Ugly Stories of the Peruvian Agrarian Reform

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Ugly Stories of the Peruvian Agrarian Reform
By Enrique Mayer
Duke University Press, 2009
328 pp. $23.95
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For centuries, in Peru, as elsewhere in Latin America, wealthy hacendados ruled with iron authority from their large estates while humble indigenous peasants kept their gazes fixed on the ground beneath their feet. This all changed in 1968, when the Peruvian military seized power, swiftly expropriated these estates, and converted them into agrarian cooperatives. Mayer, a Yale anthropologist of Peruvian ancestry, witnessed the agrarian reform firsthand and returned in the 1990s to plumb the memories of the participants: displaced landowners and their offspring, aging revolutionary peasants, and former union leaders. Their heart-wrenching stories express the shocks and thrills of mass social change -- and the inevitable disillusionments that set in as utopian dreams run into hard realities. Paradoxically, Mayer found that most of his interviewees were materially much better off than before the reform -- not only the peasant beneficiaries but also many of the expropriated landlords, who had become urban businesspeople, and the political activists, who now work for nongovernmental organizations on sustainable development.