic activities in Peru, and, thus, benefited most from social and political order.69 For Talamo, these goals could be best realized by giving undivided support to Benavides, who, whatever his shortcomings, was “the last obstacle against Aprismo.”70 He had shown himself able to maintain order, and had demonstrated repeatedly his friendship toward Italy.

Talamo’s views were not shared by powerful members of the Italian community who felt very uncomfortable with Italy’s close identification with Benavides. They warned that the oligarchy, still Peru’s “real owner” and the most likely heir to Benavides’s power, might seek retribution against those who had become associated too closely with the president. They counseled, therefore, that Italy distance itself from Benavides in order to safeguard the future economic interests of its nationals.71

Talamo understood and appreciated the community’s concerns. Because of its economic influence and excellent social position, it had always managed to exert political influence without being identified with any particular faction. Italy’s courting of Benavides changed that tradition. However, Talamo considered the community’s arguments unfounded and self-interested. He argued that the powers of the oligarchy had been exaggerated. They had declined substantially since World War I as a result of the rise of the APRA—its greatest enemy. This party served as an effective counterbalance to the oligarchy, and would most likely succeed in destroying it if it came to power. It was the state which held the balance of power in the conflict. It could not afford to tie itself to “those blind egoisms [oligarchy] which had brought [Peru] to this sad state of affairs.” By strengthening relations with the Benavides regime, Italy would be strengthening the forces of order and would make a victory by Aprismo—the major threat to the community’s interests—less likely.72

Talamo clearly underestimated the power of the oligarchy, and, what was worse, attributed to Italy powers it could not possibly exercise, particularly without the assistance of the Italian community. Yet Talamo advised Rome that if the Italian government had to choose between “the egoistic and individual interests of a community which through denationalization has declined from 15,000 to fewer than 6,000, and which appears destined for extinction [if trends continued], and, on the other hand, the establishment in this country of our permanent influence,” then Italy should certainly choose the latter option.73 This was, indeed, the policy Italy had been following—whether consciously or not—since at least 1934, when Benavides began placing substantial armaments orders with the promise of many more to come.

The Italian decision to court the Peruvian president was a logical one in view of his many pro-Italian demonstrations and the options available on the political right. Peru’s traditional parties—pejoratively called by Talamo “the old parties of order”—were seen by the Italian ministers as essentially irrelevant. They no longer constituted a vital force in Peruvian politics, for they represented key sectors of what Talamo had called contemptuously the “colonial oligarchy.” These parties had minimal popular support, had no organized structure, and were personalist in nature. They represented an oligarchy believed to have no more than a passing ideological affinity with fascism, and, above all, they were in conflict with a government deeply sympathetic to Italy.74

The UR held more potential promise. It enjoyed considerable popular support—the only party aside from the APRA able to make such a claim—and displayed many of the trappings of a fascist organization. Its leader had claimed openly to be a committed fascist, and the party program called for the establishment in Peru of the corporate state. In spite of these features, no Italian minister ever took the UR seriously, either as a political party or as a movement capable of propagating fascist ideas in Peru. The Italian ministers labeled the party “pseudo-fascist,” maintaining that it was no more than the action arm of the same mining and landed oligarchy that had always ruled Peru “with the blind and violent egoism of a colonial oligarchy.”75 They had created the party to compete with the APRA at the popular level, and, at the same time, to shake the government out of its “dangerous lethargy” in the face of the Aprista threat.76

One major reason for the lack of Italian interest in the UR was its failure to solidify into a political party with strong and clear ideals.77 This, according to Talamo, was a key reason for the weakness of the party organization and its uncertain hold on the masses.78 Blame was attributed largely to Flores, who was charged with following “an incoherent personalist” political strategy that had led to disorientation, disunity, and break-up of the party.79 Perhaps a more important reason for Italian disinterest in the party was its bitter conflict with Renavides, which had begun with his selection by the Congress to complete the presidential term of the assassinated Sánchez Cerro.

Talamo’s description of this conflict reveals much about his perceptions of Peruvian politics and of Italy’s relationship with Benavides. The battle between the president and Flores, according to Talamo, stemmed principally from the president’s plan to break up the UR in order to force a realignment of rightist forces around Benavides and provide him with a more solid political base.80 This strategy was opposed, of course, by Flores. It was also challenged by important sectors of the oligarchy eager to deny the president the mass support that might have made it possible for Benavides to entrench himself in power.81 Moreover, the oligarchy itself had provided the UR considerable financial and moral support in the hope of using it as a weapon against Aprismo.82 Curiously, Benavides’s strategy also found disfavor among high-ranking military officers, who saw it as leading to an alliance between the oligarchy and Benavides that would threaten their own control of state institutions.83

This struggle for control of the political right was sufficiently intense to lead the Italian ministers in Lima to remark repeatedly about the harshness with which Benavides dealt with Flores and other leaders of the party compared with the relatively mild treatment accorded the leaders of the APRA. One explanation mentioned several times by Italian officials was that Benavides and Haya de la Torre shared strong Masonic links. A more logical explanation offered by Talamo was that Benavides needed the APRA to remain relatively quiescent while he engaged in the struggle for control of the right, which entailed separating Flores and his lieutenants from the leadership of the UR. At the same time, the president also needed the presence of the APRA to frighten the oligarchy into seeing Benavides as the only effective bulwark against an Aprista victory.84

