Fernando Belaúnde Terry


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(b. Lima, 7 Oct. 1912; d. Lima, 4 June 2002)

Peruvian; President 1963–8, 1980–5 Born into a well-established upper-middle-class family, Belaúnde trained as an architect at the University of Texas and was first elected as a deputy in 1945. Building on a widespread post-World War sentiment among middle- and lower-class Peruvians, in favour of economic modernization and socio-political reform, Belaúnde decided to contest the 1956 presidential elections as a candidate of the National Front of Democratic Youth. Finding his aspirations blocked by military dictator Manuel Odría, who pressured the electoral authorities into refusing to recognize his candidacy, Belaúnde organized a meeting in Lima and marched on the offices of the National Electoral Committee. The protest was dispersed by riot police employing tear gas and water cannon, but carrying a Peruvian flag, Belaúnde advanced alone to deliver a petition to the electoral commissioners. Given the strong tide of public opinion these events generated, Odría was forced to relent, the Front was recognized, and Belaúnde came a commendable second in the 1956 poll.

Shortly following the election, Belaúnde formed Acción Popular, a party that he has led and dominated to the present. In the 1962 presidential campaign he came second to Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre and in the fresh elections of 1963, realized his ambition to become President. His image as a new figure outside the political establishment enhanced his appeal, as did his campaign promises in favour of land reform, an improvement in the conditions of Andean peasants, greater national integration, industrialization and democratization. Once in office, however, Belaúnde proved unable to deliver: the administration lacked a majority in Congress, with the result that key initiatives (especially land reform) were blocked or watered down. Consequently, sectors of the population became disillusioned and opposition to the government grew, a process that culminated in the October 1968 coup led by General Juan Velasco.

For most of the ensuing twelve years of military rule, Belaúnde lived in exile in the USA, but staged a remarkable political comeback in winning the May 1980 general election. Nevertheless, his second administration (1980–5) was no more successful, being characterized by rapidly growing levels of inflation, unemployment, corruption, and an inability to control an escalating civil war provoked by Sendero Luminoso's insurrection. To this backdrop, Acción Popular suffered a humiliating defeat in the 1985 poll, its leader having acquired the reputation of being an honest democrat, but an incompetent president who lacked the dynamism to effectively perform the difficult task of governing Peru. He remained in Congress as a senator-for-life until 1992 and continued to lead Acción Popular until 2001.

Subjects: World History — Politics.

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