Skip to main content Accessibility help

Notes on the “Junta Phenomenon” and the “Military Regime” In Latin America With Special Reference to Peru, 1968-1972*

  • Frederick M. Nunn (a1)


“Long before other organs of the state or private enterprise, the Army began to exercise effective influence on the progress of modernization and development of the country.”

Edgardo Mercado Jarrín, 1964

“What is the principal objective of the national census?” the uniformed colonels asked. From groups of primary and secondary school-teachers assembled for orientation purposes in preparation for Peru's first complete census in decades, that question evoked a number of reasoned responses during the weeks prior to census day, Sunday, June 4,1972.



Hide All

A version of this essay was presented in a session devoted to “The Junta Phenomenon,” Pacific Coast Branch, American Historical Association, August 1972, University of California, Santa Barbara.



Hide All

1 This anecdote was related to the writer by a mathematics teacher who responded to the question by stating that the census was important in the preparation of the national budget.

2 The presence of extensive petroleum fields in northeastern Peru has caused some Peruvian military leaders to advocate further colonization and fortification of Peruvian Amazonia.

3 In comparison, say, with similar, but not identical characteristics in Argentina and Brazil.

4 Elsewhere I have stated that, “Military professionalism is a state, a condition. . . . Professional militarism is not a state or condition, but a set of attitudes toward state, nation and society based on the military ethos.” See my “Military Professionalism and Professional Militarism in Brazil, 1870–1970: Historical Perspectives and Political Implications,” Journal of Latin American Studies, IV, I (May 1972), 30–31. On the same subject in Chile see my “Emil Körner and the Prussianization of the Chilean Army: Origins, Process and Consequences, 1885–1920,” Hispanic American Historical Review, L, 2 (May, 1970), 300–22.

5 Junta may be used to denote the pre-golpe, secret lodge, clique or ad-hoc group that plans or engineers a golpe. For example the Chilean Sociedad del Ejército de Regeneración (SER) and Junta Militar of 1919 and 1924, the Comité Revolucionario of 1925, the PUMA and Linea Recta of the 1950’s; the Argentine Grupo de Oficiales Unidos (GOU) of 1943, and the latter day Sol de Mayo of 1955, Dragón Verde and Martillo y Pistón; the Bolivian Razón de Patria (RADEPA) of the early 1940’s; and the Venezuelan Unión Patriótica Militar (UPM) of the mid 1940’s.

6 Knebel, Fletcher and Bailey, Charles W. II, Seven Days in May (New York, 1962). Emphasis mine.

7 To cite a few examples: Chile in 1924, 1932; Argentina in 1930, 1943–46, 1955–58, 1962, 1966; Brazil in 1930, 1945, 1954, 1964; Bolivia in 1951, 1964, et seq.; Venezuela in 1948; Colombia in 1953,1957; Peru in 1930,1948,1962.

8 For example, Bolivia in 1943, 1952; Venezuela in 1945,1958; Peru in 1914,1930–31.

9 As of late 1972, depending on the criteria utilized, only Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Colombia and Chile can strictly be excluded from the list of so-called “military regimes” or “military-supported regimes.” Some might even say that Chile, Colombia and Venezuela did not belong there.

10 In Peru the regime consists of: 1) a Junta Militar de Gobierno composed of the President of the Republic and the Ministers of War, Navy and Air Force; and 2) the Cabinet which includes the Junta Ministers and other ministers, all generals. Policy decisions based on infusions of information, research and legislative proposals from the ministries or the president’s advisory council (COAP, composed of generals and colonels) must receive endorsement by the Junta. Thus, while it does not govern, the Junta has veto power on policy. The fact that regulatory agencies, investigative and research groups, government corporations and agencies, and reform programs are administered by officers expands the junta concept, but maintains decision-making and governance within a militaristic framework. On this point see Ibáñez O’Brien, Lieutenant Colonel Gastón, “Commando y delgación de autoridad y responsabilidad,” Revista de la Escuela Superior de Guerra, (RESG),10,2 (April-May-June, 1963),926.

11 As early as 1904, for example, some officers saw themselves as educators as well as defenders. For an uneducated army was worth nothing in the field. See Velarde Alvarez, Lieutenant Colonel Gabriel, “Instrucción civil del soldado,” Boletín del Ministerio de Guerra y Marina(BMGM), 1, 7 (October, 1904), 843–45. The BMGM is a forerunner of the Revista Militar del Perú (RMP). Writing in four issues of the BMGM in 1919 Lieutenant Colonel Manuel C. Márquez emphasized the army’s usefulness in colonization of remote frontier areas. See BMGM, XVI, 5–10 (May-October, 1919). Military life was the best, least expensive and most efficient way to civilize, educate and discipline Peru’s indigenous and lower class population, believed Garcia, Lieutenant Paz in his, “El cuartel y la redención del indio,” Revista del Circulo Militar del Perú (RCMP), another forerunner to RMP),23, 4 (April 1926), 385–94. These themes received more sophisticated treatment in Moria Concha, Lieutenant Colonel Manual, “La función social del ejército peruano en la organización de la nacionalidad,” RMP, 30, 10 (October, 1933), 843872; and in Vargas, Colonel Jorge, “Charla sobre el ejército,” RMP. 21, I (January, 1934), 103–10.

