APRA: how the mighty are fallen

24 September 2017

APRA, the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance, last week celebrated the eighty-seventh anniversary of its founding as a political party. But today’s party is a pale reflection of what the party used to stand for. Far from being ‘popular’ and ‘revolutionary’, or even ‘American’, it has become a narrow, conservative clique with scant support in society.

Although its original foundation dates from 1927 in Mexico, it was only officially established in Peru in September 1930. It was founded by the formidable and charismatic Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, and was one of a number of leftist, populist parties to emerge in Latin America in the 1930s and 1940s, including the Mexican PRI, the Argentine Peronist party, and the Bolivian MNR. It looked to mobilise the excluded masses and to overthrow the elitist regimes which had ruled Peru previously, spearheading important policies like land reform. It gained a strong presence in both rural and urban labour movements.

Largely because of its radical language and sometimes conspiratorial style, APRA was bitterly resisted by the Peruvian elite and military, suffering long periods of repression and exile. Its leftist orientation fell victim to political opportunism, and it ended up supporting right-wing governments like that of General Odría in the 1950s in the anti-communist crusades of the time.

Today, it is but a shadow of its former self, reduced to just five seats in Congress, having lost most of its organised support in the country. Its leaders find themselves beholden to the pro-Fujimori majority in Congress in its attacks on the Kuczynski government. Any vestiges of its once reformist ideology appear to have vanished into the political ether.

The reasons for the party’s demise are several, but Alan García, the only Aprista ever to reach the presidency (and twice), must take a large part of the blame. His second administration (2006-11) saw the party abandon any pretence of following a progressive path in favour of stalwart support for privatisation and neoliberalism. Its once strong nationalism gave way to support for globalisation and a free trade agreement with the United States. And García regarded the party as little more than an electoral vehicle to project his own political ambitions. Its organised support in society has largely atrophied.

García currently manages what remains of the party apparatus by the remote control of his Twitter account from Madrid. He appears to want to be its candidate again in 2021. But it seems most improbable that he will be able to restore APRA’s fortunes between now and then. In spite of his well-known ability to sidestep accusations of corruption and sleaze, García may yet find himself embroiled in the backwash from the Brazilian Lava Jato probes as accusations pile up of bribes paid to close associates.

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