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Ayacucho Gains Some Important Enemies

"When I came back to Huamanga, I had to turn the world upside down," recalls the archaeologist Lumbreras. "I had learned in Lima that I was Indian, serrano and cholo. I wanted to learn Quechua, having already picked up some words from the servants." His parents had forbidden him to speak the language of the runa in the house.

Peru was being shaken by a new restlessness in the countryside and a growing awareness among intellectuals and political activists that a political opportunity. University students from Lima's middle and upper class discover the need to understand the Peru Profundo that Basadre had written about.

However, Ayacucho was a quiet exception in what was happening in the rest of the Andes and even on the coast. Almost without outside instigation, campesinos rose up to demand their ancestral land. Between 1957 and 1964, agrarian strikes and land seizures rose four fold (Mauceri, 171). In Cerro de Pasco and Junín, in the central Sierra, peasant communities engaged in a wily battle with the authorities and landowners. By mainly employing peaceful means, they seized land, withdrawing from it when the government tried to get tough and retaking the initiative when the police and army troops got tired of guarding the desolate pasture lands. Indeed, the news of this peasant awakening and aggressiveness attracted many of the university professors to Huamanga to be closer to its roots.

On Ayacucho's southern flank, Cusco was racked by unrest. Hugo Blanco, a bearded Trotskyite agrarian union organizer, capitalized on discontent among coffee growers in the tropical valley of La Convención and Lares. The first unrest started in 1959, growing and spreading. Finally, the Lima government sent in the military to capture the troublemakers and carry out a pilot agrarian re-form program.

Ayacucho did not seem to share this kind of this unrest with the rest of the country. Landowners were more interested in escaping from provincial isolation than maintaining their control. There was some spillover in the southern reaches of the region. In 1960, one thousand campesino families took the hacienda of Pomacocha, some 70 kilometers south of Huamanga. Some 6,000 acres of land stretched over three provinces. It had belonged to the cloistered Santa Clara nuns.

Indeed, all over Peru, the Catholic Church was one of the largest land holders, having received donations from parishioners eager to earning a place in heaven. Every five years, the nuns' administrator put the land up for bid. The winner could extract as much profit as he saw fit, including the standard feudal ties with the peasants. Antonio Díaz Martínez called it a "hacienda lost in the Middle Ages for three centuries. (1985: 107) The spark for the seizure had been a rumored change in ownership, which might have jeopardized their standing on the land. This new militancy thrust them into a leadership role in the Peasant Federation.

An Encounter with Revolt

Lumbreras accepted an invitation to visit the community of Pomacocha as an archeologist. The peasants frequently came to the professors to ask for advice and assistance, just as government agencies also recurred to the university for studies and investigations. Lumbreras had to determine what was the use of the Inca ruins on a dammed lake and water system above the community. They wanted him to tell them how to reconstruct the irrigation and terracing system so that it could be put back in use. On arrival, he found himself in the middle of an assembly of 6,000 Indians.

Lumbreras recalls, "It was my first exposure in which archeology could have some practical application, not just looking at antique artifacts." The community wanted him to continue working along these lines. They also had a tremendous curiosity about world events, especially the events of Cuba and China. "I remember thinking that if this thing caught fire, nothing could stop them." But it never did. The community was sucked into the legal requirements for land reform and it ended up dividing them and diverting their efforts.

Amateur Guerrillas in Ayacucho

University professors were not the only one to set off to the encounter of the Sierra in the 1960s. Another group of young leaders tried to imitate the example of Fidel Castro, Ernesto "Che" Guevarra and the Cuban Revolution. The guerrillas of the Sierra Maestra seemed to give a glowing example of how to leap over stages, coming on top of revolutionary triumphs in China and Viet Nam. In later years, Che Guervarra would take his place along side Tupac Amaru as a kind of icon. Their portraits were painted on inter-provincial trucks, buses and taxis.

