Ugly Stories of the Peruvian Agrarian Reform

Ugly Stories of the Peruvian Agrarian Reform

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 21 photographs, 3 tables, 2 maps Published: October 2009

Author: Enrique Mayer

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Andes, Sociology

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.


Ugly Stories is a welcome addition to a scant literature on Peru’s agrarian reform. Its easy-to-digest presentation will appeal to specialists and general readers alike, and it is a must read for anyone interested in Peruvian society, culture, and history. . . . [W]hile scholars will most certainly take Mayer’s lead in revisiting this long-forgotten—yet historically significant—period in Peruvian history, few if any will match Enrique Mayer’s narrative style. After all, while some of the stories in Mayer’s text are in fact ugly, the way in which they come together into one coherent and moving tale is, in a word, beautiful.” — Miguel La Serna, A Contracorriente

Ugly Stories is an excellent, well-written, and engaging book. . . . Although many of the stories are sad, the book is much more than ugly stories. It is a wonderful agrarian history that is essential reading for Latin Americanists and anyone else interested in development or agrarian issues. I enjoyed the book, learned from it, and recommend it highly.” — William P. Mitchell, Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology

“[Ugly Stories of the Peruvian Agrarian Reform] is a must read for those interested in Peru, especially the history of the twentieth century and the Shining Path, agricultural history, and the study of history and memory. This book leaves its reader better informed about the drastic transformations in both the Peruvian countryside and mentality, the origins and actions of Sendero Luminoso, and the (still incomplete) effects of the Armed Forces’ attempt to lead a top-down, nationalist revolution.” — Nathan W. Clarke, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“For the ethnohistorian, the importance of this eloquently many-voiced study is that it brings us away from the cloud reading of merely ‘testimonial’ literature and contributes instead a verifiable account with a clear, innovative, testable argument. It does so without overpowering witnesses’ idiosyncratic voices.” — Frank Salomon,, Ethnohistory

“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.” — José Luis Rénique, author of La batalla por Puno. Conflicto agrario y nación en los Andes peruanos

“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


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

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.

Table of Contents Back to Top
About the Series ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction xv

1. Agrarian Reforms 1

2. Heroes and Antiheroes 41

3. Landowners 75

4. Managers and Union Leaders 111

5. Machu Asnu Cooperativa 151

6. Veterinarians and Comuneros 183

Conclusion 229

Abbreviations 243

Notes 245

Glossary 275

References 279

Index 291
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2010 NECLAS Best Book Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4469-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4453-7
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