Introduction, by Ian Angus: On August 22, Indigenous people in the Amazon rain forest areas of Peru celebrated a victory in their struggle against laws that promote privatization of communally owned land. Continue reading
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Canadian Solidarity Network Builds Aid and Solidarity for Hugo Blanco’s Newspaper
In the 1960s, Hugo Blanco was the central leader of the “Land or Death!” struggle by indigenous peasants in the Cuzco region of Peru. When he was captured by the military dictatorship, a worldwide defense campaign first saved his life, then won his freedom from prison.
Hugo Blanco needs our help again today. His newspaper Lucha Indígena (Indigenous Struggle) is a vital voice for indigenous and other rural farmers in the Andes region of South Abya Yala (America). It urgently needs financial support to enable more frequent publication and to expand distribution.
The Lucha Indígena Solidarity Network has been formed to raise money and other material support for the newspaper, and to promote communication and collaboration between Lucha Indígena and First Nations Activists in the north.
The members of the initiating committee are: James Cockcroft (Montreal), Phil Stuart Cournoyer (Managua), Darrel Furlotte (Toronto), Urpi Pine (Toronto), Mike Krebs (Vancouver), Jacqueline Perez (Montreal), John Riddell (Toronto), Wayne Roberts (Toronto), and Nelson Rubio (St. Catharines)
- Donations to support Lucha Indígena newspaper should be mailed to Darrel Furlotte, 136 Clinton St. Toronto, Ont., M6G 2Y3. (Make cheques out to Lucha Indígena Solidarity Network)
- Direct bank deposits may be made to: Lucha Indígena Solidarity Network, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, 641 College Street, Toronto, Ontario. Transit #08902; Institution #010; Account # 1040936. (Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm your direct deposit.)
Donations that may seem small by the standards of the global north can make a huge difference to this important project. Please contribute as generously as you can.
A Letter from Hugo Blanco
October 12, 2007 — Continental Day of 515 years
of Indigenous and Black Struggle Against the European
Conquest of Abya Yala
Dear sisters and brothers:
Private property in the means of production has been converted into private property in the means of destruction.
No need to mention the atomic bomb!
We see global warming, the hole in the ozone layer, the poisoning of river, lake, and sea waters, contaminated air in more and more cities, and the massacres during wars of invasion, etc. As long as private property in the means of destruction goes on the accelerated depredation of nature will also go on — relentlessly.
They tell us about globalization, but we see anti-globalization walls erected in North America and Palestine, as well as the invisible walls that impede more and more of us inhabitants of poor countries from getting into the rich countries.
The reason for this situation is that the huge multinational enterprises are leading “globalization” to serve their own interests to make more money in the least time possible. To do that, they are assaulting nature and drowning the rest of humanity in misery.
We stand for another kind of globalization, one led by humanity in its own interests, and in the interests of nature.
To that end, we are now globalizing our resistance. We are globalizing hope for a new world.
Native peoples of Abya Yala (the “Americas”) as a whole feel deeply wounded by the egoistic and individualist culture and the assault on nature imposed by the multinational firms – because our culture is rooted in solidarity and love for nature.
That’s why we are in the front line of resistance and struggle against this culture that is attacking all human kind and nature in general.
The Lucha Indígena Solidarity Network exemplifies this globalization of resistance and hope. Our editors are highly aware and moved by your solidarity, both moral and economic.
That solidarity commits us to keep you informed in a regular way with progress made in the work that you are supporting.
We pledge to do that, and we will.
With deep affection,
(Translated by Phil Stuart Cournoyer)
By Hugo Blanco
The following is the text of a presentation that the Peruvian socialist leader Hugo Blanco will make to the Latin American Studies Association Conference in Montreal, September 5-8. Translated by Phil Cournoyer. For more about the author see “About Hugo Blanco” at the end of article.
(July 2007) Over the course of more than 10,000 years, the rich biodiversity of the Andes-Amazon region has created a culture that is closely interlocked with Pachamama (Mother Nature). This culture is marked by deep knowledge of nature and is highly agricultural. Ours is one of the seven zones of the world to have originated agriculture. It has yielded the greatest variety of domesticated species. This has given rise to a cosmic vision different from the Western outlook that views the creator as a superior immaterial spirit who created man in his image and likeness and created nature to serve him. For the indigenous cosmic vision, humanity is a daughter of and part of Mother Earth. We must live in her bosom in harmony with her. Each hill or peak, each river, each vegetable or animal species has a spirit.
