The Plebeian Republic: The Huanta Rebellion and the Making of the Peruvian State, 1820-1850 / Edition 1

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Combining social and political history, The Plebeian Republic challenges well-established interpretations of state making, rural society, and caudillo politics during the early years of Peru’s republic. Cecilia Méndez presents the first in-depth reconstruction and analysis of the Huanta rebellion of 1825–28, an uprising of peasants, muleteers, landowners, and Spanish officers from the Huanta province in the department of Ayacucho against the new Peruvian republic. By situating the rebellion within the broader context of early-nineteenth-century Peruvian politics and tracing Huanta peasants’ transformation from monarchist rebels to liberal guerrillas, Méndez complicates understandings of what it meant to be a patriot, a citizen, a monarchist, a liberal, and a Peruvian during a foundational moment in the history of South American nation-states.

In addition to official sources such as trial dossiers, census records, tax rolls, wills, and notary and military records, Méndez uses a wide variety of previously unexplored sources produced by the mostly Quechua-speaking rebels. She reveals the Huanta rebellion as a complex interaction of social, linguistic, economic, and political forces. Rejecting ideas of the Andean rebels as passive and reactionary, she depicts the barely literate insurgents as having had a clear idea of national political struggles and contends that most local leaders of the uprising invoked the monarchy as a source of legitimacy but did not espouse it as a political system. She argues that despite their pronouncements of loyalty to the Spanish crown, the rebels’ behavior evinced a political vision that was different from both the colonial regime and the republic that followed it. Eventually, their political practices were subsumed into those of the republican state.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

The Plebeian Republic is a well-done and welcome contribution to ongoing debates on the meaning of political independence from Spain and the difficulties the new nation-states faced in creating new political, economic, and social spaces. Cecilia Méndez not only asks new questions but, in answering them, dismantles long-held assumptions about the nonparticipation of manifold social groups in the construction of politics.”—Christine Hünefeldt, author of Liberalism in the Bedroom: Quarreling Spouses in Nineteenth-Century Lima

The Plebeian Republic is an exciting and pathbreaking examination of state formation seen from a local perspective. Cecilia Méndez offers a convincing analysis of how people who are usually seen as ‘acted upon’ and reacting to political events develop and act on political strategies of their own. I found this a wonderful read.”—Karen Spalding, author of Huarochirí: An Andean Society under Inca and Spanish Rule

Valeria Coronel

“This book contributes substantially to our understanding of peasant political participation in state formation in Latin America . . . . The book definitively contributes to a new political history of the nineteenth century . . . . In fact, the formation of democratic tendencies in the 1930s, the particular character of the Peruvian military, the relevance of indigenista ideology, and the resistance of this region’s peasantry to Senderista violence can also be better understood after reading this book.”
Erick D. Langer

“This is a very rich book, both in ideas and in research. Mendez's reconceptualization of peasant politics for the nineteenth century will be influential. While many scholars will not agree with all of Mendez' conclusions, they are thought provoking and have wide-ranging implications for the rest of Latin America. This is an important book that adds considerably to the debate on the nature of the Latin American nation-state in the nineteenth century.”
Natalia Sobrevilla Perea

"This is an immense contribution not only to the study of nineteenth century Peruvian history, but to the scholarship of the region and must be read by every specialist wishing to gain further understanding of the rural Andes."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822334415
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 4/28/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Cecilia Méndez is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the author of Los trabajadores guaneros del Perú, 1840–1879.

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Read an Excerpt

The Plebeian Republic

By Cecilia Méndez

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2005 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3430-9

Chapter One


In January 1983, as the insurgency unleashed by the Communist Party of Peru-SL, best known as Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), entered its third year, eight Peruvian journalists set out from the city of Ayacucho on their way to Huaychao, a peasant village in the province of Huanta, in the Andean department of Ayacucho. Their purpose was to investigate the murders of a group of alleged Senderistas that a sector of the press attributed to the military. Five of the journalists had come from Lima for the journey, and three others from Ayacucho joined the Limeños on the way. They never arrived at their destination. Not long after their departure, the press reported the discovery of their lifeless bodies in the vicinity of Uchuraccay, another village in Huanta. The corpses, which were buried, bore signs of a horrifying death. The case passed into history as the "massacre of Uchuraccay" and became one of the most controversial, emblematic, and talked-about murders in an internal war that ultimately claimed nearly seventy thousand Peruvians lives.