In November 1936, Benavides struck a severe blow against the UR when he exiled Flores to Mexico following a failed coup. Another blow was struck soon after by Flores himself. First, in private letters, and, subsequently in manifestos, he began charting a new course for the UR which would have moved the party back to the more populist antiestablishment, anticapitalist positions of the early Sánchez Cerro regime. In a letter to Riva Agüero, Flores first outlined his intention of separating the “fortunes of capitalism” from those of the party. He also vowed to free it from the oppressive weight of the oligarchy which, he claimed, hung around the party’s neck like a dead weight.85 These declarations, seen as an attack on private property, along with persistent rumors—fueled by the government press—of an impending anti-Benavides alliance between Flores and the APRA, cost Flores the support of many backers from the oligarchy and contributed to the split within the UR.86

Throughout this dispute between Benavides and Flores, Italy never wavered from the belief that its interests lay with the Peruvian president. In spite of Flores’s repeated assertions that he was a fascist determined to reshape the Peruvian state along Italian-style corporativist lines, Italian ministers in Peru invariably referred to him as a “self-styled” or “self-proclaimed” fascist.87 They never considered Flores worthy of Italian support. This position was underlined late in 1936 when Manuel Mujica Gallo, former Peruvian attaché to Berlin, appealed to Rome to provide whatever assistance it could to Flores while in Mexico, “a country eminently communist” and, therefore, dangerous “to all of those who profess the politics of Mussolini.”88 The Foreign Ministry rejected the request, explaining that “the affinities between Florismo and fascism are very questionable while President Benavides is an obvious sympathizer of fascism … and has excellent relations with our Legation.”89

The manifestos Flores published in exile did little to raise his stock with the Italian representatives. Calling them “banal diatribes,” Talamo claimed they further divided and weakened the forces of the right “of which by now the more reasonable elements are assuming ... a kind of passive resignation, if not quiet consensus, regarding the government.”90 Unwittingly, then, Flores was believed by Talamo to have ensured Benavides’s eventual success in his drive to dominate the political right—a possibility that made Italy more determined than ever not to disturb its close relationship with Benavides.

Talamo believed that as a result of the probable success of this strategy, the president would begin to show “ever more marked favor” toward Italy and fascist ideas. The reason, according to Talamo, was not that Benavides could or was inclined to embrace fascism. He was motivated by an abiding desire to hold on to power and “by the reality of the facts and the imperatives of the situation.” The fact was that if Benavides wished to retain or perhaps enlarge his rightist constituency, he had to provide it security against an eventual clash with the APRA. This security could be guaranteed only by a political system that approximated the fascist doctrine.91

Benavides’s strategy to control the right was only partially and temporarily successful. He had helped contribute to the division of the UR, but had failed to appropriate for himself any part of its organization or constituency. The Ortega faction of the party still resisted capture by Benavides, and eventually joined with General Antonio Rodríguez in the February 1939 coup attempt against Benavides. Flores himself, although politically weakened, retained sufficient political clout to be feared by Benavides and to be sought out by the president’s political opponents plotting against him. Large sectors of the oligarchy, as well, remained unimpressed with the thesis that only Benavides could save them from Aprismo. They continued to oppose the president while seeking political arrangements which would free them of Benavides, reassert their political dominance, and protect them from an Aprista victory. Perhaps the best representative of this faction’s position was the director of El Comercio, Carlos Miró Quesada, a rabid enemy of the APRA and unabashed sympathizer of fascism, who never relented in his efforts to remove Benavides from power.92

Even more damaging to Talamo’s thesis that Benavides would have to establish a political system that approximated fascist doctrine was a dramatic change in Peru’s political climate in favor of liberal democratic principles as espoused by the United States. Talamo had often stated in his reports that for a number of cultural and historical reasons, and in spite of the esteem Italy enjoyed, Peruvians were fundamentally more favorably disposed toward liberal democracy than toward fascism. To the Italian minister, the government’s own slogan “neither fascism nor communism” seemed to exemplify this, as did government-influenced editorials which, while praising Mussolini and Italy, stressed the fact that Peru did not sympathize with fascism.93

The latency of the pro-liberal-democratic forces during much of the 1930s, and the relative scarcity of public affirmations in favor of their principles, changed perceptibly in 1937 when the United States launched an intense, multifaceted campaign which energized the supporters of liberal democracy in Peru, promoted more favorable treatment of their principles in the press, and increasingly placed their opponents on the defensive. It was largely mounting paranoia about the Axis menace to the Western Hemisphere that prompted the United States in the second half of the 1930s94 to undertake propaganda as well as diplomatic, military, and cultural initiatives to stem the supposed advances of fascism in the Americas. In Peru, the key target of U.S. propaganda was clearly Benavides, who in the eyes of Washington was proving himself to be a “poorer and poorer neighbor,” and who was moving Peru toward the adoption of a “fascist system.”95 This alarm was based partly on Italian diplomatic papers obtained by the U.S. Embassy in Lima. Written by General Ulisse Longo, Italy’s air force attaché in South America, during his inspection tour of Peru, these dispatches expressed Longo’s optimism about the possibility of Italian economic, commercial, and political penetration of Peru.96

The concerted U.S. effort had an almost immediate effect on the political climate of Peru. This change was reflected in the pages of a large segment of the Peruvian press, which no longer seemed to be within reach of Italian influence as in 1936,97 and instead proclaimed the principles of liberal democracy. More dramatic was the emergence of the APRA as the leader of the antifascist drive in Peru and as the most vociferous critic of Benavides’s relations with Italy. As late as 1936, Aprista leaders had made no major pronouncement on fascism except to say that “Aprismo is not fascism,”98 and that in Latin America there did not exist the necessary conditions for its growth.99

