Two Peruvians

  • Ilan Stavans


At what precise moment did Peru fuck itself up? Mario Vargas Llosa posed the query in his 1969 novel Conversation in the Cathedral, a multilayered narrative about Peru’s haves and have-nots; and the query runs through public discourse on Peru at home and abroad. There is no easy answer, of course. Was it during the disastrous war with Chile in 1879, which threw a roadblock before the country’s economic progress? Was it after the tyrannical two-part regime of President Augusto B. Leguía (1908–12, 1919–30), a national patriarch who promoted economic development in the interest of the small wealthy minority? Or during the dictatorship of General Manuel Odría (1948–56)? Did it happen when Fernando Balaúnde Terry, a moderate reformer and a populist, became president in a 1963 democratic election, only to be deposed five years later by a military junta headed by General Juan Alvarado Velasco? When the same Balaúnde Terry returned in the early eighties to govern as a Conservative? Or was it when Alan García, a highly popular Social Democrat, came to office in 1985 and refused to pay Peru’s foreign debt to the International Monetary Fund?


International Monetary Fund Khmer Rouge Presidential Campaign Early Eighty Precise Moment 
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© Ilan Stavans 1996

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  • Ilan Stavans

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