Although prior to the Uchuraccay massacre nearly two hundred people had beenkilled in the violence unleashed by Sendero since 1980, none of those killings received nearly as much media attention as the journalists' deaths. While in previous cases low-ranking policemen (guardias civiles) and mostly illiterate, Quechua-speaking peasants were the victims, on this occasion they were men of letters. Painful as it is to admit, adversity had to touch the urban, educated sector directly for the media and the government to pay more attention to a war that had already hit the rural populations of the south-central highlands of Peru harshly.

The case became politically charged when some of the media, especially those on the left, held the military responsible for the journalists' murders. Controversy grew, moreover, because the massacre and, perhaps more forcefully, the ensuing trial of the Uchuraccay comuneros (community peasants) gave rise to debates about the (unresolved) nature of Peruvian identity, with not a few commentators evoking images of the Spanish conquest. The trial of the comuneros, held in Lima, pitted monolingual (or barely bilingual) Quechua-speaking villagers against Spanish-speaking magistrates, requiring the presence of interpreters; the villagers remained for the most part silent or refused to collaborate with the magistrates. More than any truth regarding the deaths of the journalists, the hearings of Uchuraccay laid bare another truth: the extent to which ethnic and linguistic markers still defined the place of the powerful in Peruvian society at the very moment social analysts were envisaging a new era of "modernity" and democratization.

Then President Fernando Belaúnde appointed a commission presided over by novelist Mario Vargas Llosa to investigate the events (henceforth the Vargas Llosa Commission). The commission, which included, in addition to Vargas Llosa, two anthropologists, a linguist, a psychoanalyst, and a lawyer, arrived at the conclusion that the villagers of Uchuraccay killed the journalists because they mistook them for Sendero Luminoso guerrillas-and that they did so following the military's own advice that the villagers should defend themselves against the terroristas. This hypothesis was endorsed by the comuneros themselves, and its credibility lay in the fact that Uchuraccay did have a history of confrontations with Sendero. Still, the general tendency was to exonerate the peasants from responsibility by appealing to the classic stereotype that emphasizes peasants' "naiveté," in consonance with the image the villagers themselves chose to present. Few could accept (without resorting to other stereotypes that associate peasants with savagery and brutality) the idea that the peasants, if they indeed killed the journalists, might have had their own reasons, which they chose not to reveal.

The ensuing hearings in Lima found some military officers indirectly responsible for the crime, but in the end none were convicted. Three Uchuraccayan villagers were found guilty of the massacre and condemned to various prison sentences, but they never disclosed any further evidence, and one of them eventually died in jail, a victim of tuberculosis. The press continued to speculate, and, in the end, each Peruvian was left to compile her own version of the events.

As I finished writing this book, and in the climate of dialogue created by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the Uchuraccay villagers had acknowledged that they killed the journalists. But they were far from endorsing the "cultural" arguments provided in the Vargas Llosa Commission's report on Uchuraccay (i.e., the Informe [1983]), which stressed the comuneros' allegedly innate violent predisposition, resulting, in turn, from the "secular isolation" in which, the commission believed, the peasants had lived since "pre-Hispanic times." Instead, the villagers pointed to current matters. They explained that most villagers in Uchuraccay were indeed convinced that the journalists were Senderistas, partly because they identified the guide who came with the journalists himself as a Senderista, eventually killing him too. They added that when the journalists arrived, the villagers were in high alert against Sendero, which had in recent months, even weeks, killed many people in Uchuraccay and the neighboring communities who refused to abide by the dictates of the Maoist group. Of particular note were the cruel deaths suffered by communal authorities, whom the Senderistas killed sometimes by dynamiting their bodies in "public executions" (ajusticiamientos públicos). The villagers, in a word, had begun taking justice into their own hands, applying severe sanctions, including death, against those suspected of Senderismo within and without their community; in this, they were joined by other villages in the Huanta highlands that refused, like them, to give in to the dictates of Sendero. The Uchuraccayan comuneros who accounted for these facts apologized in the name of their community in the context of the audiencias públicas, or "public hearings," staged by the TRC. At the same time, however, they have denounced, emphatically for the first time, that in the months following the journalists' massacre their community was victim of severe retaliation by Sendero Luminoso as well as by military aggression. Between April and December 1983, 135 Uchuraccayinos lost their lives. Most fell victim to Sendero. Others were killed by the military. Among the former were reportedly all the villagers who took part in the journalists' murder. A list with the 135 names was made public by the TRC, giving the national community, which until then had likened the "tragedy of Ucchuraccay" with the deaths of eight men of the press, much to reflect upon.

