Roderic Day
Original publication:
Translation: Roderic Day

Two Peruvian Constitutions (2020)

9 minutes | English Español Ελληνική | Latin America The Crew

Whenever there is a political incident in Latin America, instead of informing and clarifying, many “experts” set out to insist over and over that the situation is too complex to be understood in terms of archaic left-right dichotomies.

FOX News asserts that any achivements of Chavismo are owed to the fact that the “private sector still dominates Venezuelan economy” [1]; Joanna Hausmann, daughter of one of the powerful economists behind the coup, appears in the pages of the New York Times insisting that the “progressive left” should be lining up behind Guaidó [2]; and Guaidó asks on Twitter, “Would those who believed in Chávez approve of [Maduro]? Would his daughter María Gabriela approve?” [3] During the 2019 coup d’etat in Bolivia we were told that Evo Morales really was a “murderer of nature” [4] and that he represents “neoliberalism with an Indian face.” [5] The purpose of all of this noise is to undermine the possibility of a united front on the basis of socialist solidarity.

Thus it comes as no surprise that many commentators begin to work the angle that the Peruvian situation has little to do with neoliberalism — it’s simply the impenetrable complexity of an informal, incomprehensible country. We are told we are not to “impose US left-right politics onto what’s going on in Peru” [6] because theirs is “a politics without partisan loyalties nor links among candidates, parties, and society.” [7] The people in the streets don’t pursue concrete material objectives; they are concerned with “the country’s balance of power.” [8]

So, instead of falling prey to a self-fulfilling prophecy, let’s stick to certain inarguable facts about Peru’s trajectory, memorialized in the history of its most important political document. 79’s constitution and 93’s constitution crystallize, each in their time, the temporary resolution of the classic struggle between left and right political tendencies in the Peruvian context. Several articles received direct replacements, and observing them side-by-side yields revealing insights:

1979 Constitution

113. The State exercises business activity with the goal of promoting the national economy, offering public services, and reaching developmental objectives.

114. On behalf of public interest or national security, the law can reserve certain productive or service areas of the economy for the State. For the same reasons the State can establish reserves of said activities in favor of Peruvians.

116. The State promotes and protects the free development of cooperatives, and the autonomy of cooperative enterprises. Likewise it stimulates and protects self-managed businesses, communes, and other associative forms. [9]

1993 Constitution

59. The State stimulates the generation of wealth and guarantees the right to work and the right to do business, commerce, and industry. The exercise of these liberties must not harm moral nor health nor public safety. The State brings opportunities to sectors that suffer from inequality to better themselves; to this end, it promotes small business in all their modalities.

60. The State recognizes economic pluralism. The national economy is based on the coexistence of various forms of property and enterprise. Only as authorized by explicit law, the State can subsidize business activity, directly or indirectly, due to high public interest, or manifest national convenience. Business activity, public or private, receives the same legal treatment. [10]

El Comercio, the paper of record, presents the following summary in 2011:

79’s permitted more state intervention, whereas 93’s limits intervention. About 79’s, I consider it is more oriented towards social and state matters, and did not establish restrictions for the State’s development of business activity. 93’s is more pro private property (…) it says the State can participate in private enterprise but via subsidy and when approved by law. 93’s is more favorable to investment because it speaks of a more developed market economy, with some pro-social touch-ups. [11]

So, what do we make of this?

1979’s is a constitution in the European social-democratic style, it can be read as a response to the causes that brought to power the left-wing military dictatorship of General Velasco; that is, the motivations behind Land Reform (gigantic haciendas in private hands, and near-feudal labor relations) [12]. It explicitly outlines a central role for the State, so it can intervene and correct such errors, potentially reserving entire tranches of the economy to this end. It promotes class-collaborationism.

Between 1979 and 1993 we have, on the international stage, the rise of Reagan and Thatcher’s neoliberalism [13], and the capitalist triumphalism following the break-up of the Soviet Union. Domestically, we have the abuse of the powers of the State in the hands of Alan García, who via both corruption and ineptitude leads the country to disastrous hyperinflation, deeply tied to his nationalization of the banks [14]. This coexists with the rise of Shining Path and their terrorist activity. Shining Path does not only destroy the political reputation of the left in the country with its massacres, it also assassinates several key leaders with projects more compatible with Peru’s national realities, such as Maria Elena Moyano.

