Victor Peralta's collection of articles examines how Spanish liberalism contributed to the formation of a new political culture in Peru during the years between the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in1808 and the declaration of Peruvian independence in 1821. Peralta breaks definitively with a Latin American historiography that has dismissed Peru for its convervatism, and with a Peruvian historiographical debate about whether Peruvians had embraced independence on their own, or had it imposed on them by foreigners. Rather than contrasting Peru with regions such as Buenos Aires or New Granada that sought autonomy, he takes Peruvian developments on their own terms by identifying key moments in the emergence of its own political culture. A first-rate scholar, Peralta pays meticulous attention to detail and documentation while discussing larger historical themes of the independence period in transnational terms.
The book is divided into four sections, the first a broad view of the crisis of the Spanish monarchy and its repercussions in America. The second treats events in Peru between 1808 and 1810, the third looks at events under Viceroy José Fernando de Abascal during the time of the Cadiz Cortes, and the final section examines the restoration of absolutism and the brief constitutional hiatus under Viceroy Joaquín de la [End Page 118] Pezuela prior to Peruvian independence in 1821. Of the ten chapters that make up these various sections, seven have been published previously in edited volumes and journals. Yet the book does not read like a collection of disparate essays. Considering its structure, it holds together well as a careful chronology of the events that, while not dramatic in the context of the definitive autonomist movements elsewhere on the continent, illustrate the emergence of a new political culture in Peru.
Paradoxically, Abascal himself contributed to the shift in the political culture with his propaganda against Napoleon. Although it was intended to cement loyalty to the deposed Spanish monarchy, this propaganda introduced a new political language critical of arbitrary authority. Once deployed, the critique of illegitimate authority would soon be used by limeños against the Bourbon despotism embodied in the figures of Carlos IV and his adviser, Manuel Godoy, and eventually against the viceregal authorities. New political discourses and practices now began to take hold.
Peralta offers ample evidence for his argument by analyzing events and personalities both in Spain and Peru during this period. Among the events he considers indicative of the emergence of a new political culture are tertulias (cultural salons) which were shut down by Abascal in 1809, a series of debates in the press that indicated a diversity of opinions, including criticism of Viceroy Abascal in the newspaper El Peruano, and the elections of ayuntamientos constitucionales (constitutional municipalities) that in some cases allowed indigenous people to rise to positions of local power, as occurred in the town of Puquina in Moquegua in 1813.
Hispanic liberalism had the most impact in Peru during the time of the Cadiz Cortes, between 1810 and 1814. During this period the new language critical of despotism spread. Newspapers such as El Peruano and El Satélite del Peruano defended freedom of the press and while not calling for independence, reaffirmed a new anti-despotic political culture. The constitutional period also introduced elections for constitutional ayuntamientos, following a decree in the Constitution of 1812. Peralta's description of these elections brings out elements of continuity with the old regime, such as the power held by priests to decide based on parish censuses who would be considered a citizen.
The restoration of Ferdinand VII in 1814 and the abolishment of the constitution only briefly interrupted the spreading of this new political culture. Viceroy Pezuela's attempts to reimpose absolutism in Peru were only mildly effective and attempts to distort the news of San Martín's victories in Chile undermined the credibility of the government publication Gaceta del Gobierno de Lima. Ultimately, the reestablishment of the Constitution of 1820...