Kelly on García-Bryce, 'Haya de la Torre and the Pursuit of Power in Twentieth-Century Peru and Latin America'

Iñigo García-Bryce
William Kelly

Iñigo García-Bryce. Haya de la Torre and the Pursuit of Power in Twentieth-Century Peru and Latin America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018. Illustrations. 278 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-4696-3657-3; $90.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4696-3655-9.

Reviewed by William Kelly (Morehouse College) Published on H-LatAm (November, 2019) Commissioned by Casey M. Lurtz (Johns Hopkins University)

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Iñigo García-Bryce’s critical analysis of how Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre and his philosophy affected the twentieth-century revolutionary ferment in Latin America in general and in Peru in particular is a flawed but useful study. García-Bryce shows how Haya and his philosophies are excellent analytical windows into the region’s revolutionary ideas and movements even as he changed from a young continentalist firebrand to an old nationalist politician. Haya’s political maturation—or betrayal, depending on the perspective—is adroitly tied to new international conditions (like the Cold War) and the changing domestic environment (like the evolution of a right-wing dictatorship), which caused the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana's (APRA) political and populistic alliances to shift and crack. García-Bryce is primarily concerned with how Haya adapted to these constant changes and how his personal ideological changes reflected broader regional ideas.

The bulk of chapter 1 is concerned with Haya’s intellectual formation. García-Bryce shows how Haya’s influences, ranging from Protestant missionaries to Soviet Marxists to English intellectuals, resulted in new and unique theories of Marxism that were tailored to the Latin American experience. Haya was a continentalist who argued that Latin Americans needed Latin American examples; to that end, he saw the Mexican Revolution as a crucial exemplar and sought to import its key ideas to Peru. Crucially important to this study is the notion that Haya was the one member of APRA who was indispensable; that is, without Haya, there was no APRA. Thus, Haya is both the most important aspect of APRA’s populistic success and the primary reason for the party’s electoral failures. García-Bryce returns to this theme time and again throughout the book and eventually ties it to Latin America’s caudillo traditions. Chapter 2 builds on some of these ideas and stresses Haya’s changing political views, especially his move away from revolutionary violence. A second focus is the party’s quixotic attempt to bring the military on-side in the quest for political legitimacy and power. Still, APRA was sidelined for significant periods of time (1934-45 and 1956-68), which meant that Haya was almost always on the outside looking in. Admirably, García-Bryce’s analysis both lauds Haya’s pragmatism and critiques his failures.

Chapter 3 examines Haya’s relationship with the United States. In the main, Haya tried to get close to influential political and cultural figures in that country, but he also “remained a critic of what he saw as the United States’ double standard when it came to democracy in Latin America” (p. 93). Once again, García-Bryce takes great pains to note that Haya was never a starry-eyed romantic; while his speeches were often filled with soaring rhetoric, he was also always willing to compromise to achieve power. This ability to compromise—or, seen another way, Haya’s willingness to walk back stated revolutionary goals—is one of the most important insights of this study. Given how well García-Bryce has researched this point, it should be possible to use the same methods to study other regional leaders. Chapter 4 brings into focus how Haya’s domination of the party—he was the only person ever to hold the title of jefe—was both a good and bad thing for APRA. García-Bryce adroitly ties APRA’s organization to the fascist and communist examples Haya saw while exiled in Europe in the 1930s; by the time he returned to Peru, Haya understood how cults of personality worked and put those ideas into effect. Haya’s influence on the modern version of APRA is still apparent because he is still idolized. In bringing the various myths of Haya to the forefront in this chapter, García-Bryce demonstrates the man’s enduring legacy.

Chapter 5 is the study’s weakest despite its interesting and necessary topic. Its analysis of women in APRA focuses on Magda Portal, one of the few women in the party’s leadership, and attempts to extrapolate evidence from her experience. Portal offers a useful lens, in part because she was one of the few people within APRA to directly challenge Haya’s ideas and leadership on multiple occasions. At the same time, what feminism meant to Portal was not what it meant to other revolutionary women, though it is clear that in all cases their version of feminism was colored by their experience as revolutionaries. García-Bryce ties all of this to Haya by showing how he actively sidelined Aprista women as he got older and more conservative. In the end, this chapter feels incomplete, but it does offer a good starting point to a deeper study in this area.

More critically, despite regular reference back to the central thesis that Haya was a significant influence on Latin American revolutionaries in the twentieth century, the study feels like reading five separate essays rather than one integrated book. That is, chapter-specific themes feel only loosely connected as each chapter moves back and forth in time; sometimes the only connecting element is Haya himself. The end result is that the study feels like five separate locomotives rather than one locomotive pulling four cars. On a smaller scale, anecdotes and phrasing are repeated throughout. For example, the opening paragraphs of chapter 1 and chapter 2 are almost identical, while the phrasing describing Haya’s arrival in Callao in 1931 is duplicated in chapter 4. Another undercooked aspect of this book is the discussion of Haya’s alleged homosexuality. García-Bryce mentions the rumors in every chapter but never devotes space to an extended discussion, perhaps owing to a paucity of sources. But that organization reinforces the notion of reading five separate essays. While none of these undermine the overarching argument, they are distracting.

In the final analysis, García-Bryce has crafted an excellent analysis of Haya’s time and place. He situates the man and his politics within the larger Latin American twentieth century and shows how the various revolutionary movements worked with and learned from each. Most important, he shows the limits of Haya’s ideas in Peru and in Latin America. This is the real value of the study.

Citation: William Kelly. Review of García-Bryce, Iñigo, Haya de la Torre and the Pursuit of Power in Twentieth-Century Peru and Latin America. H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews. November, 2019. URL:

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