Among watersheds in recent Peruvian history, Alan García’s failed presidency claims a conspicuous place. After half a century of frustration, the Apristas had finally elected their man to the presidency in 1985, six years after the death of their founding father and guru, Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre. Their triumph ended in the disaster occasioned by García’s inept and corrupt five-year term. Georgetown University adjunct professor Carol Graham tells this sad tale well, although her treatment of Aprismo’s troubled background breaks no new ground. Understandably, she sees García’s debacle as issuing from that background. Having embraced at one time or another every conceivable doctrine and policy, no matter what the contradictions, Aprismo was left with no better expedient than to select a candidate with a glittering facade but little at the core save sleaziness.
García was the product of Haya de la Torre’s endeavor—begun in the period 1968-75, when a military regime shook the Establishment with sweeping if ultimately ineffectual reforms—to train a new generation of youthful Apristas to rule the country after the officers returned to the barracks. Playing his favorite role as the Peruvian Socrates, Haya sought to inculcate in his young protégés a respect for Aprista myths, for the messianic approach to politics, and for the cult of the martyr. He thereby hoped ultimately to assure himself a top spot in the Peruvian pantheon. Whether Haya also sought to impart a sense of dedicated patriotism and a commitment to elevate the Peruvian masses remains a matter of controversy. Clearly, though, he did not much concern himself with the economic technicalities of statecraft.
Under García, Apristas did make an effort to integrate certain pockets of the marginalized urban poor into society. They drew the line, though, at genuine participation. Conditioned by Aprismo’s authoritarian streak and messianic approach, García and his cohorts, as Graham depicts them, preferred manipulative, clien-telistic politics to participatory democracy. As the economy declined precipitously after a tantalizing upturn during García’s first two years in office, the president faced increasing opposition even from party stalwarts. Haya had died in 1979, and attempts to maintain party unity through veneration of his cult foundered. One aspect of Haya’s indoctrination of youthful acolytes succeeded, however. Haya managed to impart to his successors an interest in dialectics rather than practical economic skills. An old-fashioned Latin American caudillo produced old-fashioned followers. Whether, in the long run, yesterday’s dreamers prove any more ineffectual than today’s technocrats remains to be seen.
Alan García and his colleagues understood that orthodox International Monetary Fund approaches to inflation and the balance of payments do not adequately solve the complex problems—social, economic, and political—arising out of underdevelopment; but they proved that alternative solutions grasped at by ideologues and politicians on the make are equally futile. Salvador Allende in Chile, as Graham observes more than once, understood and proved the same things. No Latin Americanist would have trouble expanding the list.