CAN WE SAVE LATIN AMERICA FROM ITSELF?
Peru is perhaps the best example of what ails the whole continent: the terrible gulf between toorich rich and increasingly restless too-poor poor By IAN SCLANDERS Maclean’s Washington editor
Special report from the explosive half of our hemisphere
AT DUSK, outside the Grand Hotel Bolivar in Lima, Peru, the ragged and barefoot children pluck at your sleeves and beg for money. Inside the hotel, under the glittering chandeliers in the marblepillared rotunda, hand - tailored men and mink-draped women, who will dine fashionably and expensively at nine or ten, now sip their six o’clock coffee from fragile cups and nibble at mounds of fancy pastries and petits fours.
In other times, perhaps, neither the paupers outside nor the rich inside would have thought very often of the contrast between them. Indeed, since the Spanish conquistadores enslaved the Indians in the sixteenth century and the Spanish priests preached that they must accept their fate and serve their masters, the downtrodden and exploited masses in Peru have been shrugging fatalistically that many have always been poor and a few have always been wealthy and this is the will of God.
But now there's a feeling of change, of upheaval, of ferment. Resentment is replacing resignation. Half a million wretched humans in the filth of Lima's stinking shacktowns are making threatening sounds that could at any moment turn into violence. Starving Andean Indians are invading oversized estates to seize land they need to grow corn, beans and potatoes. At the Palacio de Gobierno — the palace of the government — in Lima’s Plaza de Armas, the guards wear battle dress. And the elegant Peruvians who perform the six o’clock ritual of nibbling the Hotel Bolivar's famous pastries have bank accounts in Switzerland and international air travel credit cards in their pockets and purses; who knows what might happen in these disquieting days?
A rebellious padre. Father Salomon Bolo, defies the hierarchy to shout at public meetings that when the guerrillas start fighting he’ll be on hand to offer the last rites to the dying. He doesn’t say “if" the guerrillas start fighting; he says
“when.” Bolo is often spoken of as the “priest of the revolution.”
There is, of course, no revolution yet. But Peru is perilously close to one — so close that most foreign observers who have been there lately agree that there must be sweeping and immediate reform, not the empty gestures of the past, if bloodshed is to be averted.
In a series of reports on contemporary Latin America — of which this is the last — I’ve dealt with the unrest in several countries south of the Rio Grande. In none of these are the causes of the unrest more apparent than in Peru. There you are made to understand precisely the conditions of life in the southern, explosive half of our hemisphere. All the unhappy elements of the story are present—the shocking extremes of wealth and poverty; the oligarchs who are too fossilized by centuries of privilege to be aware that the era of Spanish grandees is ended and too grasping or stupid to yield a little in order to have a lot: the soldiers whose function is not to defend Peru but to defend the status quo with its gross injustices, by oppressing their fellow Peruvians; the incredible callousness that lets half Lima’s slumborn infants die before they are a year old: the peasants crying out for land they must have to stay alive, and being denied it. while the haciendas of fuedal land-owners stretch across scores of thousands of acres; the staggering shortage of schools, hospitals, housing, medical care and even priests: the enormous and tragic amount of unemployment; and, of course, the miserly wages.
You can see these things throughout Latin America. The extremes of wealth and poverty in Peru are no greater than in Brazil, with its multimillionaires and its farm laborers who work for sixtyfive cents a week, and hardly worse than in Colombia, where a country club it costs ten thousand dollars to join pays a gardener a dollar a day. The Peruvian oligarchs are no more reactionary or devoid of a sense of responsibility
than their counterparts in a dozen other republics. The soldiers are less tyrannical than the soldiers of Argentina and Nicaragua and Guatemala, and certainly less tyrannical than those of Paraguay, where the number of persons who can read and write is equaled by the number who have fled into exile to escape imprisonment, torture and death from the gangsters of the military dictator. General Alfredo Stroessner. There are landless peasants from Mexico to Chile; and the shortage of schools, hospitals, housing and medical care, while it varies in degree, exists everywhere. So does unemployment.
But in Peru the problems seem to stand out as plainly, as massively, as overwhelmingly as the snowcapped peaks of the Andes, and the whole picture comes together.