By 1937, the party began to focus its propaganda machinery on the ominous activities of the “black international,” and to portray Benavides as a fascist agent intent on undermining the independence of Peru and the freedom of the Americas.100 The Apristas charged that the president had already placed the air force and national police under Italy’s control, and had appropriated huge budgets to those services in order to facilitate the subjugation of the army as well. Control of Peru, the Apristas warned, was only one of Mussolini’s aims. His ultimate goal was the occupation of the Panama Canal and the subjugation of all of South America.101

The Aprista propaganda thrust in Peru, and in whichever other country its exiled members resided, was part of a grand strategy intended to coax the United States into helping a “democratic” APRA regain its legal status and eventually power.102 This strategy was bolstered by many foreign journalists and observers who also accused Benavides of being perhaps the most notorious example of a South American ruler working toward the fascistization of his country. Many of these critics were Aprista sympathizers—hence, the similarity of their attacks—committed to the struggle against fascism in the Western Hemisphere.103

Although intended chiefly to gain U.S. support in the struggle against Benavides, the APRA’s attacks on the president’s supposed traitorous dealings with Italy stemmed in part from a deep resentment of the anti-Aprista activities of the Italian police mission. Since their arrival in May 1937, the Italian officers had actively participated in operations which led to the arrest of a few Aprista leaders and to the shutting down of clandestine printing presses. Damage to Aprista activities was superficial, because neither Interior Minister Rodríguez nor President Benavides seemed eager to support a vigorous pursuit of the APRA. Nonetheless, the Italian mission remained a potentially serious threat to the clandestine activities of the party, and, therefore, became the object of some of its most vehement attacks.104

Even more dramatic evidence of the changing political climate and of the effectiveness of the antifascist propaganda campaign was the adoption of a resolution by the UR’s party congress in December 1938 declaring fascism and nazism inappropriate for Peru, and censuring Flores for his intemperate words and deeds.105 A party manifesto, issued in February 1939 in conjunction with the beginning of General Rodríguez’s coup, also aligned the party with the struggle to return democracy to Peru, claiming that this had been the party’s goal since 1930. The manifesto at the same time repudiated totalitarian ideas “in whatever form,” and promised adherence to the principles of the Good Neighbor Policy.106 General Rodríguez’s coup attempt was supported by officers in all the military services, including the police,107 by the UR and APRA parties, by important members of the oligarchy, and by El Comercio.108 Although it failed, it underscored the growing popularity of liberal democratic rhetoric, and it symbolized the continuing efforts to identify Benavides with fascism.

It is doubtful that the many affirmations of support for democratic ideals were deeply felt. However, they placed the government on the defensive, especially because they came at a time of rising nationalist fervor. Spurred by U.S. propaganda, Benavides’s political enemies used nationalist fears of Axis plots against Peru’s sovereignty to accuse the president of conspiring to turn Peru into a base from which his fascist partners could undermine the political independence of the other South American countries. In response to this growing criticism, the government began limiting the activities of foreign nationals.109 In October 1937, Benavides also reshuffled his cabinet, bringing into the government individuals reputed to be sympathetic to England and the United States. Of critical importance to Italy was the replacement of Minister of the Navy and Air Force Héctor Mercado Hurtado with Navy Commander Roque Saldías. Mercado had presided over the establishment of Italian influence in the Peruvian air force. Italy considered this the major prize from its courting of Benavides as well as the most dramatic reason for believing that Italy would be able to win orders for naval equipment and might even be asked to send a naval mission to Peru. The appointment of Saldías shattered those hopes. He quickly invited a naval mission from the United States, and would have put Italian domination of the air force in serious jeopardy had it not been for Benavides’s intercession.110

Italian interests, in fact, continued to enjoy protection from Benavides. Italian diplomats assured Rome that in spite of the growing “demo-liberal” propaganda, relations between Italy and Peru had remained cordial, that they were continuing to produce “fecund collaboration,”111 and that Benavides had consistently shown himself to be “particularly favorable toward us.”112 However, it was clear that the growing nationalist and antifascist campaigns could not be reversed, and that all that was left for Italy to do was “to save whatever can be saved” of its interests in Peru.113

The increasing demand for democracy had also weakened Benavides. The extensive support received by General Rodríguez in his failed attempt to topple the government underlined the extent of opposition to the president within the civilian and military establishments. Confirming his reputation as a realist, Benavides announced that he would step down at the end of his presidential term in December 1939. He then proceeded to ensure the election of his hand-picked candidate, Manuel Prado, and, that accomplished, left Peru on a diplomatic mission.

The election of Prado, according to Italian Minister Faralli, marked “a decisive slide to the left in international politics and a strengthening of Northamericanophile tendencies in foreign policy.”114 It also marked the beginning of the removal from Peru of the symbols of Italy’s influence. On March 31, 1940, Prado terminated the contract with the air force mission. He expropriated the Caproni factory in July, and discharged the police mission in December of the same year.115

That these and other anti-Axis measures could be implemented with minimal difficulty tends to support the Italian contention that the roots of fascism in Peru were weak and that few Peruvians would be disposed to risk much on its behalf. This was also true of most of the influential Italians residing in Peru, who usually responded generously to the legation’s appeals for financial assistance but who, to protect their economic position, resisted identification with fascism.116

Deeming no political organization and very few Peruvians worthy of the name fascist, Italy had briefly placed all its hopes for whatever success fascism could have in Peru on Benavides. The president disappointed the Italians. He obviously had no intellectual commitment to fascism, and was too cautious politically to push Peru into radically new international realignments. Thus, in 1937, while still maintaining warm relations with Italy, he began to adjust his policies to satisfy the rising demand for nationalist measures against a much exaggerated Axis threat. Had Benavides not given way to Prado, it is likely that he would have continued to adopt measures harmful to Italian interests.117 By that time, the flexing of U.S. economic and diplomatic muscle and the outbreak of war in Europe had made Peru more dependent than ever on North American markets and official good will.


