This volume offers a view of Peru’s “ambiguous revolution” based on taped interviews conducted by the Dutch social scientist Dirk Kruijt. The text includes lengthy passages from interviews with ministers, advisers, and ambassadors in 1985-86. The author eschews any attempt at analysis, but aims to view the revolution through the eyes of those who made the decisions in the Presidential Palace between 1968 and 1975. Initially published in Dutch in 1989, subsequent editions were published in Spanish and English.
Beginning with a seven-page, detailed account of events in the early morning hours of October 3, 1968, Kruijt traces the historical development of radical reformism in the military. He gives considerable importance to General José del Carmen Marín Arista, his disciple Mercado Jarrín, and their nationalist interpretation of national security. National security gradually came to embrace ideas of political, economic, and social reform. The Centro de Altos Estudios Militares disseminated these ideas to its students, who would eventually surround General Juan Velasco Alvarado on the eve of the coup.
A major contribution of this book is its commentary on President Velasco. Born in a small village outside the northern city of Piura, Velasco never forgot his humble childhood. In the military he gained a reputation as hard working, exacting, honest, unsmiling, and a gifted leader. Affable and cheerful at home, he enjoyed his family above all and never mixed the two worlds. During a game of cards when a guest brought up business, he was reprimanded with, “This is a gathering of friends, not of politicians” (p. 67).
Kruijt reviews the revolution’s accomplishments, covering nationalization, agricultural reform, the creation of new ministries, and the formation of the controversial SINAMOS (Sistema Nacional de Movilización Social). Rivalry within the junta over succession emerged when Velasco became gravely ill in March 1973 and gangrene caused the amputation of his leg. His continued ill health and decreased mobility led to further isolation.
Velasco planned to step down on October 3, 1975, but instead was ousted by Francisco Morales Bermúdez in a coup on August 29, and the unraveling of the revolution began. Kruijt faults Velasco for opposing the development of a political party as a vehicle for Peruvians to continue the revolution. But Velasco rejected a party, not wanting to follow the examples set by Sánchez Cerro or Manuel Odría. Kruijt speculates that Velasco may have feared popular radicalization getting out of control, as Salvador Allende had experienced a few years earlier.
This book is an admirable effort at viewing the revolution through the eyes of the participants, but one needs to read it with caution, knowing that the interviewees gave their personal interpretation ten years after the fact. The reader needs to balance it with the more substantive and analytical studies by Cynthia McClintock, Abraham F. Lowenthal, E. V. K. FitzGerald, David Scott Palmer, Alfred Stepan, and Daniel Masterson, among others. A useful appendix lists Velasco’s cabinet members and changes in the junta’s composition, 1968 to 1975.