Indigenous, collectivist mentality is strong enough to have endured solidly through 500 years of invasion and the dictatorship of individualism.
The Quechua and Aymara name for the campesino community is ayllu. It is bound by strong ties, many expressed in work (ayni, mink’a, faena) and in all aspects of life. The community is not restricted to persons. It entails a close communal relationship with cultivated species, with medicinal species, with animals and plants that tell cultivators about seasonal variations, and, more broadly, with all animal and vegetable species, with rain, and with the land.
The development of agriculture and tending of livestock, which in other latitudes led to slavery and feudalism, led in Abya Yala (the Americas) to new forms of collectivism. In the Andes zone it led to a state that extended over the territories of six present-day countries – Tawantinsuyo (called “empire” by the invaders out of the same ignorance that led them to call the llama “big sheep.”)
It’s true that the new forms of collectivism gave rise to privileged castes and wars of conquest. But in no part of the continent was production based on slave labor or the feudal system.
- For more than 10,000 years our culture domesticated 182 plant species, including around 3,500 potato varieties.
- Our people know 4,500 medicinal plants.
- Tawantinsuyos planned agriculture based on a system of watersheds and micro watersheds or basins.
- They built long aqueducts, taking care to avoid land erosion.
- Terracing was practiced on the slopes and “waru-waru” in the altiplano (highlands).
- Special technologies were used from zone to zone.
Across the entire Tawantinsuyo territory they created storage buildings (qolqa) to supply food to the population whenever some climatic shift undermined agriculture.
Although there were privileged castes, hunger and misery did not exist. Orphans, persons with disabilities, and the elderly were cared for by the community.
The backbone of this social organization, of the agricultural infrastructure and food reserves, was crushed by the invasion.
Europe was then passing from feudalism to capitalism. The invasion was a capitalist action. They came looking for spices, believing they had reached India. They found none, but did find gold and silver.
Mining had existed as a marginal activity, but it now became the center of the economy. To exploit the mines they used a system worse than slavery. The slave owner is concerned about the health of his slave just as he’s interested in the health of his donkey. The mine owner in Peru received annually a certain quantity of indigenous people in order to “indoctrinate” them. Regardless of how many of them died, the next year he would receive the same number. Hence, youth and adults were sent into the mines and never left until they died. Because of this, young indigenous people committed suicide and mothers killed their children to free them from torment. This practice diminished following the Tupac Amaru rebellion.
Agricultural work took place through a feudal system. The Europeans took the best lands from the community and converted them into latifundios (huge estates or latifundia). Community inhabitants became serfs on their own lands. They had to work freely for the feudal lord in exchange for permission to cultivate a small plot for their own needs.
For many reasons a huge decline in agriculture took place:
- Canals, terracing, and waru-warus were destroyed because of ignorance and lack of care.
- Until this day no planning in terms of watersheds and micro watersheds has been carried out. Chaos took hold and persists.
- With the importation of foreign domestic animals to the zone, the environment deteriorated. The auquenidos (camelid) cut pasture grass with their teeth, but cows, horses, and sheep uproot it.
The invaders vented their superstitions on our crops. Our agricultural mentality didn’t suit their cultured ways. So the “exterminators of idolaters” went after plants like the papa, also known as Santa Padre (Holy Father). They renamed it patata, the word used in Spain. This passed into English and other languages as “potato.” They also damned kiwicha or amaranto (amaranth).The coca plant, which the famous doctor Hipólito Unanue called the “supertonic of the vegetable kingdom,” is to this day the target of superstition and excessively harmful prejudice in “refined” circles.
The invaders pillaged the food stockpiles located across the territory to cope with times of hunger brought on by climatic irregularities.
Taking their behavior as a whole, we find that European imposition of hunger and misery — their cultural contribution — was even more deadly than their massacres and the smallpox they spread among us.
Rebellions and republic
From the beginning, our people rebelled against the invaders. Numerous insurrections took place, beginning with Tupac Amaru II’s rebellion. It spread all the way to Bolivia and lasted even after his cruel torture and assassination.
Later the so-called Revolución de la Independencía took place. It did not signify any noticeable change for the indigenous population.