Alistair Hennessy, “Fascism and Populism in Latin America,” in Fascism: A Reader’s Guide, Walter Laqueur, ed. (Berkeley, 1976), 255-260.


The Spanish Civil War is a particularly good example of an international conflict inflaming already existing political divisions in Latin America. See Mark Falcoff and Fredrick B. Pike, eds., The Spanish Civil War, 1936-39: American Historical Perspectives (Lincoln, 1982).


David G. Haglund, Latin America and the Transformation of U.S. Strategic Thought, 1936-1940 (Albuquerque, 1984). Haglund argues convincingly that U.S. intervention in World War II resulted largely from strategic concerns in Latin America not Europe. He carefully traces the rise of U.S. concerns in the 1930s over real and imagined fascist advances in Latin America.


The literature on the APRA is very extensive. For a description of its activities in the 1920s and ’30s see Peter Klarén, Modernization, Dislocation, and Aprismo: Origins of the Peruvian Aprista Party (Austin, 1973); Harry Kantor, The Ideology and Program of the Peruvian Aprista Movement, 2d ed. (Washington, 1966); Víctor Villanueva, El APRA en busca del poder, 1930-1940 (Lima, 1975); Thomas M. Davies, Jr. and Villanueva, eds., 300 documentos para la historia del APRA (Lima, 1978); and Pike, The Politics of the Miraculous in Peru: Haya de la Torre and the Spiritualist Tradition (Lincoln, 1986).


See Adam Andarle, Los movimientos políticos en el Perú entre las dos guerras mundiales (Havana, 1985); José Ignacio López Soria, El pensamiento fascista (1930-1945) (Lima, 1981); Willy Pinto Gamboa, Sobre fascismo y literatura (la guerra civil española en La Prensa, El Comercio y La Crónica 1936-39 (Lima, 1983); and Davies, “Peru,” in The Spanish Civil War, 203-243. Luis A. Eguiguren, former mayor of Lima, president of the Constituent Congress, and the leading vote getter in the 1936 presidential election, remarked that “rightist, centrist, and leftist ideologies are here classifications exclusively verbal and artificial which do not correspond exactly to the well-known realities of our bureaucratic and personalist system.” El usurpador (Para la historia) (Lima, 1939), 176.


Pike, The Politics of the Miraculous, 174-175. For a representative sample of Riva Agüero’s writings on fascism, see López Soria, El pensamiento fascista, 39-84. At times, Riva Agüero’s profascist pronouncements were so intemperate as to embarrass the Italian legation. This was the case in Jan. 1934 when Riva Agüero, then prime minister, gave a speech at the opening of a fair of Italian books. He attacked the APRA in the strongest words, exalted the works of fascism, and prodded Latin Americans to awaken from their “vile and shameful lethargy.” The Italian minister, Vittorio Bianchi, reported that the speech had embarrassed him as well as the prime minister’s friends and colleagues who probably shared the same views but who feared that such statements might inflame further the internal situation. See Bianchi to Ministero degli Affari Esteri (hereafter MAE), Lima, Jan. 16, 1934, Direzione Generale Affari Politici (hereafter DGAP), Peru 1934-35, busta 2, no. 351/48/A. 1


López Soria, El pensamiento fascista, 19-25.


See Steve J. Stein, Populism in Peru: The Emergence of the Masses and the Politics of Social Control (Madison, 1980).


Andarle, Los movimientos políticos, 292-300.


López Soria, El pensamiento fascista, 25-29; Andarle, Los movimientos políticos, 295, 299-300.


López Soria, El pensamiento fascista, 19.


The Italian Ministry of Press and Propaganda subsidized the printing and distribution of some of Riva Agüero’s and Miró Quesada’s writings on Mussolini and fascism. Miró Quesada’s best-known work on the subjects is Intorno agli scritti e discorsi di Mussolini (Milan, 1937).


The list of works on this subject is quite extensive, but the claims made about Benavides are essentially the same. See, e.g., Genaro Arbaiza, “Are the Americas Safe?,” Current History, 47:12 (Dec. 1937), 29-34; Carlton Beals, The Coming Struggle for Latin America (New York, 1938) and “Black Shirts in Latin America,” Current History, 49:3 (Nov. 1938), 32-34; Richard F. Beherendt, “Foreign Influence in Latin America,” Annals of the American Academy, 204 (July 1936), 17-25; and Fernando León de Vivero, Avance del imperialismo fascista en el Perú (Mexico City, 1938).


For a history of this tragic period, see Stein, Populism in Peru and Jorge Basadre, Historia de la república del Perú, 1822-1933, 17 vols., 6th ed. (Lima, 1968), XIV.


Robert Marett, Peru (New York, 1969), 162; David P. Werlich, Peru: A Short History (Carbondale, IL, 1978), 211.


For an analysis of the controversial 1931 presidential election, see Basadre, Historia de la república del Perú, XIV, 121-175 and Orazio A. Ciccarelli, “The Sánchez Cerro Regimes in Peru, 1930-1933” (Ph.D. diss., University of Florida, 1969), 54-144.


Marett, Peru, 157-161; Werlich, Peru, 175-200; Pike, The Politics of the Miraculous, 166-168 and The Modern History of Peru (New York, 1967), 250-268.