Thus, 1993 lends itself perfectly well to an ultra-capitalist Pinochet-style constitution. Fujimori and his “self-coup” are well-understood as a clear example that the existing arrangement got in the way of the proper way of doing things. Nobody was in a position to defend the virtues of a good State. So this constitution binds the State, and does not permit it to act as more than a supervisor of business activity. Thus the private sector grows, and the public sector shrinks. For-profit enterprise and non-profit state endeavors are treated identically by the law, stopping the people from competing directly and favorably to force certain outcomes. This is a basic role for any government with any foresight. State intervention in health, education, internet, and public transport establish standards. If this constitution permits the Peruvian State any role, it is under a framework in which it ensures that it will develop a poor reputation, as a woeful alternative to private offerings.

The US shapes its vassals [15] in its own likenness: worship of the “entrepreneur” and the supposed competitive innovation of market agents, complete focus on cars and abandon of public transport, media defined by its vulgarity and cruelty, etc.

Peru is a state where the principal economic activity is the export of natural resources — mining — and we don’t have a state-owned enterprise that develops national talent, or even captures the majority of profits. It’s absurd to imagine China, Norway, or Bolivia abandoning their national destiny to the whims of private companies based in North America, as Peru does with American and Canadian companies.

We must understand that Vizcarra, the interim President whose forced vacancy constitutes the coup d’etat, did not represent a government opposed to these realities. Vizcarra rises to power as vice-president when the president under whom he served is ousted due to his corrupt involvement in the Odebrecht case. And this president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, is a president who, in his capacity as Head of State, goes to Princeton University and, in English, tells an audience of elite students:

Well, you know, the US focuses on areas that cause trouble, right, the Middle East and so on. It does not spend much time on Latin America, which is like a nice dog that’s sleeping on the carpet there, it’s not causing anybody any problems. But in the case of Venezuela it’s a huge problem… [16]

Vizcarra is ousted by gangster and reactionary interests, and evangelical social-conservatives aren’t missing in action. This is why young and progressive people are out in the streets, demanding not the restoration of Vizcarra, but a new constitution.

Anyone from China, even anyone from Europe, would find Peruvians sheepishly following the American model amusing. Many don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, that American wealth — woefully distributed, may I add — was accrued via their looting of our planet. This is a feat Peru will never manage (though some do benefit from the looting of Peru itself).

Every Latin American should be looking for developmental models, analyzing how societies fractured by colonialism such as Vietnam got ahead peacefully, how to defend from Lawfare [17] and economic extortion via sanctions [18], to develop themselves paying serious attention to equity; thus avoiding the destructive results of social inequality that we witness in Perú.

However we only look to gringo nations for example, always underestimating how rotten they are on the inside, believing the myth of the “American Dream” in spite of the fact that its followers are falling apart, while countries that rejected that ideology survived, and begin to show off (especially during COVID-19).

Perhaps someday!

[1] July 2010. What socialism? Private sector still dominates Venezuelan economy despite Chavez crusade. FOX News. [web] 

[2] Joanna Hausmann. April 2019. Lo que las izquierdas progresistas no entienden de Venezuela. New York Times. [web] 

[3] Juan Guaidó. February 2019. Twitter. [web] 

[4] Dan Collyns. September 2019. ‘Murderer of nature’: Evo Morales blamed as Bolivia battles devastating fires. The Guardian. [web] 

[5] Christine Mathias. November 2019. The World Upside Down in Bolivia. Dissent Magazine. [web] 

[6] Michael Baney. November 2020. Twitter. [web] 

[7] Alberto Vergara. November 2020. La democracia peruana agoniza. New York Times. [web] 

[8] November 2020. Peru president’s ouster sparks wave of youth-led protests. Reuters. [web] 

[9] Constitución para la República del Perú. 1979. [web] 

[10] Constitución Política del Perú 1993. 1979. [web] 

[11] Rocío La Rosa. August 2011. Lo positivo y lo negativo de las constituciones del 79 y 93. El Comercio. [web] 

[12] June 2019. La Revolución y la Tierra. [trailer] 

[13] Sam Kriss. July 2017. The One Word Guaranteed to Make the Corporate Pundit Class Squirm. AlterNet. [web] 

[14] Ana Murillo. July 1987. Alan García interviene el sistema bancario y propone su nacionalización en Perú. El País. [web] 

[15] July 2001. CIA gave at least $10 million to Peru’s ex-spymaster Montesinos. The Center for Public Integrity. [web] 

[16] Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. February 2017. Princeton University Alumni Day 2017. [web] 

[17] September 2020. Opposing Lawfare in Latin America. UK Parliament Early Day Motions. [web] 

[18] Max Blumenthal. September 2020. Twitter. Review of Richard M. Nephew’s The Art of Sanctions. [web]