At the time of the killing of the journalists I was completing my studies in Lima, and like many other Peruvians, I was disturbed by those events. My unease resurfaced with particular intensity some years later, as I took a teaching position at the National University of San Cristóbal de Huamanga, in the city of Ayacucho. During my tenure there I began an inquiry into the history of the peasants of Uchuraccay and other high-altitude communities in Huanta, an inquiry that has resulted in the present book.

From local monographs to archives, I set myself in search of references to the "Iquichanos," the name which the Vargas Llosa Commission, following ethnographies and histories of Huanta, used to designate the high-altitude peasant communities of Huanta, including Uchuraccay. Colonial ethnographic sources make no mention at all of the Iquichanos. References to them started appearing only during the republican period starting in the 1820s. These sources, especially those originating in the late nineteenth century, portrayed the Iquichanos as descendants of the so-called Chanka Confederation and attributed to them a warlike tradition of opposition to the Incas. They also emphasized the Iquichanos' "hostility toward outsiders" and unwillingness to submit to the laws of the state.

I later learned, however, that such conceptualizations, which were echoed in the Vargas Llosa Informe, did not reflect an actual knowledge of the pre-Hispanic or colonial history of Huanta. Rather, they were construed with a more recent episode in mind: the rebellion that Huanta peasants (thereafter called Iquichanos), in alliance with a group of Spanish officers and merchants, mestizo hacendados (estate owners), and priests, launched against the nascent Republic, between 1825 and 1828. The rebels, acting in the name of King Fernando VII, aimed to restore colonial rule. Their supreme leader was Antonio Abad Huachaca, an illiterate muleteer from the punas (high-altitude lands) of Huanta who was said to have held the position of General of the Royal Army. As my research progressed, I found myself immersed in the work of reconstructing the history of this rebellion and its aftermath, which constitute the subject of this book.

One of the details which initially drew my attention to the monarchist rebellion of Huanta was the similarity between the opinions of contemporaries toward the royalist peasants in 1825-28 and those of the press in relation to the murder of the journalists in Uchuraccay in 1983: basically, the same resistance to accepting that villagers had acted of their own volition. If in 1983 the peasants were persuaded by the military, in 1826 they were duped by the Spanish. Moreover, historians who attempted to explain peasant participation in the monarchist uprising limited themselves to reproducing the interpretations made by contemporary observers. Juan José del Pino, a local historian to whom we otherwise owe a careful compilation of sources about peasant rebellions in Huanta, endorsed the theory of "deception" and peasant naïveté: "These attacks took place because of the deceptions of a group of Spaniards in Ayacucho, who took advantage of the ingenuousness of the indigenous, and made them believe in the arrival of a Spanish squadron on the coasts along with the return of the chiefs defeated on the 9th of December."

The "weak spot" in the interpretation of the Huanta rebellion, however, went beyond the confines of local history. "National" historians themselves had not advanced much farther than local historians in their understanding of peasant attitudes in Independence and post-Independence conflicts. As Juan José del Pino was writing the paragraph quoted above in Huanta, Lima historian José Agustín de la Puente y Candamo developed the idea that Independence grew out of the development of a collective consciousness in which distinct social sectors came together under the leadership of the creoles (Americans of Spanish descent). The creoles were at the top, indians, mestizos, blacks, and castas (people of mixed racial backgrounds) were at the bottom, all asserting their will to belong to Peru. National identity was less a problem to be explored than a truth to be preached. Consequently, it seemed sufficient to look into the doctrines and well-meaning intentions of certain illustrious creoles in search of the right heroes. De la Puente's became the dominant interpretation of Independence in the 1960s. Within this scheme, an inquiry into "royalist indians" was not to be expected.

Not long after the publication of the second edition of de la Puente's book in 1970, another interpretation gained momentum. It shared de la Puente's idea that Independence had internal roots but highlighted indian and mestizo rather than creole leadership and sought to emphasize popular participation in general. This interpretation was favored by the left-leaning military regime that ruled Peru under the presidency of General Juan Velasco Alvarado between 1968 and 1975. Velasco's government was characterized by a nationalist, anti-imperialist rhetoric and pro-peasant policies-and by its rewriting of Peruvian history. Velasco made Túpac Amaru II, the indigenous leader of the major anti-Spanish rebellion in colonial Spanish America (which took place in Cuzco in 1780-81), the government's official icon. This was a gesture without precedent because of the violent nature of the Túpac Amaru rebellion and because of the fact that, in addition to killing Spaniards, it also attacked creoles. Hence, the figure of Túpac Amaru historically elicited discomfort among the creole elites of Peru, who banned him from historical records for more than a century. By the mid-twentieth century Túpac Amaru's persona was gaining increasing official acceptance as his image as a bloodthirsty indian rebel was "rehabilitated" by historiography, although no previous Peruvian president had gone as far as Velasco in elevating Túpac Amaru to the standing of national hero and foremost symbol of Independence.

Despite their obvious differences, creole and Velasquista/indigenista interpretations of Independence converged in conceiving of it as a process of "national liberation." As a sample of its conciliatory spirit, the military, on the occasion of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of Independence, erected a monument in a public park in Lima, and renamed it Parque de los Próceres ("Park of the Illustrious men [of Independance]"). The monument featured large statues of "precursors" of Independence from different ethnic backgrounds, including the (historically proscribed) effigy of Túpac Amaru.

Challenging these two official nationalisms, a third interpretation of Independence emerged at the beginning of the 1970s. It was strongly influenced by Marxism and dependency theory and came to the fore in a polemical article by historians Heraclio Bonilla and Karen Spalding, published in 1972. The authors claimed that Independence was not-and could not have been-the result of a process of development of collective consciousness, as the official historiography claimed. In the first place, the creoles were never convinced of the need for Independence. Their future and prestige were tightly connected to those of the Crown, and in this respect they differed from the creole elites of Río de la Plata and Nueva Granada; in addition, Peruvian creoles feared the implied risks of a mobilization of the indigenous population, who during prior rebellions in 1780-81, 1812, and 1814-15 had become radicalized beyond the creole elite's expectations. In the second place, asserted Bonilla and Spalding, indians themselves could not have been active agents in the process of Independence because they had not yet recovered from the wave of repression that followed the defeat of Túpac Amaru in 1781. The defeat of Túpac Amaru, the argument went, aggravated the "ethnic fissures" and fragmentation that generally divided peasant and popular sectors. Finally, peasants were not likely to form alliances with creoles, whom they distrusted as much as, if not more than, Spaniards.

For Bonilla and Spalding, an elite that lacked nationalist convictions, and popular classes that neither identified with them nor offered viable alternatives, were unlikely to have been protagonists in an Independence scenario that was "conceded more than conquered." Rather, it was "brought from without" by the inevitable collapse of the Spanish Empire and the emergence of Great Britain as a new imperial power eager to promote and assist the process of emancipation of the Spanish colonies overseas. Only because they were coerced did "indians, blacks and mestizos" fight "equally in the ranks of the patriot and royal armies."


Excerpted from The Plebeian Republic by Cecilia Méndez Copyright © 2005 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

ch. 1 Introduction 1
ch. 2 The republic's first peasant uprising 30
ch. 3 Royalism in the crisis of independence 52
ch. 4 Words and images : the people and the king 75
ch. 5 The world of the peasants : landscapes and networks 111
ch. 6 Government in Uchuraccay 154
ch. 7 The Plegeian republic 189
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