Pike, The Politics of the Miraculous, 175. Benavides did not legalize the party, in order to avoid antagonizing further the powerful Sánchezcerristas who sought bloody revenge against the assassins of their fallen leader. Although the APRA remained illegal, Haya de la Torre avoided imprisonment for the rest of the Benavides era. It is generally agreed that the government made no major effort to apprehend Haya de la Torre for a variety of reasons, the principal one perhaps being that Benavides did not wish to make a martyr of the Aprista leader.


Marett, Peru, 162.


Villanueva, “The Military in Peruvian Politics, 1919-45,” in The Politics of Antipolitics, Brian Loveman and Davies, eds. (Lincoln, 1989), 132-133. Expenditures on the military were reduced from 24.11 percent to 21 percent of the total budget. According to Villanueva, this reduction indicates Benavides’s relative confidence in his regime’s ability to deal with threats to it, particularly from the APRA, with his national police.


Andarle, Los movimientos políticos, 290-292; Pike, Modern History, 271-272; Marett, Peru, 165-166; Werlich, Peru, 213-214.


R. A. Humphreys, Latin America and the Second World War, 1939-42 (London, 1981), 18.


Davies and Villanueva, eds., Secretos electorales del APRA: Correspondencia y documentos de 1939 (Lima, 1982), passim. The book contains many letters from Haya de la Torre showing his eagerness to strike deals with any party and/or individuals who might help it secure legality, and, ultimately, power. See also Pike, The Politics of the Miraculous, 181-182.


Andarle, Los movimientos políticos, 297.


Ibid., 294-295; López Soria, El pensamiento fascista, 27.


Andarle, Los movimientos políticos, 300.


The Unión Revolucionaria and its press were at the forefront of an anti-Japanese campaign which acquired great intensity throughout the 1930s and culminated in the internment of more than a thousand Japanese in the United States during World War II. The campaign was supported by Peruvians from all social classes, but it succeeded because powerful landed, commercial, and manufacturing interests were aroused. For details, see C. Harvey Gardiner, The Japanese and Peru, 1873-1973 (Albuquerque, 1975) and Ciccarelli, “Peru’s Anti-Japanese Campaign in the 1930s: Economic Dependency and Abortive Nationalism,” Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism, 9:1 (Spring 1982), 115-133.


Andarle, Los movimientos políticos, 295-298.


There is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that Benavides may have been a party to the plot which led to the assassination of Sánchez Cerro. Villanueva is convinced of Benavides’s complicity in the crime, and Davies and Pike find the evidence credible. Basadre does not, and forcefully challenges the soundness of the evidence and the logic of the arguments that endorse it. See his Historia, XIV, 421-424.


See Andarle, Los movimientos políticos, 293-301 and Davies, “Peru,” 214-218.


Andarle, Los movimientos políticos, 338-339.


MAE, internal memo, Rome, Dec. 2, 1936, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 239760; Giuseppe Talamo to MAE, Lima, Aug. 7, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 3004/899.


Ortega was arrested and tried for his participation in the Feb. 1939 coup led by Gen. Antonio Rodríguez.


Andarle, Los movimientos políticos, 367.


For a discussion of the 1936 election, see ibid., 338-355 and Davies and Villanueva, 300 documentos, passim.


Talamo to MAE, Lima, June 3, 1937, Serie Affari Politici 1931-45 (hereafter SAP), Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 2048/577/A1. On a number of occasions, Benavides considered shutting down El Comercio but was dissuaded by members of his cabinet. See Davies and Villanueva, eds., Secretos electorales del APRA, 19-20, 54-56.


DGAP, Peru 1922-30, passim; “Memorandum on Italian Fascist and German Nazi Activities in the American Republics Up to March 1938,” U.S. National Archives, United States Department of State (hereafter DS), file no. 3850.


Consalvo Summonte to MAE, Lima, Nov. 20, 1931, SAP, Peru, busta 1, no. 3688/395. On several occasions, the Sánchez Cerro government modified official ladings believed to be damaging to Italian interests after intervention by unofficial advisers such as Gino Salocchi, director of the Banco Italiano. Bianchi to Benito Mussolini, Lima, June 17, 1933, SAP, Peru, busta 1, no. 1228/188.


Summonte to MAE, Lima, Nov. 20, 1931, SAP, Peru, busta 1, no. 3688/395; Casardi to MAE, Lima, May 14, 1932, SAP, Peru, busta 1, no. 1154/A.1.


Ciccarelli, “Fascist Propaganda and the Italian Community in Peru During the Benavides Regime, 1933-39, ” Journal of Latin American Studies, 20:2 (Nov. 1988), 361-388.


The literature on the Italian community in Peru—particularly for the period before 1914—is growing. The more significant works are Emilio Sequi and Enrico Calcagnoli, La vita italiana nella republica del Peru: Statistica, biografie (Lima, 1911); Antonio Franceschini, L’emigrazione italiana nell’America del Sud (Rome, 1908); Janet Worral, “Italian Immigration to Peru: 1860-1914” (Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 1972); and Gabriella Chiaramonti, “Empresarios italianos y proceso de industrialización en el Perú entre finales del siglo XIX y la primera guerra mundial,” Actas de la sexta reunión de historiadores latinoamericanistas europeos (Stockholm, 1981), 551-599.


For a history of the Banco Italiano, see Gianfranco Bardella, Setenta y cinco años de vida económica del Perú, 1889-1964 (Lima, 1964).


See Ciccarelli, “Fascist Propaganda.”