It begins to unfold on the drive from the airport into Lima. There are mud walls along the highway—walls intended to mask from visitors the sickening spectacle of the shacktowns. But from the elevation of a seat in the bus you can peer over them, at unimaginable squalor. The dismal hovels, leaning against one another for support, include hundreds of esteras — woven straw shelters — that squat there like inverted baskets and exude a stench that prompts the bus passengers to shut the windows and hold handkerchiefs over their noses.
The esteras are collapsible. A man can roil one of them up and carry it on his shoulders. One night, three thousand tattered, exhausted Indians and mestizos (who are a mixture of Indian and Spanish) reached the outskirts of Lima, the men lugging esteras, the women with babies in their arms and bundles on their heads, the children straggling behind. They had traveled hundreds of miles in a pitiful procession to seek a living in Lima after floods destroyed their crops, washed away their soil, and drove them from their district in the sierra — the inhabitable slopes and valleys of the mountains. With the city in sight, they unfurled their straw huts, and a new shacktown or barriada was born.
It sits there reproachfully, the esteras a reminder that its denizens are of agricultural origin and would not be there if Peru’s arable land, most of it now held by haciendados, were decently dis-
tributed. While I can't vouch for the figures, which may be badly exaggerated, there are those in Lima who claim that forty families own nine-tenths of the farm land.
The question of how many families control Peru is apparently a favorite subject of discussion. I heard it put as low as five and as high as five hundred. The most frequent estimate was fifty. Dr. Carlo Vasquez Ayllon, of the ministry of external affairs, told me: “In the last century fifty ruling families may have controlled the country but this is not true now, for we have a rapidly developing middle class. We have our Prado family, yes, but the United States has the Rockefellers — countries all over the world have wealthy and influential families.”
That is undeniably so. But while Peru's middle class may be developing rapidly it is still a tiny and not too affluent segment of the population — not a large and prosperous segment, as in Canada and the U. S. And the poor are atrociously poor and numerous. Silhouetted against a background of rags, shacks and privation, the rich couldn't be inconspicuous if they tried. Not all of them try.
In Lima, where you notice the rags and gaunt faces, you also notice the chauffeur-driven limousines, the travel agencies that sell African safaris at frightening prices, the exclusive shops. And the chances are that the first person you meet will tell you that the wealthy — or at least the very wealthy — consider themselves above the law and scornfully tear up traffic summonses. If you hear this, you’ll hear that a member of one leading family ran down and killed a girl, an elderly man and a child, within a year, without appearing in court. How did he get away with it? Well, the tale goes, the oligarchs boss the army, the army bosses the politicians, and the politicians boss the courts and the police — so why not?
The power of the oligarchs over the army is carefully concealed behind the scenes, but the power of the army over the politicians has been demonstrated time and again, right in the centre of the stage. For example there is, in Peru, a 68-year-old politician named Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre, who was his country’s favorite leader for three decades and might have
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One man might have pulled Peruvians into the twentieth century but he was defeated
been able to pull it out of the Middle Agis and into the twentieth century had the military clique not stood between him and the presidency. In the mid-1920s he organized the pro-Indian, pro-labor APRA — Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana— whose members are known as Apristas Because he would have upset the status quo and tramped on the toes of the oligarchs, the army opposed him: and when the Apristas and the soldie's squared off against each other, fourteen soldiers and two thousand Apristas were killed. A military dictator, Manuel Odria, then outlawed the Apristas. for which he was awarded the medal for Merit by the United Sutes. and praised at Washington for combating communists and “other subversive forces.” Milton Eisenhower, the brother of Dwight Eisenhower, asserted this year in The IV.ne is Hitter, a book on Latin America, that “we should not have decorated Odria of Peru and Perez Jimenez of Venezuela, no matter wliat the military arguments might have been at the time.”
LtroWiCally but. not surprisingly, in the topsy-turvy world of Latin America, Haya de la Torre was given his first fair chance at the presidency by the epitome of oligarchs. Manuel Prado y Ugarteche. the Peruvian “Rockefeller,” who reigned as dictator in the 1940s and then was elected as a constitutional president in the late 1950s. Prado gave his word that in the 1962 election no unconstitutional obstacle would be tossed in the path of the Aprista — and kept it.
