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Peruvian peasant movements: La Convención valley





Traditionally, the Peruvian countryside was owned by landowners on whose land Native American peasants worked, living in villages whose own land was not enough to live on. This has been the case ever since the Spaniards took power in the 16th century.
So also in the Convención valley near Cuzco, where, however, the small farmers had been cultivating coffee, a crop they could get decently paid for. However, they have to work for free for the landlord who could also evict them if he wanted to.

The coffee growers in the Convención Valley were the first Peruvian farmers to take up the fight in a modern way, with a union they formed in 1958, with moderate demands: that the landowner would give a receipt for hours worked, that the farmers would be paid for improvements they made if evicted, that the landowner would provide tools when the farmers worked on the landowner’s land.

Both small farmers who leased their land directly from the landowners and the even smaller small farmers who leased land secondarily from other small farmers participated in this trade union.

The landowners responded by trying to get rid of the union activists who immediately responded with a strike at harvest time. That tactic was so effective that it spread, and in order to prevent a general peasant uprising, the government banned conscripted labour in 1962.

This, of course, encouraged the farmers in nearby valleys who began to occupy estates. The government responded with a mixture of repression and concessions. Eventually, strikes and land occupations became so widespread (albeit completely uncoordinated) that landowners began to give up and persuade the government to give them money for the land instead of maintaining the old order. In 1968, a general land reform was issued. The peasants got their land but on the condition that they sold cheaply and bought expensively from the state and accepted interference in their lives from state bureaucrats, according to the usual development policy pattern.

Jeffrey Paige: Agrarian revolution, The Free Press 1975




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