An admitted fascist, Gino Salocchi was reported to have easy access to the president and to have considerable influence on him concerning military purchases. An important reason for this was the Banco’s willingness to subsidize such purchases and to handle the complicated financial arrangements. See, e.g., Bianchi to MAE, Lima, Aug. 8, 1933, SAP, Peru, busta 1, no. 2254/373/A1; Bianchi to MAE, Lima, Apr. 15, 1934, DGAP, Peru, 1936, busta 4, teles, no. 3686 PR; Bianchi to MAE, Lima, Apr. 25, 1934, DGAP, Peru 1936, busta 4, no. 1621/221/A5.


Italian representatives reported many conversations in which Benavides expressed particular rancor against U.S. domination of Peru and its support of Ecuador in the continuine border disoute with Peru.


Bianchi to MAE, Lima, Nov. 15, 1936, DGAP, Peru 1936, busta 3, teles, no. 4040/677/A.1; Galeazzo Ciano to Ministero di Stampa e Propaganda (hereafter MSP), Rome, Dee. 9, 1936, DGAP, Peru 1936, busta 3, teles, no. 240454/969; Talamo to MAE, Lima, Dee. 14, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1938, busta 9, teles, no. 4765/1674; Talamo to MAE, Lima, Jan. 12, 1938, DGAP, Peru 1938, busta 9, teles, no. 86/43.


Bianchi to MAE, Lima, Nov. 15, 1936, DGAP, Peru 1936, busta 3, teles, no. 4040/677/A.1. The election was portrayed by the right as a contest between the forces of good and evil, light and darkness, with the former represented by Western Christian values and the latter by Russian Communism. The left countered with warnings of widespread social disorder if “black reactionaries” triumphed. See Davies, “Peru,” 218.




Ciano to MSP, Rome, Dec. 9, 1936, SAP, Peru, busta 3, teles, no. 240455.


MAE, internal memo, Rome, Dec. 2, 1936, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 239760. Ciano liked to give preference to those countries “where an individual had the full power of decision, where concern for parliamentary bodies was unnecessary, and where agreements could be reached in personal meetings.” See Felix Gilbert, “Ciano and his Ambassadors,” in The Diplomats, 1919-1939, Gordon A. Craig and Gilbert eds. (Princeton, 1953), 524.


Gino Bianchini to Talamo, Lima, June 30, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 6; Bianchi to MAE, Lima, June 13, 1936, DGAP, Peru 1936, busta 3, teles, no. 2286/Gab.A.4; Ciccarelli, “Fascist Propaganda,” 366-367. In 1936 and ’37, the same newspapers carried many articles and commentaries on the Spanish Civil War highly favorable to Franco and Italy. Many of them were authored by the Ministry for Press and Propaganda in Rome. The volume of such stories was smaller than for the Ethiopian conflict, mainly because the Italian community stopped its financial contributions to the propaganda campaign.


Talamo to MAE, Lima, Jan. 20, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 8, teles, no. 192/Gab. A.4.


Talamo to Emanuele Grazzi, Lima, Feb. 9, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, no. 390/Gab.7/4. Ciano shared this view. See Ciano to Talamo, Rome, Mar. 2, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 206982.


Talamo to Grazzi, Lima, Feb. 9, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, no. 390 Gab. 7/4.




Talamo to MAE, Lima, July 10, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 2560/F41.


Ibid.; Talamo to MAE, Lima, July 10, teles, no. 2560/741; Aug. 7, teles, no. 3004/899; Nov. 12, teles, no. 4352; Dec. 10, teles, no. 4735/1659, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5; Talamo to MAE, Lima, Jan. 12, 1938, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 86/43.

According to Talamo, Benavides demonstrated his timidity when, after informing the Italian minister that he wished to send Mussolini an ancient gold object found during an excavation, the Peruvian president delayed sending it for fear that he might be criticized by the Apristas or that France would be offended and thus delay the shipping of critical artillery pieces already purchased by Peru. Talamo to MAE, Lima, Apr. 2, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 1429/396; Talamo to MAE, Lima, July 17, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 2662/783. The documents do not reveal whether the object was ever sent.


Talamo to MAE, Lima, Mar. 6, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 4, teles, no. 1061/288.


Ibid. On the importance of the charismatic leader as a key ingredient for the success of fascism, see Francis L. Carsten, “Interpretations of Fascism,” in Fascism: A Reader’s Guide, 415-434.


Talamo to Grazzi, Lima, Feb. 9, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, 390 Gab. 7/4; Talamo to MAE, Lima, Dec. 30, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1938, busta 9, no. 4954/1755/A. 1/10.


Talamo to MAE, Lima, Mar. 6, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 1061/288; Talamo to MAE, Lima, Mar. 16, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 1061/288; Talamo to MAE, Lima, July 10, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 2560/F41; Talamo to MAE, Lima, Oct. 23, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 4029/1320; Talamo to MAE, Lima, Nov. 27, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 4539/1579.


Talamo to MAE, Lima, Feb. 9, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 2059 PR.


Talamo to Grazzi, Lima, Feb. 9, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, no. 390 Gab. 7/4.




Ciano to Talamo, Rome, Mar. 2, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 206982.


Talamo to Policastro, Lima, Feb. 9, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, no. 390 Gab. 7/4.


Talamo to MAE, Lima, Mar. 6, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 1061/288.














Ibid. Benavides himself did not wish to be associated publicly with these political forces. See the June 3, 1937 editorial in the semiofficial newspaper El Universal, quoted by Talamo.