The generals of “independence” were awarded “haciendas” (the new name for the feudal latifundia), “Indians” and all.
The hacienda system consisted basically of the free labor of the colono (serf) for the hacienda. There were other aspects to this serfdom.
The colono had to turn over some of his animals that grazed on natural pastures to the master. He made long treks with pack mules burdened with hacienda produce. They lasted days and he had to sleep out in the open. The owner mistreated him physically and morally. He could jail him and rape the women. The serf’s children did not go to school either because they had to work, or there were no schools, or the master forbade it.
Our land struggle in the 1960s
The hacienda feudal system lasted until the second half of the last century.
The spread of capitalism to the countryside weakened it in many ways:
- New large-scale mining absorbed labor from the haciendas.
- New mechanized latifundia expelled the serfs and employed an agricultural proletariat.
- New high-priced crops required more labor time, pressing the hacienda owner to demand more work from his serfs and to expel them in order to take over their plots. The serfs, on the other hand, needed more time for their own labors and resisted the theft of their plots.
We organized ourselves to struggle against the new outrages. Given the intransigence of the landlords, the struggle became a fight for possession of the land.
Our defensive action not only set us against the landlords but also against the government which defended the feudal system.
In over 100 haciendas we refused to work for the landlords. But we continued to work our own plots. This was in practice an agrarian reform. The government repressed us with arms and we defended ourselves with arms. The military government of the day crushed the armed self-defense; but it took note that it would be impossible to re-implant feudal serfdom. It opted to pass an agrarian reform law — only in this zone — legalizing campesino possession of the land. But indigenous campesinos in other zones of the country rebelled and took over haciendas. This was violently repressed, but could not be effectively contained. Hence, a subsequent reformist military government felt obliged to decree an agrarian reform at the national level.
In this way, we took advantage of capitalism’s weakening of the feudal system to take over the land. In this same epoch the Brazilian campesino movement was shattered. Capitalism triumphed there. Its victims are now struggling courageously in the “Landless Workers’ Movement.”
For this reason Peru is, with the likely exception of Cuba, the country of the continent with the greatest proportion of landowners, either of communal or private plots.
Some campesinos from the epoch of struggle for the land feel the qualitative change. “Now we are free,” they say. They consider that breaking down feudal servitude also broke them free from the yoke that had gripped them.
Following the rupture they worked for education, building schools and paying men and women teachers. Later they fought to get the state to pay them. They built health centres and fought to get the state to pay for health services.
They got the vote and elected their own mayors. They fought against mining pollution. They struggled to assume in a collective manner police and judicial functions, to replace corrupt cops and judges. They fought against corrupt authorities of any stripe — and for many other things.
They feel that breaking from feudal servitude freed them to spread wings and carry the struggle forward.
Most current struggles of indigenous campesinos are against the killing of Pachamama, Mother Earth; against depredations by the large companies, mainly mining, but also petroleum and gas. Previous Peruvian governments were servants of feudal lords; today they serve the great multinationals. They act against the Peruvian people and against nature.
Living conditions are another cause of struggle. There is more and more unemployment, and the standard of living is falling. In the countryside this is due to excessively low prices for farm products. This is linked to the struggle against the Free Trade Agreement with the United States that will demolish our agriculture for the benefit of large, subsidized imperial firms.
The indigenous movement, together with the rest of the Peruvian population, is fighting against corruption and to get their own representatives into local governments. People often suffer betrayals because there is no system for authentic democratic control.
The indigenous movement is not alone. Although it is the most vigorous and persevering, it is not unique. The rest of the people are struggling together with us.
Intellectuals called indigenistas, whether indigenous or not, merit special mention. Ever since the oppression of the original peoples of our continent began there have been individuals who have struggled against it and to defend our culture.
The work of Father Bartolomé de las Casas is known.
In Peru there were notable political figures like González Prada and Mariátegui. Writers like Clorinda Matto, Ciro Alegría, José María Arguedas. Painters like José Sabogal. Musicians like Alomía Robles, Baltasar Zegarra, Roberto Ojeda, Leandro Alviña, and so on.
The meaning of our struggle We are defending our culture in its diverse aspects: our cosmic vision, social organization, our rituals and agricultural know-how, medicine, music, language, and many others.
