Peru In Deep Trouble: Mario Vargas Llosa's “Inquest in the Andes” Reexamined

Peer Reviewed

Essay Excerpt

Anthropological testimony is usually based on protracted periods of fieldwork to permit long interactions in diverse contexts with people. In this case, fieldwork lasted half a day. More information on Uchuraccay comes from the school teacher Alejandrinade la Cruz than from the comuneros. The transcribed tapes of the inquest, which contain statements made by the comuneros, were not made available to Judge Ventura Huayhuauntil his court had talked to Vargas Llosa, and when they were delivered to him, he dismissed them (Caretas 1984c). Throughout the trials, the performance of the defense lawyers was so inept or uninteresting to the press that I have not been able to find one statement that, in some way, would represent the voice of the comuneros of Uchuraccay. During the trials, translation was only one-way, from Quechuato Spanish, and only when Spanish monolingual court officials wanted to ask questions of Quechua monolinguals. The accused comuneros never even understood the court proceedings.

In this, too, certain aspects of official Peru strongly reaffirmed themselves again. Comuneros, though citizens of this country, rarely have a voice or even personality of their own. It is time to provide them with the means to exercise their right to freedom of expression in their own terms, no matter how anthropologically legitimated or literary their interpreters and mediators may be. (Mayer, 491) 

About the Author

Born in the highlands of Peru to Jewish immigrant parents who had fled Nazi Germany, Enrique Mayer completed his college education at the London School of Economics and received his doctorate from Cornell University. His professional career as a university teacher began at the Pontificia Universidad Católica in Lima, Peru. He later moved to Mexico City, where he took charge of the Department of Anthropological Research at the Inter American Indian Institute. In 1982 he joined the faculty of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a joint appointment in the Department of Anthropology and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. In 1995, he became a member of the Anthropology Department at Yale University.

Professor Mayer specializes in Andean agricultural systems and Latin American peasantries. His work has shown that regions characterized by diversity (such as mountainous environments, small islands, and "marginal" lands), not suitable for agribusiness, are exploited by peasants in strikingly similar ways. Worldwide, peasant forms of production predominate and persist in these environments. These agricultural systems are important to those concerned about world genetic resources, or about environmental conservation, and to scholars who seek an understanding of ancient and yet also very contemporary Non Western rural life-ways. He is currently collecting "ugly" stories about the agrarian reform in Peru (1969), finding that most people, although they benefited from it, nonetheless feel victimized and regard the reform as a failure. He is also the author of The Articulated Peasant: Household Economies in the Andes (2001).

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