Giuseppe Bastiniani, “Relazione politica sul Peru per l’anno 1937,” Rome, May 20, 1938, DGAP, Peru, 1938, busta 9. This annual review is based exclusively on Talamo’s dispatches.




Talamo to MAE, Lima, July 10, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 2560/F41.


Ibid.; Bastinianí, “Relazione política.”


Bastiniani, “Relazione política.”






Talamo to MAE, Lima, July 10, 1937, SAP, Peru, teles, no. 2560/F41.


Bastiniani, “Relazione politica.”


Talamo to MAE, Lima, July 10, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 2560/F41; MAE, Quaderno no. 51, “Situazione política nel 1936,” pp. 3-5, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5; Talamo to MAE, Lima, Mar. 6, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 1061/288; Talamo to MAE, Lima, June 3, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 2048/577/A1.


Talamo to MAE, Lima, June 3, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 2048/577/A.


Ibid; Talamo to MAE, Lima, Nov. 6, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 4277/1440.


Talamo to MAE, Lima, Nov. 26, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 4540/1580; MAE, internal memo, Rome, Nov. 26, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 2397/60; MAE, quad. no. 51, “Situazione politica nel 1936,” pp. 3-5, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5.


MAE, internal memo, Rome, Dec. 3, 1936, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 244146. The letter was sent via an Italian citizen residing in Peru.


Ibid. Italy’s unwavering support of Benavides contrasts with its confused policy in Brazil, where its misguided support of Plínio Salgados Integralistas compromised its relations with Getúlio Vargas. See Ricardo Silva Seitenfus, “Ideology and Diplomacy: Italian Fascism and Brazil (1935-38),” HAHR, 63:3 (Aug. 1984), 503-534.


Talamo to MAE, Lima, Aug. 7, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 3004/899; Talamo to MAE, Aug. 14, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 3080/919; MAE, internal memo, Rome, Sept. 16, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, no. 232142/1739.


Talamo to MAE, Lima, July 10, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 2560/F41.


According to the Italian minister, Ugo Faralli (1938-40), friends and family members of Benavides had attempted to convince the Miró Quesadas to cooperate with the president. The family’s condition for such cooperation was that Benavides relinquish power at the completion of his term. Faralli to MAE, Lima, Mar. 13, 1939, DGAP, Peru 1939, busta 12, teles, no. 845/275.


Talamo to MAE, Lima, Apr. 9, 1937, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 1295/362/A1.


For a lengthy discussion of this subject, see Haglund, Latin America, 34, 52-53, 65-66. It was after Feb. 1937 that U.S. officials started to sense that matters were not going well in the Western Hemisphere, and that the danger of fascist and nazi penetration was growing. Such concerns were heightened when late in 1937 Italy joined the Anti-Comintern Pact and Vargas established a dictatorial regime, viewed on both sides of the Atlantic as a definite shift by Brazil toward the Axis. The creation of the Estado Nôvo sent shock waves throughout the continent, and in Peru it resulted in the intensification of a U.S.-sponsored antifascist propaganda campaign. See Bastiniani, “Relazione política.”


Haglund, Latin America, 78, 103-104, 139; R. Heath to Sumner Welles, Washington, June 24, 1937, DS file no. 723.65/4; R. M. de Lambert to Secretary of State (hereafter SOS), Lima, June 12, 1937, DS file 710/5192; “Memorandum on Italian Fascist and German Nazi Activities,” 16-17.


Laurence Steinhardt to SOS, Lima, Oct. 13 and 15, Nov, 12 and 17, 1937, DS file no. 723.65/9-12; The large number as well as the type of documents obtained by the U.S. Embassy in Lima suggests that the culprit was eager to arouse U.S. fears of Italian activities in Peru. It is likely that the documents were being smuggled out by low-level employees in the Italian legation—perhaps Peruvians. Most documents were working drafts and have the look of paper retrieved from waste paper baskets. These documents were deemed authentic and, therefore, important enough for the State Department to order that they be sent under cover of personal letters, Laurence Duggan to Steinhardt, Washington, Dec. 2, 1937, DS file no. 723.65/12.


Talamo to MAE, Lima, Dec. 14, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1938, busta 9, file no. 4765/1674; Talamo to MAE, Lima, Dec. 30, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1938, busta 9, teles, no. 4954/1755/A. 1/10. On the subject of Italian propaganda in Peru in the 1930s, see Ciccarelli, “Fascist Propaganda.”

The Pan American conference held in Lima in Dec. 1938 also contributed to the strengthening of liberal democratic forces. Faralli wrote that the conference “was conducted and closed under the influence of the most extreme democratic ideas and … has strengthened the anti-fascist currents” in Peru, Faralli to MAE, Lima, Jan. 5, 1940, SAP, Peru, busta 16, no. 40/25.

A change in the climate was also reported by the U.S. Embassy and the German legation in Lima. See Alton Frye, Nazi Germany and the American Hemisphere, 1933-1941 (New Haven, 1967), 109.


Bianchi to MAE, Lima, Nov. 25, 1933, DGAP, Peru 1931-33, busta 1, no. 3886/A.1. The Italian government considered Haya de la Torre sufficiently neutral on the issue of fascism to include his name and those of ten other Peruvians—Riva Agüero, Flores, Antonio Miró Quesada, and Pedro Beltrán among them—on a list of prominent personalities slated to receive selected publications from the Ministry of Press and Propaganda in Rome. See MSP to Bianchi, Rome, Oct. 9, 1935, Archivio Generale dello Stato (hereafter AGS), Ministero di Cultura Popolare, busta 398, fase. 194.