We do not claim that our culture is superior to others. We are struggling to stop it from being considered inferior.
We want to be respected as equals.
We have been educated to harmonize equality and diversity. Peru is a mega-diverse country, both geographically and demographically. We have 82% of the world’s 103 natural life zones. Our inhabitants speak 45 different languages. The great Inca Sun God celebration was not exclusive. It had a procession of different peoples with diverse gods. The notion of “one God” did not exist. We are for the equality of the diverse; we are against homogenization (igualitarismo).
On the one hand we respect diverse individualities and particularities. On the other, we oppose individualism. Ours is a culture of solidarity.
We don’t seek a return to the past. We know we must make the best in general of advances in human culture.
That does not contradict our resolve to go back to our own roots. Our past will be vividly present in our future.
We love and care for Pachamama. We fervently yearn to return to basing our economy on our rich biodiversity, through agriculture and natural medicine, along with any modern advances that do no harm.
We don’t want our social system to be based on the deep-seated, antisocial individualism that the invaders brought here. We intend to recover and strengthen at all levels the vigorous, collectivist solidarity and fraternity of the ayllu, making use, as well, of universal knowledge that is not harmful.
We dream that the past 500 years of crushing blows are just a passing nightmare in the ten thousand years of building our culture.
About Hugo Blanco
This essay was first published in Spanish (under the title Nuestra Cultura) in the magazine Sin Permiso in its June 2007 edition. Sin Permiso (www.sinpermiso.info/) is a Spanish-language quarterly socialist magazine and a monthly e-zine edited by a multinational team that includes the author.
Hugo Blanco was leader of the Quechua peasant uprising in the Cuzco region of Peru in the early 1960s. He was captured by the military and sentenced to 25 years in El Fronton Island prison for his activities. While in prison, he wrote Land or Death: The Peasant Struggle in Peru. It was published in English by Pathfinder Press in 1972 and is must-reading for anyone who wishes to understand the liberation struggles of peasants and indigenous people in that region.
An international defence campaign that gained the support of such figures as Ernesto Che Guevara, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Bertrand Russell succeeded in winning his freedom. After a period in exile in Mexico, Chile, and Sweden, Blanco returned to Peru where he won election to the national parliament on a united left slate. He has continued to play an active role in Peru’s indigenous, campesino, and environmental movements, and writes on Peruvian, indigenous, and Latin American issues.
The article was translated Phil Cournoyer. In the 1960s Cournoyer participated in the worldwide defence campaign to win Blanco’s freedom and a decade later coordinated a cross-Canada speaking tour of the Peruvian indigenous leader.
Other articles by Hugo Blanco available in English on the internet include:
- Bolivia: a Different Revolutionary Process
- Chile: The Lesson that Venezuela Learned?
- Peru: The “Indian Problem”: From Mariátegui to Today
Reference Notes . These terms from a collectivist language are not translatable to an individualist. Ayni means the mutual lending of work, as collective activity for the benefit of an individual. Faena is collective work for collective benefit. Mink’a is asking for a service with profuse and warm urgings.. There are “signs” that tell indigenous campesinos how climate or weather conditions may change or how a given crop may fare. Abundant or poor blossoming of a forest plant, the coloration of snakes, the height of bird nests, the greater or lesser brilliance of a constellation, etc.
. Waru-waru is the practice of alternating belts of elevated fields and ditches (or swales); planting is done on the elevated belts. This has the function of avoiding floods in rainy years. In dry years water held in the ditches is used for irrigation. Heat absorbed by ditch water during the day helps to counteract cold nights at frost time.
. [Translator’s Note] A good description of this agricultural technology can be found at http://carbon.hampshire.edu/~hms/Articles%20for%20Maja/EnvNatAndes.doc Here is an excerpt from the essay Environment and Nature in South America: the Central Andes:
“The local agro-pastoralists constructed raised fields systems or waru-waru and sunken smaller garden patches or qochas to address these problems. Construction of raised, ridged fields, with swales or canals between the ridges, resulted in ridge-top areas above the waterlogged soils in the rainy season, eliminating rot among the tubers. Both the qocha system and the intervening canals among the raised fields trapped rainwater, which was curated through the dry season to provide a continuing water supply.
