October 13, 2009 -- Socialist Voice -- Peruvian peasant leader Hugo Blanco, who edits the newspaper La Lucha Indigena,
was interviewed on August 28, 2009, in Arequipa, in southern Peru. The
previous day he gave a presentation at a conference entitled “40 Años
de la Reforma Agraria” at the city’s Universidad Nacional de San
You said last night that today the Indigenous peoples of the
Amazon are in the vanguard of the struggle in Peru. Can you say more
The struggle is no longer just to free the land, but to defend the
land against the poisoning taking place at the hands of the mining
companies in the Sierra [mountains], and the oil and gas operations in
the Selva [rainforest] – poisoning the rivers, killing the fish,
killing the birds, and killing the people too. There are still many
struggles in the Sierra – in Cajamarca, in Piura. Just yesterday there
was a struggle in this department [Arequipa] at Islay, where several
people were hurt. But these struggles are scattered, dispersed. In
turn, the amazonicos, despite having 50 different
nationalities and languages, have united – the amazonicos of the north,
the centre the south. The have united to coordinate a democratic and
peaceful struggle. Last year, they had a struggle and won concessions
from the government. Now they are waging another struggle, and the
government has responded with arms. But again, the government was
forced to retreat and overturn these two laws. They have gained another
`Indigenous peoples have been
fighting for eco-socialism
for 500 years' -- Hugo Blanco
This was a peaceful struggle that was treasonously attacked by the
government, but the indigenas captured arms from the police and
defended themselves. So I think this is a lesson – and not just for
Peru, but for the world. Throughout the world, many people are
concerned about the environment – and with good reason, because as the
United Nations has recognised, in another 100 years there could be no
humanity. Due to global warming, provoked by the big corporations,
whose only imperative is to make as much money as possible in as little
time as possible. We can protest, publish articles, but the big
corporations keep doing what they want, defended by the world’s
governments. The way to resist this is the path taken by the amazonicos.
And this struggle is not over. Their leaders are meeting this month
to evaluate the next step. Probably they will not return to the road
blockades they have been carrying for the past months. But they will
not allow the companies to enter their territories. So I say the amazonicos are teaching the Peruvians and all the world how to defend nature and defend the survival of the human species.
But your own heritage is as a leader of the campesino [peasant] struggle …
Yes, we had to struggle. The Spanish came here looking for spices,
but they didn’t find spices, they found gold and silver. But in
agrarian question, they applied the feudal system of Europe – where the
feudal lords had the best lands, and they were worked by the serfs in
exchange for a little piece of land to work for themselves. And this
survived the revolution for independence; nothing changed for the indios.
It was done away with in Mexico with the uprising of Zapata. It was
done away with in [the altiplano of] Bolivia in 1952, with the Bolivian
uprising that year. But here it persisted. In 1962, we began a struggle
to recover the land for those who work it. And when the government
violently attacked us we were obliged to take up arms. But finally the
government was forced to pass an agrarian reform law recognising that
the land belongs to the campesinos.
I was in prison for eight years. They wanted to give me the death
penalty, but thanks to the international solidarity I won, they were
not able to kill me. And it was thanks to that international solidarity
that after eight years I was liberated. So now I feel that my
obligation is to struggle for those who are imprisoned in the struggle
for the Amazon – to fight for them as others fought for me.
Until now, the Amazonian peoples have been very isolated,
and have not been involved in the class struggle in Peru. Do you think
now, with the process of globalisation, they are becoming a part of the
broader social struggle in the nation?
Their struggle is not about class. Their struggle is to defend the
natural environment where they have lived for millennia. But now this
nature – which they regard as their mother – is under attack. The
timber companies cutting the trees, the oil companies poisoning the
rivers – this is what their uprising is against. They do not understand
it as a class struggle. But nonetheless, it is a struggle against the
multinational corporations, which are defended by the government. So we
understand that it is related to the class struggle.
In your 1968 book Tierra o Muerte [Land or Death], there is a lot of the ideology of Trotsky. Are you still a Trotskyist?