Andarle, Los movimientos políticos, 336. For a variety of reasons, Haya de la Torre ordered party officials to avoid all discussions of the Spanish Civil War—see Davies, “Peru.”


Talamo to MAE, Lima, Oct. 9, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 3853/1250.


León de Vivero, Avance del imperialism fascista, 11-19. The Peruvian Communist party voiced essentially the same criticism of Benavides as the APRA—that he intended to turn Peru into a colony of Italy and Germany. See Hoz y Martillo, July 1937 in Talamo to MAE, Lima, Oct. 28, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5.


Davies and Villanueva, Secretos electorales, 21-24, 35, 68-76, 79-80, 83-84; Pike, The Politics of the Miraculous, 177, 181. While attacking Benavides, Haya de la Torre was trying to establish alliances with Flores, Miró Quesada, and even the Chilean National Socialists. In none of the private correspondence reproduced by Davies and Villanueva did the Aprista leader charge that Benavides was, indeed, a fascist. Moreover, Aprista opportunism was underscored by the fact that, by 1939, the attacks on Benavides changed from an emphasis on his subservience to Mussolini to his close association with Nazi Germany. Clearly, this change was occasioned by the fact that the United States no longer worried so much about Italy but focused its concern on the expansion of German economic and political influence in Latin America.


Pike, The Politics of the Miraculous, chap. 9.


La Tribuna (Lima), Apr. 15, 1939, p. 2. See also the many Aprista articles, manifestos, and flyers sent between 1937 and 1939 by the ministers in Lima.


Faralli to MAE, Lima, Feb. 9, 1939, DGAP, Peru 1938, busta 12, teles, no. 409/132.


Ernesto Cammarota to Ministere dell’Interno (hereafter MI), Lima, Feb. 21, 1939, AGS MI, 1939, busta 41, no. 2586; Faralli to MAE, Lima, Feb. 20 and Mar. 13, 1939, DGAP, Peru 1939, busta 12, teles, no. 845/180, 275. Cammarota was the chief of the Italian police mission.

Several of Rodríguez’s proclamations, along with many other documents relating to the failed coup, are reproduced in Davies and Villanueva, 300 documentos, 320-409. These events are seen by Davies and Villanueva as underscoring not Benavides’s growing weakness but his continuing hold on senior army officers. U.S. Ambassador Steinhardt argued, on the other hand, that Benavides had been weakened by the coup, but that his fall was by no means imminent because the military was still largely loyal to him.


Davies and Villanueva point out that only young, low-ranking officers were opposed to Benavides. They did not object to his tyranny but to the corruption of his regime. See 300 documentos, 24.


Andarle, Los movimientos políticos, 366. For a fuller Italian analysis of the Rodríguez coup, see Faralli to MAE, Lima, Feb. 20, 1939, DGAP, Peru 1939, busta 12, teles, no. 582/180.


Faralli to MAE, Lima, Aug. 1, 1938, DGAP, Peru 1938, busta 9, teles, no. 2832/928. The major target of antiforeign legislation was the Japanese community. See Gardiner, The Japanese and Peru, chap. 4.


Talamo to MAE, Lima, Oct. 31, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 4149/1378; Talamo to MAE, Lima, Nov. 27, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, no. 4539/1579; MAE, “Peru, relazione annuale 1938,” Rome, Apr. 4, 1939, p. 10, DGAP, Peru 1938, busta 12; Faralli to MAE, Lima, Jan. 5, 1940, SAP, Peru, busta 16, no. 40/25.


MAE, “Peru, relazione annuale 1938,” Rome, Apr. 4, 1939, p. 38, DGAP, Peru 1938, busta 12.


Faralli to MAE, Lima, Jan. 5, 1940, SAP, Peru, busta 16, no. 40/25.


Faralli to MAE, Lima, Aug. 1, 1938, DGAP, Peru 1938, bustag, teles, no. 2832/928.


Faralli to MAE, Lima, Oct. 26, 1939, SAP, Peru, busta 5, teles, no. 3770/1198.


Italo Capanni to MAE, Lima, Apr. 12, 1940, DGAP, Peru 1941, busta 17, teles. no. 1300/376; Capanni to MAE, Lima, May 7, 1941, DGAP, Peru 1941, busta 20; Capanni to MAE, Lima, Dec. 21, 1940, DGAP, Peru 1941, busta 17, teles, no. 4499/A.51/2.


In 1937, Talamo remarked bitterly that some of the leading members of the community “seemed to live in the continuous fear of any kind of Italian or fascist affirmation.” In another he accused them of being uncooperative, indifferent, and passive toward the mother country, and, in a third, he charged that the community had proven to be a greater hindrance to the legation’s activities than foreign competitors. Talamo’s successor, Faralli, charged that Italy benefited little from the success enjoyed by the Italian community, and that the new fascist spirit had not yet pervaded it. He did acknowledge that there were good fascists in the community, but not many. See Talamo to MAE, Lima, Mar. 16 and July 10, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1937, busta 5, teles, nos. 1061/288 and 2560/741; Talamo to MAE, Lima Dec. 30, 1937, DGAP, Peru 1938, bustag, no. 4954/1755/A. 1/10; Ugo Faralli, Italiani nel Peru (Rome, 1941); Faralli to MAE, Lima, Jan. 5, 1940, SAP, Peru, busta 16, no. 40/25.


I refer principally to Italy’s diplomatic and commercial gains. The interests of the community were hardly affected by the legislation. On the other hand, the Japanese, and, to a lesser extent, the German communities suffered major economic losses.