“In addition to managing moisture, these systems also ameliorated temperature extremes. Thus the raised field patterns, and furrows in the qochas, were constructed either parallel to, or perpendicular to, the path of the sun, an orientation which permitted maximum solar energy capture by the water. This water kept the fields slightly warmer at night, and often radiated enough heat to prevent frost damage while the surrounding unmodified grasslands suffered heavy freezes.”
. Auquenidos (camelid) are animals found in the Andes mountains, relatives of the camels. They are also called camelidos in Spanish. In Peru there are four different auquenidos: llamas, alpacas, vicuñas and guanacos. Llamas and guanacos are beasts of burden, while alpacas and vicuñas are used for their wool.
Introduction by Phil Stewart Cournoyer
This article was first published in Spanish in the magazine Sin Permiso on March 4 this year. Sin Permiso (www.sinpermiso.info/) is a Spanish-language quarterly socialist magazine and a monthly e-zine published by a multinational editorial team. The article was translated for Socialist Voice by Federico Fuentes.
Hugo Blanco was a leader of the peasant uprising in the Cuzco region of Peru in the early 1960s. His book about the struggle, Land or Death, was published in English by Pathfinder Press in 1972. This mass upsurge, which led to armed clashes with the repressive forces of the regime, eventually led to vast changes in the Peruvian countryside, including an extensive agrarian reform. Here Blanco recounts the story of how the indigenous movement brought about the destruction of the brutal, semi-feudal system of landholding and exploitation of the indigenous population known as Gamonalismo.
The Peruvian socialist leader José Carlos Mariátegui was the first to offer a Marxist appreciation of Gamonalismo and of the vital role the indigenous people had to play in the struggle for national liberation in Latin America. In his 1928 book Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality Mariátegui dedicated a chapter to this question, titled “The Problems of the Indian,” from which Blanco also takes the title of his article. Mariátegui wrote:
“The term Gamonalismo designates more than just a social and economic category: that of the latifundistas or large landowners. It signifies a whole phenomenon. Gamonalismo is represented not only by the gamonales but by a long hierarchy of officials, intermediaries, agents, parasites, et cetera. The literate Indian who enters the service of Gamonalismo turns into an exploiter of his own race. The central factor of the phenomenon is the hegemony of the semi-feudal landed estate in the policy and mechanism of the government. Therefore, it is this factor that should be acted upon if the evil is to be attacked at its roots and not merely observed in its temporary or subsidiary manifestations.” [www.ilstu.edu/class/hist127/docs/jcmindio.html]
Following the military suppression of the Cuzco upsurge, Blanco was imprisoned and tortured. Only a massive international defence campaign, which won the support of such outstanding figures as Ernesto Che Guevara, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean Paul Sartre, saved his life. He was forced into exile, spending time in Mexico and Chile. Fleeing from the Pinochet coup in Chile, Blanco then found exile in Sweden. During that second exile Canadian socialists, who had played a significant role in the international defence campaign of the sixties, organized a successful cross-Canada speaking tour for Blanco in 1976.
Upon his return to Peru Blanco was elected to the Constituent Assembly in 1978 and later to the National Parliament under the banner of the United Left movement.
Hugo Blanco remains today an outstanding voice of the campesino and indigenous movements in Peru, and is a leader of the Federation of Campesinos of Cuzco. He is a member of the editorial board of Sin Permiso.
Blanco’s most recent writings have stressed the strategic importance of the rise of indigenous consciousness and militancy to the mounting anti-imperialist struggles in the hemisphere – a question that is poorly understood on the international left.
In a September 2006 article “Progress of the indigenous movement against the system,” also published in Sin Permiso, Blanco explained that “[t]he indigenous movement is in the vanguard, not in the sweeping sense that it must guide the rest of the oppressed people (each social sector will be its own guide, each of them forging its own leadership through its own struggles); it is the vanguard in the narrow sense that it is the most advanced sector in the struggle against the system and in the building of an alternative organization for society. Against neoliberal individualism, the collectivism of the ‘ayllu’” [the indigenous communal form of social and economic organization].
In other articles Blanco has also stressed the critical role of the victory of Evo Morales in Bolivia and the rise of indigenous struggles in Ecuador.
The “Indian Problem” in Peru: From Mariátegui to Today
by Hugo Blanco
March 4, 2007
I was invited last month by a heroic community to the commemoration of a massacre of campesinos [peasants] who were fighting for land, and who, at the cost of their blood, were able to pass it on to those that work it. The recreation of the massacre was very moving.
I recalled the phrase that was stuck in the mind of Mariátegui: “The problem of the Indian is the problem of land.”
That was the terrible truth. Now it no longer is so.
Before the Invasion
Before the European invasion, across the entire continent of Abya Yala (America), individual ownership of land did not exist. The people lived on it collectively.
Unlike in Europe, the development of agriculture and cattle grazing in America did not lead to the emergence of slavery; instead primitive collectivism gave way to other forms of collectivism as privileged layers and privileged people arose. Some forms of slavery may have existed for domestic work, but agricultural production was not based on slavery as it was in Greece or Rome. Rather it was based on collective organization, called by different names in the various cultures (ayllu en Quechua, calpulli en Nahuatl).
The European invasion led to the imposition of semi-feudal servitude. The land was stolen from indigenous communities, and the new owners allowed the serfs to use small parcels of land, who had to pay for that concession by working a few days a week on the best land — on the “property” of the latifundista [large landowner], and for his benefit.
This was the central feature of servitude, but more was involved. The indigenous people also had to “pay” with cattle for feeding on the natural grass that “pertained” to the property. The landowner’s cattle was looked after by indigenous people – in return, as “payment,” they received the right to pasture a few head of cattle of their own. The campesinos were arbirarily sent to go by foot through rain and wind for days, to haul loads of products from the “hacienda” to the cities and returning with urban products for the hacienda. Pongueaje and semanería were terms for the forms of domestic service that campesinos had to carry out in the house of the owner.
There were many other obligations, made up according to the imagination of the master. He was the judge, he owned the jails, he arrested whomever he pleased, he physically mistreated someone whenever he felt like it (Bartolomé Paz, a landowner, branded the backside of an indigenous person with hot iron.) Murders were committed with impunity, and so on.
In Peru, the revolution for independence broke the chains of direct political domination by Europe, but economic dependence was maintained, to the benefit of foreign interests, firstly European and then later Yankee. The latifundio (large estate) system also continued with the implicit suppression of indigenous peoples and the descendents of African slaves.
That oppressive latifundio system, and all the servility it brought with it, began to collapse with the insurgency of the La Convención movement of the 1960s. The indigenous peoples of this country who lived through those times did not struggle in vain; even today, in spite of the many forms of oppression that they still suffer, they can say, “Now we are free!”
End of the Hacienda
The high prices obtained for exportable products from the semi-tropical zone of Cuzco gave an incentive to the gamonalismo serrano [the ruthless landlord system of the mountain areas] to usurp the land from the communities in the Amazon region. Because the people from the Amazon area refused to be forced into servitude, the landlords moved in campesinos from the mountain areas, who were used to such treatment.
The system of oppression was the same as that in the mountains; but it was exercised in a more forceful manner — in this area the “law,” that provided some slight protection in the mountain areas, did not exist.
The immigrant campesinos suffered due to the climate, illnesses, and unfamiliar food. Large numbers died due to malaria. Work was hard, because they first had to clear the forest before they could start their plantations. Unlike products from the mountain areas, their crops — cocoa, coffee, coca, tea, fruit-bearing trees — could only be harvested once a year.
The greedy landowners demanded ever more workdays per month, while the campesinos who needed time to cultivate their own products in order to earn any money, sought to reduce the days spent working for the landowners.
In the mountain areas, centuries of exploitation gave the system some protection of custom, but they were challenged on the edge of the jungle areas where this form of exploitation was new. Unions, organized by the Federation of Workers of Cuzco, demanded a reduction in the obligations of campesinos to their bosses. They used lawyers to present their claims.
There was some push and shove between landowners and campesinos, some pacts were signed in which the landowners ceded a bit.
But not all the landowners accepted the agreements. The most ferocious would say: “Who came up with this crazy idea that I should discuss with my Indians how they will serve me? I am going to boot out the ringleaders and put them in jail!” And that is what they did, using their close ties with the judicial power, the political power, the police, and the media.
The multiplication of unions strengthened the campesinos. By mobilizing they were able to impede “legal” evictions and get their compañeros [comrades] out of jail. When there was no discussion on the list of demands, the campesinos initiated strikes demanding an agreement. The strikes consisted off not working for the landowners and working on their own parcel of land instead. In that way the campesinos did not suffer as a result of the strikes, as workers or employees do, but rather enjoyed it.