The peasant uprisings that had punctuated the late 1950s and early 1960s seemed to indicate that the time was ripe for revolutionaries to join the campesinos. The Belaúnde government was retreating from its initial progressive programs.

There was already confusion and dissension within the Marxist ranks in Peru. The Communist Party was being drawn in multiplte directions:

Off in Cusco, a column headed by Luis de la Puente, killed some policemen and lynched a landowner. The southern front col-lapsed on October 23, 1965 in Mesa Pelada. Luis de la Puente and the Pachacutec group was mauled almost before it had entered into action. The army used heavy artillery and aerial bombings. It was aided by United States counterinsurgency troops.

A second MIR foco, the Tupac Amaru group, under Guillermo Lobatón, operated in the Satipo region of Junín, starting in June, striking at several haciendas and police posts, blowing up bridges and ambushing police patrols. The last remnants of the column was wiped out on January 7, 1966, thanks to helicopter support and Green Beret assistance.

A third MIR column in the northern Sierra never got past the planning phase.

By 1965, the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional had regrouped after its failure in Puerto Maldonado. The leadership decided to concentrate its efforts in Ayacucho. The column took its name from its fallen comrade, Javier Heraud. The guerrilla column moved into the jungle foothills of San Miguel in April. It actually went into action on September 25, attacking the Chapi hacienda in the eastern reaches of Ayacucho.

Even before the ELN unit struck, Ayacucho was rife with rumors and reports of sightings of phantom guerrilla columns. In Lima, the press, the right wing opposition and landowning interests stirred up demands for immediate military operations to head off a guerrilla triumph.

"Nobody in Ayacucho knew what MIR was," recalled Carlos Tapia, then a student in Huamanga. "With the first news of a guerrilla column, the people said it was the (Communist) Party." There were some preliminary contacts between ELN and the Communist Youth in Ayacucho. Some local cadres served as liaisons contacts for Hector Béjar in the area of Chungui. Bejar hardly knew anything about the zone where he was going to open up his front.

The Communist Party flirted with the idea of joining the guerrillas, trying to keep its hotheads in line and harvest some political fruits of its own. The Lima big wigs never got past sending out a group of university students to an abandoned hacienda where they were put through calisthenics and political briefings.

The guerrillas themselves seemed to be disconcerted. They had not bothered to learn Quechua and faced serious communication problems with the Indians. The countryside did not conform to their preconceptions. They passed through haciendas where the gamonal seemed to live slightly better than the abject poverty of their serfs. It seemed as if the landowners needed to be liberated as much as the campesinos.

The army did not enter into action until November but in short order surrounded the unit, defeating it on December 17. The column's leader, Hector Béjar escaped, but later fell into the hands of the security forces. He was convicted and imprisoned for sedition.

The sacrifice of those idealistic university students and converts to revolution established a Peruvian myth -- accomplishments only come with struggle, blood and sacrifice. In a perverse way, the military themselves would vindicate the guerrillas' ideals. Officers present at Mesa Pelada spoke with De la Puente after his capture. He was persuasive about Peru's social needs, but the order came from Lima to kill him.

The intelligence command that squashed the 1965 guerrilla fiasco was the nucleus that planned the coup against Belaúnde and would change the face of the country. Their counterinsurgency efforts were a pilot project to uproot the causes of revolt. In 1968, the military government pardoned Hector Béjar and he soon found himself working for them in their reform efforts. Blanco also received a pardon but he was soon ushered out of the country as a rabble-rouser.

Looking for Scapegoats

In July, 1965, the young archaeologist Luis Lumbreras, head of the humanities faculty, was arrested and accused of being the local ring leader of the guerrillas. The university president Efrain Morote was arrested for 24 hours but then released. The archaeologically inquisitive peasant leaders of Pomacocha also ended up in jail, accused of being likely collaborators with phantom guerrilla columns.