12 See Supra. The ultimate basis of military thought expressed in the materials cited in Note 11 is, of course, national defense and internal security. For later articles dealing with changing concepts of national defense in the post W W II era see, Sánchez Marín, Major Víctor, “El departamento de movilización integral de la nación, elemento básico del ministerio de defensa nacional,” RESG, 2, 3 (July-August-September, 1955), 3053; “Programa de desarrollo nacional y regional para el Perú,” (the digest of a study prepared for the second administration of Manuel Prado y Ugarteche, 1956–62, by Arthur D. Little, Inc., published as, A Program for the Industrial and Regional Development of Peru: A Report to the Government of Peru, Cambridge, Mass, 1960), RESG, VIII, 2 (April-May-June, 1961), 7–38; Morales Bermúdez, Colonel Francisco, “Pensamiento estratégico,” RESG, 10, 1 (January-February-March, 1963), 712 ; Urbina Abanto, Colonel Napoleón, “La regionalización del país y el desarrollo económico nacional,” RESG, 14, 1 (January-February-March, 1967), 713 ; Bobbio Centurión, Lieutenant Colonel Carlos¿Que ejército necesita el Perú?,” RMP, 58, 675 (March-April, 1963), 132–36; and the classic, Mercado Jarrín, Colonel Edgardo, “El ejército de hoy y su proyección en nuestra sociedad en período de transición,” RMP, 59, 685. (November December, 1964), 120.

13 Forty-five different military men have governed Peru for 80 of the first 150 years of independence. Twenty-five civilians have governed for the remaining 70 years.

14 President Juan Velasco Alvarado did not mention the possibility. The question was never raised in press conferences or in the news media. The government simply did not contemplate the possibility seriously.

15 Should Velasco (who retired from active duty in 1968) indeed have stepped down, he probably would have been replaced by “promoting” the senior general to the presidency. Succession, therefore, would be based on seniority in the army roster, or escalafón, not necessarily on who was the “swingman,” “peacemaker” or the “most acceptable to all.” Until the end of 1972 the senior general was Ernesto Montagne Sánchez, the War Minister, who was the regime’s leading conservative, slated for retirement from active duty at the end of the year, thus making him a prime candidate. But Velasco did not step down. The retired Montagne was succeeded in War, and as Premier by General Mercado, usually regarded as the regime’s leading intellectual and since 1968, at least, a zealous nationalist. Then when Velasco suffered from an abdominal aneurism and had his right leg amputated in March 1973, Mercado, as Premier, took on a number of additional duties. A break in this hierarchic pattern—a pattern followed in other cabinet level appointments since 1968—would indicate dissension within the “expanded junta.”

16 For example, with the creation of the National System for Social Mobilization (Sistema Nacional de Movilización Social, or SINAMOS), the directorship and regional administration was turned over to officers. At the regional level the administrators are the regional army commanders. This is a prime example of the military ethos at work in a socio-political situation. General Leónidas Rodríguez Figueroa, former Armored Division commander, is the Director of SINAMOS. Despite official denials, SINAMOS, conceived as an official system for channelling efforts of labor, the agrarian sector, parties, community development, industrialization—in short the entire reform program—appears to be the awkward genesis of an official party organization. But cf. the interview with General Rodríguez in Caretas, March 28-April 6, 1972.

17 Representatives of all reformist positions are functioning in advisory duties to the government. Leading members of Acción Popular, the shattered Belaúnde party, Apristas, Christian Democrats, and even some Communists serve the regime either as presidential appointees or through COAP and SINAMOS.

18 Through the offices of the National Office of Information (ONI) or in the official daily, El Peruano, speeches, laws, decrees are available in inexpensive editions. The regime is termed, “The Revolutionary government of the Armed Forces.” Quechua terms are frequently employed as slogans. The national revolutionary hero is Tupac Amaru II (José Gabriel Condorcanqui Noguera) who led the Indian revolt of 1780–81 against viceregal authority. An overworked slogan in Spanish is “Fuerzas Armadas y Pueblo Unidos.” Frequent harsh criticism is directed against political parties, free enterprise, foreign investors and previous regimes. These criticisms gain much popular support.

19 As stated above, virtually all the reform policies mesh nicely with national defense. Hence economic self-sufficiency, total sovereignty, confiscation and nationalization, and import substitution—if only in the interests of national defense—have earned popular support.

