Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre

Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre
Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre
A prominent Peruvian political activist and the man who won the 1931 and 1962 Peruvian presidential elections, Haya de la Torre was the founder of the Aprista Party, which has been in the forefront of radical dissent in Peru since 1924.

He wanted greater rights— political and economic—for the indigenous Indians of Latin America and an end to the power of the Spanish oligarchies that controlled many of the countries, as well as an end to the domination of the economies of Latin American countries by foreign businesses.

Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre was born on February 22, 1895, at Trujillo, in the north of Peru, the son of wealthy parents descended from conquistadores. As a teenager, Haya de la Torre learned to read and speak French and German and became interested in Nietzsche. He then proceeded to the University of Trujillo, where he studied literature and became a close friend of the Peruvian poet César Vallejo.

He studied at the National University of San Marcos in Lima. While at San Marcos he was involved in the University Reform Movement, which had spread from Argentina, where he had spent some time studying. This was aimed at expanding the university to allow poorer people to attend.

Haya de la Torre was instrumental in the founding of the Universidades Populares Gonzalez Prada, which were night schools for workers.

Haya de la Torre was heavily influenced by three things: a visit to Cuzco, where he saw many Indians being badly treated; his student days at the University of Córdoba in Argentina; and the Mexican Revolution. He was a student leader and in 1923 led a protest against the dedication of Peru to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The idea had been suggested by the president, Augusto B. Leguía, and was unpopular with many people. The protests rocked Peru for three days, after which the archbishop of Lima suggested that Leguía withdraw his idea, which he did. However, Haya de la Torre had become nationally famous overnight, and he was arrested and then deported.

Haya de la Torre went into exile in Mexico City, where on May 7, 1924, he founded the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (APRA Popular Revolutionary American Party). It advocated Latin American unity, support for the indigenous Indian population, and the nationalization of foreign-owned businesses, especially those owned by U.S., British, and European interests, a doctrine now widely known as Aprismo. When Leguía was overthrown in 1930, Haya de la Torre was in Berlin.

His supporters nominated him as a candidate for the forthcoming presidential elections, and when he returned to Lima he was greeted by the biggest crowd that had gathered in Peru up to that point. He won the elections, defeating Colonel Luis M. Sánchez Cerro, who had the support of the oligarchy, the church, and the army.

Fraud saw Sánchez Cerro declared the winner, and in February 1932 Haya de la Torre was arrested and thrown into jail without trial. He was held in prison for a total of 14 months. Sánchez Cerro was assassinated on April 30, 1933, and Haya de la Torre was released from prison.

From 1936 until 1945 Haya de la Torre was essentially a semifugitive, being sought by the police for various reasons. However, he was available to meet foreign journalists, and U.S. writer John Gunther had no trouble organizing three interviews with him.

In 1945 APRA changed its name to the Partido del Pueblo ("People's Party") and declared its support for José Luis Bustamante y Rivero in the presidential elections. Bustamante won the elections with Haya de la Torre as the real power broker. It was, however, not an alliance that lasted for long.

In 1947 Bustamante banned the Partido del Pueblo, which had been riven by disputes from members in Callao, and in October 1948 he imposed martial law to rule by decree. On October 28, 1948, Bustamante was overthrown in a political coup d'état, and Haya de la Torre was forced to take refuge in the Colombian embassy, where he remained until 1954.

In June 1962 another presidential election was held, and Haya de la Torre narrowly defeated Fernando Belaúnde Terry. Belaúnde claimed that the election victory had been achieved by fraud, and the military under President Pérez Godoy seized power and annulled the entire election. New elections were held in June 1963, and Belaúnde won.

However, in October 1968 Belaúnde was himself overthrown. All political parties were banned until 1978, when a new constituent assembly was elected to write a new constitution. Haya de la Torre was the president of that assembly and signed the new constitution from his bed, unable to leave it owing to illness. He was then adopted as the APRA's candidate for the 1980 presidential elections but died on August 2, 1979, in Lima.