Lumbreras was taken to Lima where he was held for six weeks, accused of being the intellectual mastermind of the guerrillas in Ayacucho. The Lima papers played up inventive reports of how his dusty digs were covers for burying arms and bodies and that his field trips were sorties for passing information to the guerrilla columns.

Once released, he found the atmosphere chilly and even hostile in Huamanga. Students were afraid of associating too closely with him because they would be suspected of belonging to the guerrillas. The left wing sympathizers and Huamanga gossips thought that he had gained his freedom because of his relatives' political influence in Lima. The town was riddled with rumors about how his father had served him hot soup everyday in his cell. Since he was serving out the last months of his term as dean of the humanities department, he decided it would be a good time to leave and return to his alma mater, San Marcos University where he had several positions awaiting him.

Four years after leaving the University, Lumbreras published a book entitled De los pueblos, las culturas y las artes del Antiguo Peru (Of the Peoples, Cultures and Arts of Ancient Peru). Lumbreras had started turning his class lectures into a polished text while he had been in jail. It combined a detailed, empirical survey of archaeological sites and artifacts with a Marxian dialectic ambition to uncover the social, economic and historical forces behind the changes in 20,000 years of the man's presence in the Andes. As the first effort of its kind by a professionally trained academic, it had an immediate impact on the social sciences in Peru. It also signaled a healthy declaration of independence from American archaeologists who had had an almost exclusive hold on the interpretation of pre-Columbian Andean cultures.

Standing Up to Lima

In 1966, the Lima government began an offensive to cripple the university, cutting back its budget. This sent shock waves through the community. From the working class neighborhoods to the shopkeepers, it suddenly dawned on everyone that a financially crippled university would impoverish the community and reduce the chances of their children vaulting out of the provincial backwaters through education.

Efrain Morote rallied the community and the Defense Front of the People of Ayacucho (FDPA) was founded. The Defense Front was extremely ecumenical, including the local bar association, the Superior Court judges and the chamber of commerce, as well as street vendors, neighborhood associations and artisans, not to mention the thousands of high school students ready to apply. The university became the flagship of the community, the symbol of progress and future. Any caution about outsiders disappeared. A public rally pulled 10,000 people into the main square, some-thing never before seen in a town with a population of 50,000, even during the presidential campaigns. It fills the gap left by the landowners who are in complete rout and the absence of new interests.

Huamanga was among the first provincial seedbeds to form defense fronts to negotiate with the Lima government, breaking out of the patriarchal intermediation of elders and notables, deputies and senators. It was prepared to put organization, pro-test marches and even strike action behind their demands. A few years before, Cusco, the "Red Capital of the Andes," had set up its regional defense front and organized a strike. The heyday would come in the mid- and late-1970s when the defense fronts mushroomed across Peru, combined with anti-military and anti-Lima resentment.

Ayacucho's Defense Front forced the Lima government to back track on budget cuts. It also moved Congress into passing legislation that expropriated the outskirts of the town, mainly the mountain slopes, so that the working class neighborhoods could set up new living quarters. In the 1967 municipal elections, the defense won two seats on the municipal council. However, the results were actually a letdown because its leaders thought that they would win the mayoralty race.

Dangerous Enemies

However, these heady days did not translate into complete victory for the university. The university won four crucial enemies and each would take its revenge over the next two decades:

This opposition, which controlled the purse strings of the public treasury from 1965 through to the present, meant that the University had continued problems obtaining adequate budget funds and other benefits that only the central government could award. Sometimes, this would simply be the general prejudice against the national university system that concentrated radical opposition to the Lima government, professors and students. After 1980, the distrust was specifically targeted at the university.

This reputation for being a center of rebellion would continue to linger over the university, its professors and graduates forever, even before Sendero Luminoso began its evangelical campaign of violence. The graduates would be discriminated against, sent off to the most isolated posts in the provinces, stuck in the controversial hotbeds of local conflict, blackballed in the competitions for positions in the public administration.