This book is a polemical work that I wrote, because we were in
debate against Stalinism, which then took the line of only working
within the law, struggling through the judicial process and so on.
Whereas we took the position that a guerilla movement was necessary for
revolution. So it was a debate between these two positions – the
reformist position and the guerillerista position, which
holds that the people must organise themselves, and when the people
decide that there is no other option but to take up arms, they should
take up arms. But it is the people who must decide, not any group or
So I defended Trotsky because the struggle was against Stalinism. Am
I still a Trotskyist? I’m not sure. In certain senses I am, and in
others I am not. Trotsky believed in defending the revolutionary ideas
of Marx and Lenin against bureaucratic tendencies. He defended world
revolution against the ideas of “socialism in one country” and a
“progressive bourgeoisie” and “revolution by stages” and the other
Stalinist ideas promoted in the name of Marxism-Leninism. So I was
right to be a Trotskyist in this epoch.
One thing Trotsky said which has been vindicated is that if the
working class doesn’t take power from the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy
will be displaced by capitalism. This is what has happened. Today the
principal directors of the Soviet Communist Party are the big
neoliberals in Russia. Trotsky said that either the working class will
triumph, or the bourgeoisie will, that the bureaucracy is not a social
class and has no historical future. Unfortunately, its power was not
broken by the working class, so it was broken by the bourgeoisie.
But now that there is no Stalinism, why do I have to be a
Trotskyist? I don’t feel the same imperative. Of course, there are
things I have learned from Marx, things I have learned from Lenin,
things I have learned from Trotsky – and from other revolutionaries,
from Rosa Luxemburg, from Antonio Gramsci, from Che Guevara. But now I do not
feel it is logical to form a Trotskyist party.
The youth who organised the conference yesterday – they want answers to the questions of today.
We don’t have to resuscitate old debates from the last century. It is
enough to still believe that another world is possible. I am old, and
if I can teach something about Marx, Lenin and Trotsky and so on, this
is something I can contribute. I still believe in standing up and
struggling and not pleading with the government, so in this sense I am
still a Trotskyist. But I don’t feel the need to say, “Listen
everybody, this Trotskyism is the answer!”
And when I speak of the indigenas of the Amazon as the
vanguard, I do not mean it in the Marxist-Leninist sense, that others
should copy their methods. And when I speak to Indigenous peoples, I
speak of “collectivism” not “communism.”
You are perhaps best remembered in Peru as a guerilla
fighter, although this was just one brief period of your life. What is
your view of armed struggle in the current situation?
I think the amazonicos are teaching us that struggles need
to be massive and peaceful – but if we are attacked, we have the right to
defend ourselves. At the blockades, the amazonicos are armed
with their spears and bows and arrows and blowguns. But they only use
them to defend themselves and their territory from those who invade
their territory. If you are attacked with arms, you have the right to
defend youself with arms.
For instance, I do not agree with Sendero Luminoso – and neither
with those who believe in taking power by elections. Whether by arms or
by elections, both are struggling to take power. In this sense, I am a
Zapatista. I do not believe in struggling to take power, but to build
it. The villages in the Sierra that are standing up to the mining
companies are building power. The indigenas in the Selva who are now
controlling their own territory are building power.
But when the people feel they have to defend themselves with arms,
they have the right to take this decision. The rightists in Santa Cruz,
in Bolivia, do not want to let the people govern, and meet their
peaceful struggle with bullets; so the people have the right to meet
this force with bullets, to defend democracy with bullets.
You say that there is a new `industrial latifundio' emerging today.
That’s right. Big companies of industrial scale on the coast,
tremendously exploiting the agricultural proletariat, the majority of
which is not unionised. They get no vacation, they have no social
security. And these industries use agro-chemicals that kill the soil.
And it is all for export to the United States, it is not for internal
So this new new `industrial latifundio' is of both agriculture and mining?
Of course – agriculture, mining, oil, timber. All of this is preying
on the natural environment. A new agrarian reform is needed to do away
with these predatory corporations.