So, in 1962, while Haya de la Torre did not receive an overall majority, he did receive more votes than cither of his opponents, the ex-dictator Odria, and the experienced but ineffectual politician, Fernando Be-
launde Terry. If the constitution were upheld, as Prado insisted it had to be, Haya de la Torre had to be president, or else accorded a strong position in government. This the army would not tolerate. Prado, of all people, was ousted by a coup d'état twelve days before his presidential term expired, and martial law was established with General Ricardo Perez Godoy as provisional president.
Perez issued a mealy-mouthed statement that "we of the armed forces are middle class . . . there will be land, houses, work, food ... we will decrease the cost of living ... we will do this in twelve months, not one day more." And he pledged that his junta would "purify” the election laws and have an election in the summer of 1963. Perez didn’t last until 1963 — he was tossed out on his ear by his faithful comrades in arms who accused him of attempting to create a “cult of personality.” General Nicolas Lindley, who had an English grandfather and a U. S. education, replaced him and, this summer there was an election, ostentatiously dressed in the trappings of freedom. Nobody believed that Haya de la Torre would be allowed to assume the presidency by the military, and he was by now an enfeebled old man. He still got quite a vote, but the edge went to the man who was acceptable to the army—Belaunde Terry. So Haya de la Torre, who had the potentialities of an Abe Lincoln, slipped finally into oblivion — perhaps Peru’s greatest loss and the most distinguished victim of the considerable military might of a nation that fought a war against Chile in 1879 and has since fought nobody but its own people.
Yet, by Latin American standards, Peru’s soldiers are pretty good boys. They haven’t yet fought the navy — as Argentina's army did this year — to determine who was going to have the most influence. And they haven't stuck a gun into the government’s belly, as Brazil’s army did, and compelled it virtually to double pay and allowances. Nor do they continually indulge, like the armies of Guatemala, Paraguay, Haiti and other backward republics, in the dubious sport of shooting human beings for fun. Or, if not for fun, for no valid reason.
In the Palacio de Gobierno in Lima, one of the finest buildings in the western hemisphere. I had a talk with César Miro, a suave, charming individual who is Pierre Salinger’s opposite number in Peru. I asked him where the military fitted into the Latin American philosophy of government. He said the military had the duty of protecting the constitution and holding the politicians in line.
He said it with a straight face — with conviction and dignity. 1 thought of Hitler's dictum — the bigger the lie, the more it is believed. Latin America's armies, though armed and trained by the U. S., are from what I have seen of them no contribution to democracy. They heap fuel on the anti-American fire that was set when the U. S. grabbed Mexico's most valuable territories a century ago, rekindled by the Spanish-American war fought to increase the circulation of the Hearst newspapers, and banked
by the hyperthyroid and juvenile Teddy Roosevelt with his overt and heavy-handed intrigue that separated Panama from its parent Colombia to ease the way for the Panama Canal. I recalled that Smedley Butler, commandant of the U. S. Marines, had written in his memoirs: “I helped make Mexico . . . safe for American oil interests ... I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank ... I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests . . .”
Yet César Miro's belief that an army has a legitimate role in politics is widely held in Latin America. There have been instances in which Latin American armies have unseated dictators, but far oftener they have bolstered them, and it’s a rule of thumb that the countries where they are most active in politics have the lowest per capita income and the lowest rate of literacy, not to mention the highest infant mortality and the poorest housing.
If the Peruvian army has helped Peru, the benefits are invisible. The half million people in Lima’s barriadas, even when employed, can only afford one meal a day, and an average family has to make a fiftygallon keg of water that costs twenty cents do for a week. The more fortunate get a bit of fish once a week with their monotonous rice, beans, corn and potatoes, and a morsel of
meat on Last days. A woman who does voluntary social work at one barriada told me that it never had any garbage or trash to be collected — that potato peels and corn husks were eaten, that a worn-out shoe might be carved into buttons for clothes, and there was literally nothing to be taken away. In this setting a valiant Canadian priest. Father André Godin, tramps around administering to a parish which has ninety thousand inhabitants. He wears a khaki robe and steel-rimmed spectacles and, with little but his own kindliness and a handful of aides, has become a legendary figure in Peru by doing what he can, which, he says sadly, isn’t nearly enough.