20 See notes 11 and 12 for examples.

21 See General Enrique Indacochea Galarreta, “El centro de altos estudios militares en Francia,” RMP, LVI, 661 (November-December, 1960), 29–34. As early as 1909, Foch, as Director of the Ecole Supérieure de Guerre held advanced courses in strategy, mobilization, joint command and national priorities for outstanding staff officers. Joffre officially chartered the “School of the Marshalls” in 1911. Cut short by W W I, it began anew following the cessation of hostilities, with a number of civilian students and instructors and an expanded curriculum. On the Peruvian CAEM see especially, General Morzán, Carlos Giral, Discuso pronunciado por el director del c.a.e.m. con motivo de la conmemoración del XV aniversario de la creación del caem, (Chorrillos, 1965).

22 On the historical development of the military profession in Peru see, Villanueva’s, Victor El militarismo en el Peru (Lima, 1962); ¿Nueva mentalidad militar en el Perú?, (Buenos Aires, 1969); 100 años del ejército peruano: Frustraciones y cambios and EL CAEM y la revolución militar de la fuerza armada (both Lima, 1972). In English the works of Einaudi, Luigi, The Peruvian Military: A Summary Political Analysis (Santa Monica, Calif., 1969); Peruvian Military Relations with the United States (Santa Monica, Calif., 1970); (with Stepan, Alfred C. III) Latin American Institutional Development: Changing Military Perspectives in Peru and Brazil (Santa Monica, 1971); and U.S. Relations with the Peruvian Military,” in Sharp, Daniel A., ed., U.S. Foreign Policy and Peru (Austin, Tex., 1972) 1556. See also the informative, McAlister, Lyle N., Maingot, Anthony P. and Potash, Robert A., The Military in Latin American Sociopolitical Evolution: Four Case Studies (Washington, D.C., 1970). In this work McAlister has a solid essay on Peru.

23 Since 1914 the army has been directly involved or represented in seventeen changes of government. On only one occasion, the election of Jose Luis Bustamante y Rivero in 1945, has power passed from civilian to civilian without military participation.

24 But cf. Einaudi, , The Peruvian Military, 1112 ; wherein he states that military hostility towards APRA is simply that towards “another unreliable political party.”

25 Same, 4–6, and Villaneuva, , Nueva Mentalidad, 232265.

26 The work done by Einaudi and Villanueva makes it clear that the army officer class has not been tied to the oligarchy at any time in this century, although individual officers may be. With few exceptions upper class civilians do not consider officers as real gentlemen.

27 There is a large body of military literature in the pre-W W II years which is derived from French influences and sources. After 1945 French influence is still prominent, particularly in the fields of counter-insurgency, the military’s social function, and internal security. French activities in Algeria received much attention in the RMP and RESG. For the last 70 years the most often cited (and plagiarized) French military source in Peru is Lyautey’s, HubertDu rôle social de l’officier,” Revue des deux mondes (March 15, 1891), 433–59.

28 Professionalism to the Chilean army officer (with a few exceptions) means non-participation in political matters. Only if there occurs a blatant violation of the Constitution by the civilian powers could the officer corps in that country be expected to interfere in the conduct of national affairs.

29 Both Einaudi and Villanueva comment on this in their works. APRA, since the aborted golpe attempt of 1948, has become increasingly conservative in its ideology.

30 Businessmen, for example, grumble about the government’s arbitrariness in labor and industrial reforms. One of Peru’s leading young executives was quite impressed with the nationalism of the Velasco regime in 1970. Two years later he was happy to accept a promotion in Mexico, and told me that he might not have been so generous in his support for the regime (in papers, lectures and speeches), had he realized what was coming. His remarks were not for attribution.

31 See my “Effects of European Military Training in Latin America: The Origins and Nature of Professional Militarism in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru, 1890–1940” (in press, Military Affairs).

32 This remark is based on my own examination of Peruvian military literature. See for example, the November 1946 issue (XXI, 251) of the Revista de la Escuela Militar de Chorrillos (REMCh), which devoted nearly all its pages to lauding the French for their work in Peru.

33 On CAEM, see the new Villanueva work cited in Note 22.

34 While I believe there is a continuity in Peruvian military thought on national problems in this century, one need only contrast materials on the same themes, the military as an educational institution for the masses, say, from the 1920’s and 1930’s with some from the 1960’s to grasp the changes in application of that thought.

35 Oscar Benavides (president, 1914–15) and Luis Miguel Sánchez Cerro (president, 1931–32).

36 This comment is based on material in RMP articles published between 1910 and 1935.

37 See Petras, James and Rimensnyder, Nelson, “The Military and the Modernization of Peru,” in Petras, , ed., Politics and Social Structure in Latin America (New York and London, 1970), 132–33, 152–53.

* A version of this essay was presented in a session devoted to “The Junta Phenomenon,” Pacific Coast Branch, American Historical Association, August 1972, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Notes on the “Junta Phenomenon” and the “Military Regime” In Latin America With Special Reference to Peru, 1968-1972*

  • Frederick M. Nunn (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed