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Ugly Stories of the Peruvian Agrarian Reform by Enrique Mayer

Ugly Stories of the Peruvian Agrarian Reform

Part of the Latin America Otherwise Series


Ugly Stories of the Peruvian Agrarian Reform by Enrique Mayer

Ugly Stories of the Peruvian Agrarian Reform reveals the human drama behind the radical agrarian reform that unfolded in Peru during the final three decades of the twentieth century. That process began in 1969, when the left-leaning military government implemented a drastic program of land expropriation. Seized lands were turned into worker-managed cooperatives. After those cooperatives began to falter and the country returned to civilian rule in the 1980s, members distributed the land among themselves. In 1995-96, as the agrarian reform process was winding down and neoliberal policies were undoing leftist reforms, the Peruvian anthropologist Enrique Mayer traveled throughout the country, interviewing people who had lived through the most tumultuous years of agrarian reform, recording their memories and their stories. While agrarian reform caused enormous upheaval, controversy, and disappointment, it did succeed in breaking up the unjust and oppressive hacienda system. Mayer contends that the demise of that system is as important as the liberation of slaves in the Americas.Mayer interviewed ex-landlords, land expropriators, politicians, government bureaucrats, intellectuals, peasant leaders, activists, ranchers, members of farming families, and others. Weaving their impassioned recollections with his own commentary, he offers a series of dramatic narratives, each one centered around a specific instance of land expropriation, collective enterprise, and disillusion. Although the reform began with high hopes, it was quickly complicated by difficulties including corruption, rural and urban unrest, fights over land, and delays in modernization. As he provides insight into how important historical events are remembered, Mayer re-evaluates Peru's military government (1969-79), its audacious agrarian reform program, and what that reform meant to Peruvians from all walks of life.


Enrique Mayer gracefully interweaves three accounts of the Peruvian agrarian reform: the eyewitness reports of those who spoke and wrote as it took place, the decades-old recollections of those who lived through it, and the insights of those who analyzed it as social scientists. This compelling work will be of great value to anyone concerned with Latin America, because it provides the fullest published description of one of the greatest social transformations in the region's history. It will be of deep interest to all of those who seek to understand how human societies draw on both memory and forgetting to survive the traumatic upheavals that arise in situations of great injustice and that unloose violence and revenge. And it provides evocatively written stories for those who seek human drama. No reader will ever forget Mayer's vivid tales of individuals who find themselves confronted with moral dilemmas as historical events sweep suddenly into their simple lives. -Ben Orlove, author of Darkening Peaks: Glacier Retreat, Science and Society Beyond statistics and graphics, the Peruvian agrarian reform of 1969 was a human drama that had so far eluded comprehensive academic inquiry. Relying on his life-long Andean experience Enrique Mayer has successfully undertaken the task. The result is a vivid fresco in which beneficiaries and losers, officers and militants, appeared as the contradictory protagonists of a process that would transform Peru in unexpected ways. An impressive achievement. -Jose Luis Renique, author of La batalla por Puno. Conflicto agrario y nacion en los Andes peruanos

About the Author

Enrique Mayer is Professor of Anthropology at Yale University. He is the author of The Articulated Peasant: Household Economies in the Andes and Land Use in the Andes: Ecology and Agriculture in the Mantaro Valley of Peru and a coeditor of Andean Kinship and Marriage.

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Book Info

Publication date

30th October 2009


Enrique Mayer

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Duke University Press


328 pages




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