Peru appreciates him the more because it has only two thousand priests: to be on a par with other Catholic countries of comparable population, it should have ten thousand. The shortage of priests is a reflection of the attitude of Peru’s upper classes — the classes from which the clergy are ordinarily drawn in Spanish-speaking countries. In Peru in the upper classes the desire to be useful is rare, and so it is throughout Latin America.
The women of high society, for instance, can’t cook, garden, sew, converse intelligently. Under-educated, over-protected, they are among the most completely useless individuals on earth. They won’t even lie in the
sun ior fear of getting tanned and lookiag like Indians — and most of them, like nearly all Peruvians, do have Indian blood. They have so man) servants that the servants are prett) useless too: a Canadian woman told tie two domestics in Peru don't do at much as one in Canada. But neither do they earn as much. Or half is much.
Bit the important question about the rich — some of whom, in Lima, hole up in a suburb you can't enter without credentials to get you by armed guards — is not how much money they have or how idle they are, but whether they are to blame for the poverty of most Peruvians. Off hand. I'd siy they are.
In a country where, at this stage, nine out of ten individuals simply want to subsist by growing enough to feed themselves, there is no reason why a hacienda should start at the sea, as one does, and crawl up over the Andes and down to the plains beyond, and no reason why another should take all day to cross on horseback. There is no reason, either, why six 'laciendas on the very fringe of Linn should average fifteen square milts each, or why their over-stuffed owners should starve their workers on wages of seventy cents for a thirtecnhout day.
lu a country that is standing on its head to get Alliance for Progress loans from the United States and contendí that these arc essential to its economic health, there is no reason why the rich should escape taxes, as the vast majority do, not in Peru alone but in all of Latin America. Nobody who has dealt with the tax collectors in Canada has an easy time crediting what Latin Americans get by with. One dodge is to own a small patch of rural land and report the deductible deaths of scores or hundreds of cattle. But, in Peru and elsewhere in Latin America, cooking company books is what costs governments the largest loss of revenue. I was told by businessmen that a firm that didn't have one set of books for its own use and a cooked set for the tax collectors would be driven out of business by its competitors. And in the whole of Latin America, where tax cheating is considered to be about as minor an offence as chewing gum in church, the penalty for it is a small line — never imprisonment. A couple of countries are now installing electronic computers to convince Alliance lor Progress executives that they are in earnest about tightening up on lax collections but they have yet to explain what good computers will do without stricter law enforcement.
II there is no reason why the rich should not pay taxes, there is no reason either, why, when Peru and other countries so urgently need capital, the rich should be banking capital abroad. The sums being sent out of these countries and especially out of Peru, far exceed what the U. S. will send in under the Alianza agreements. A Latin American intellectual said to me in a moment of confidence: “Why should our capitalists drain money from the bottom of the barrel anil expect the U. S. to keep it filled?"
I don't really know-, except that the U. S. is looked on. and has acted like, the proverbial sucker. Whenever
U. S. funds show' signs of drying up the shout of communism is raised — and the stream rises again. The shout of communism has frightened the U. S. into deals it never should have made, as thoughtful Americans are the first to admit. As a specific instance. when Peru's army last year scrapped a constitutional election and installed a dictator the U. S.. freshly sw'orn to strengthen constitutional government in Latin America, withheld diplomatic recognition for a
mere fortnight, then fell eagerly into the dictator's embrace and gave all of Latin America a fresh excuse for sa\ing that the U. S. is concerned with its commercial interests not with the welfare of Latin Americans.
1 don't believe this is true. But after traveling thousands of miles and talking with hundreds of people south of the Rio Grande 1 began to wonder. I also began to feel that there may be no answer to the problems other than class revolutions, and that we
should resign ourselves to them. And by class revolutions 1 don't mean communist revolutions: 1 mean the kind of revolution England and the U. S. have had. that sw'ept aside feudalism and exploitation and cleared the way for progress. Actually, the trouble with Peru, the trouble with Latin America, is a state of mind. Brow-beaten by the oligarchs and their uniformed henchmen, our neighbors in this hemisphere haven't yet entered our century. ★