In 1962, after 9 months on strike, we unanimously decided in an assembly of unions from Chaupimayo that, since the owner did not want to discuss with us, we would drop our demand for negotiations. On that day, the strike ended and became an “Agrarian Reform.” We decided we would never return to working for the owners, since they had no right to the land — they had not come carrying the land on their shoulders.
The strikes extended across more than 100 haciendas which, though not as explicitly as in Chaupimayo, but rather in an implicit form, produced an agrarian reform in the valleys of La Convención and Lares, carried out by the campesinos themselves.
The landowners went around armed, threatening the campesinos. When the campesinos complained to the police, they responded: “What do you shameless Indians want? You are robbing land from the owner and he has the right to shoot you like dogs!” So the campesinos had to organize themselves into self-defense groups and they selected me to set them up. Afterwards, the government of the landowners ordered repression against us. They persecuted me. They prohibited the assemblies of the federation. And they began to carry out acts of aggression against campesinos, including the gunning down of an 11-year old child by a landowner. An assembly of four unions ordered me to lead an armed group to bring the landowner to account. Along the way we could not avoid an armed confrontation with the police, where a police officer fell. Later two more fell in another clash. The police massacred unarmed campesinos. After a few months our group was dispersed and its members captured.
Nevertheless, the armed resistance alarmed those in the military that were in the government. They thought: “If these Indians have resisted the commencement of the repression with arms, this zone will burn when we try to oblige them to return to work for the landowners, which they haven’t done for a number of months. It would be preferable to legally recognize what the Indians have done, and thereby pacify the zone”.
And that is how the law of Agrarian Reform for La Convención and Lares came into being in 1962.
It is true that this helped bring calm to the area, but it lit up the rest of the country, because the campesinos from other zones said: “Is it because we have not taken up arms that they have not given us land?”
Land occupations were initiated in the mountains, including in the department of Lima. The president of the landowners, Belaúnde, responded with massacres like that of Solterapampa, which I mentioned at the start. Those in the military remained worried that the obsolete semi-feudal haciendas would provoke an expansion of the movement. Given the experience that they had in La Convención, they decided to take power and expand to the whole country what they did in that zone. In 1968, Velasco Alvarado took power and extended the Agrarian Reform at a national level. The official lack of respect towards the indigenous community apalled the campesinos, but the latifundio, the feudal landed-estate system imported from Europe, was buried.
That is how the axis of the indigenous problem moved away from being a problem of land. Oppression continued, but in other diverse aspects, which were derived from the land problem.
The indigenous struggle continued and continues combating all forms of oppression and achieving advances:
Education: In the era of the latifundio the indigenous population did not have a right to education, despite what the law said. In the midst of the struggle against the latifundio, schools with teachers paid collectively by the campesinos of an area who also constructed the schools, began to appear. (The landowner Romainville kidnapped a teacher and took her as a cook. The landowner Marques ordered the destruction of a school whilst students where still inside; the children fled frightened). After the victory over the latifundio came the struggle that won the right to have schools paid for by the state, and secondary education was implemented. Now there exist professionals who are children of indigenous campesinos.
Healthcare: In this aspect as well, the indigenous campesino sector created sanitary posts with their own resources, and later managed to get the state to maintain them.
The illiterate did not have the right to vote; now they do.
Municipalities: In the era of gamonalismo, it was unimaginable that there could be an indigenous campesino mayor. Now there are a number of municipalities governed by them, some more democratic than others.
There are indigenous people in parliament.
Public order and justice: in many places there has been a partial substitution of the judicial power and corrupt police by organized campesinos.
There is a permanent struggle against corrupt authorities.
Probably the most important struggle today is against contamination from mining.
Neoliberalism attacks campesino products through low prices. There is a resurgence of huge landed estates, no longer in a semi-feudal form, but rather capitalist, with paid workers. The struggle encompasses all aspects of indigenous oppression: social organization, language, medicine, music, customs, native foods, coca etc.
History, seen with the hindsight of decades, shows us that with the breakdown of the system of semi-feudal servitude denounced by Mariátegui, the floodgates were opened for the indigenous struggle across all fields.