Now nearly every government in South America, except Peru and
Colombia, has gone over to the left to one degree or another. What is
your perspective on this phenomenon?
Well, the struggle must continue, no? Like the struggle against the
coup in Honduras, the struggle against the mining companies in the
Sierra, the oil companies in the Amazon. Probably in the next elections
here in Peru, another servant of neoliberalism will win. But what
interests me are the social struggles, which must continue under any
What do you think of the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia
and Ecuador? You said last night that you consider these to be `governments of transition'.
Yes, of course. Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Ecuador's Correa and Bolivia's Evo Morales are very good
sometimes, with their discourse against the empire. But we still cannot
say that these are governments of the people of below [gente de abajo].
For example, Chávez wants the entire workers’ movement to be an
instrument of his government. But the movement must remain independent
and take its own positions. So in this I am not in agreement with him.
And for this reason, I have not been invited to Venezuela! [Laughs]
I do not like the compromises that were made in the referendum
following the constituent assembly in Bolivia, where they decided that
5000 hectares constitutes a latifundio. To speak of this in Peru would
be considered scandalous. This was a compromise with the reactionary
governments of the Media Luna.
And when Santa Cruz held its referendum on independence, Morales
said, ``All the the people of Bolivia should mobilise to Santa Cruz and
block this illegality''. The Bolivian people were advancing, but then
Morales said, ``Oh no, better not to go''. The campesinos were ready to
block the roads; Morales said, ``No, please don’t block the roads''.
These breaks on the social movements remind me of the breaks applied
by Salvador Allende in Chile that facilitated the pinochetazo. These breaks
indicate counter-revolutionary attitudes. I oppose this. But these
attitudes do not mean the government of Bolivia is
counter-revolutionary – no! The Indigenous councils that are being
organised and so on – these are advances. But it is still not a full
So when you say `governments of transition', you mean transition towards what?
A government of all the people. Towards “Good Government Juntas” [councils] in Bolivia and Ecuador and Venezuela!
This is a reference to the governing bodies of the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas. So you see the Zapatista movement as a model?
I completely support the Zapatista movement; that appears to me the
correct path. They represent an example of the kind of society that we
want to build in the future. They represent an example of government
that is accountable to the people. If one of the Indigenous leaders in
the Good Government Juntas is not functioning well, he can be recalled
at any time. And the Zapatista National Liberation Army doesn’t govern
in their territory. It ensures that the Mexican national army doesn’t
molest the people. The Good Government Juntas govern, providing
education and so on, without one centavo from the government.
And they wanted this system constitutionally recognised through the
San Andres Accords, and when this was rejected by the Mexican congress
in favour of the government’s proposal, they declared all the political
parties of Mexico to be traitors, and they participate in no elections.
Instead, during the presidential race [in 2006], they held the Other
Campaign, and travelled throughout the country asking people what
problems they had, and how can we confront them. Not putting forth a
line, but coordinating with the people.
And they are also doing this at the international level. For
example, the people from New York who are trying to save their homes,
also participated in the Other Campaign. This year, at the Festival of
Dignified Rage that was held in Zapatista territory, they showed a
video from this group.
Yes, the Movement for Justice in El Barrio. You went to Mexico for this meeting?
Yes. This appears to me the correct way of building power.
Well, there have been criticisms on the Mexican left that
the Zapatistas’ ethic of refusing to participate in elections has
allowed the right to win.
Yes, but all the parties are trying to trick the people. Elections
are not the way to build power. The communities in the Sierra that are
confronting the mining companies, and the peoples in the Amazon who are
standing up to the oil companies – they are building power, like the
You said last night that in the 1960s you were struggling for
a more just society, but today it is a more grave issue – the survival of
the human race.
That’s right. The amazonicos are struggling against global
warming. If you ask them, they will say they are struggling to defend
their territories. But in effect, they are struggling against global
warming too. Indigenous peoples have been fighting for eco-socialism
for 500 years.
[This article appeared in Socialist Voice's LeftViews. This article is excerpted from a longer interview which appeared in World War 4 Report.]