Elite power and political capture

21 May 2017

Reviewed by Natalia Sobrevilla

On 19 May, John Crabtree and Francisco Durand presented their latest book at the UCL Institute of the Americas in London (‘Peru: Elite Power and Political Capture’, Zed Books, £19.99. In the United States and Canada, the book is distributed by the University of Chicago Press). In their presentation they spoke of having written the book in an attempt to understand how, over recent decades, economic elites have managed to build such a strong consensus around the way the economy should be run that Peru was effectively immune to the so-called ‘pink tide’ experienced elsewhere in Latin America. The book seeks to unravel the puzzle of why the ‘gran transformación’ promised by Ollanta Humala on his election in 2011 was never really possible, and how the economy has since operated on what is known as ‘auto-pilot mode’.

One of the prominent things that emerged from this research is the way in which elites have chosen not to exercise power directly, being content with controlling economic policy. Able technocrats have been appointed to run the relevant ministries (notably those of economy, mining and foreign trade) as well as the central bank. The first of these has become a ‘super ministry’ where most of the important decisions are taken.

The commodity boom has turned the economy into one based on extractive industry, with this leading to increased conflict with local populations which feel unrepresented and fear for their livelihoods. The left, meanwhile, has fragmented and proved unable to organise this discontent or create a viable alternative. At the same time, party system reform has only led to further deterioration in channels of representation. The concept of elite capture of politics thus becomes a very useful lens through which to view and understand where Peru finds itself now.

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