This paper intends to provide historical context to the push and pull factors that would prompt the average Peruvian citizen to immigrate from their birth nation to the United States, and view those factors through the lens of Marx’ analysis of the effect of private property on the formation of socioeconomic classes from The Communist Manifesto. Marx and Engels argue that the abolition of private property is fundamentally necessary to the creation of a communist society (Marx 1848: 22). This is based on the notion that private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products, that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few, emphasizing that the act of owning land is not in itself producing any value to society (Marx 1848: 22). Rather, the value produced by land comes as a result of the labor done on or with it, meaning the laborers are producing the wealth that, due to property ownership, the landowner then receives. The allowance of private property within a society, in Marx’ view, is itself the cause of the formation of socioeconomic classes”a system which places those who own the land perpetually above those who do not, and leaves those who do not in a position of relative powerlessness. The following historical contextualization’s will demonstrate how Marx’ analysis of the effect of private property on the formation of socioeconomic classes helps to explain current and recent realities within Peru.
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Between 1970 and 1990 Peru faced a serious economic crisis which economists and historians attribute largely to the intense volatility in the domestic and global economy of its extraction-based economic growth model”the same model first established with the colonial extraction of silver and gold (Thorp 1987: 1). This economic crisis, and the sociopolitical realities and opportunities surrounding it which will be detailed below, was the primary cause of the immigration of Luis in the Immigration Narrative paper.
Due to Peru’s geographic location and extractive resource industries utilizing outdated and unsafe practices, rural and underdeveloped regions of the nation are particularly susceptible to environmental catastrophes such as mud slides, fires, flooding, and intense periodic food insecurity. Worse yet, the government looks the other way as state-run and international resource extraction companies continue to destroy the environment and cause serious health crises within these rural regions.
Environmental catastrophes have ravaged Peru for the last 45 years. The US company Occidental, Argentinian/Dutch Pluspetrol, Chinese National Petroleum Corporation, and Canadian Frontera Energy have all actively contributed to the contamination of Peru’s natural habitats and rural communities. The contaminated rivers, streams, lakes, lagoons, soils, gardens, game, [and] fish have contributed to epidemics, miscarriages, skin diseases, diarrhea and deaths predominantly impacting native populations (Hill 2017). Rights have been trampled over and ignored protest criminalized, communities divided, forest and spiritual sites destroyed, thousands of outsiders brought in as laborers, confidence in government eroded, and economic dependency fostered (Hill 2017). To survive in areas now without many of their natural sources of income, many have been forced into poorer working conditions in extractive companies and prostitution, which has resulted in alcoholism, suicide, and rampant STI’s. 1.1 million hectares of land have been declared environmental and health emergencies in the Corrientes, Maranon, and Tigre basins in 2013 and 2014, and hundreds of thousands more have been excluded from this declaration despite being equally contaminated (Hill 2017). Those that actually live and rely on the land for their survival are ignored and hold no power over its use, yet those that control the private property are permitted to utilize it for whatever means, regardless of the impact on the residents. Marx noted that the same problems of land ownership begetting economic inequality will be true of agriculture, which also suffers from the pressure of private property and is held back by the division of privately-owned land, which has prevented rural access to the industry.
It can then be seen that those most effected by environmental destruction and unregulated industries are the rural, predominantly native, citizens. These are, by and large, the descendants of natives and non-whites who were never permitted land ownership in the same sense as the ruling Spaniards. The class system Marx describes as developing with the property-owning elite at the top, then, developed along racial lines within Peruvian society, placing white Spaniards at the top and natives at the bottom, and continue to form contemporary social, economic, and political realities within the nation.
Neither in declaring its independence in 1824 nor in the recreation of the Republic of Peru in 1839 did the Peruvian government move to establish a strong, independent judiciary, or freedom of speech, press, and assembly”failures that prevented the nation from placing legitimate checks on corruption in the executive (Goldenberg 2017, Freedom 2017). In 1993, the Peruvian Constitution was amended to add protections for the freedom of press, though this has not prevented public figures from placing significant pressure on reporters to prevent the publicizing of news threatening the continuation of their power (Freedom 2017). The result of a lack of a truly free press and checks on corruption is the continued allowance of officials to influence rural growth patterns in their political and economic favor regardless of safety concerns raised. The race-based class structure continued through the post-colonial era and the initial divide, though slowly closed by ongoing political action, formed differing economic, sociocultural, and political realities between rural/native and urban/non-native populations. Natives and rural-dwelling citizens are thus significantly less likely to have a voice in both local and high-level governance, permitting politicians to easily disenfranchise them without serious repercussions.
Peru has faced rampant corruption since the start of its fight for independence in 1821, with Presidential candidates garnering funding from foreign nationals and nations including the United States, Venezuela, and Argentina (Goldenberg 2017). Further, five of Peru’s most recent executives are currently in prison or are active fugitives from justice. Francisco Morales Bermudez, Peru’s military dictator who ruled from 1975 to 1980, is currently serving a sentence of life imprisonment for his role in the deaths of 23 people during the events of Operation Condor”an American-backed operation of political repression and state-imposed terror, and a prime example of how foreign influences have hindered Peruvian democratic and independent growth (Goldenberg 2017). Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s leader from 1990 to 2000 who closed the Congress, suspended the constitution, and purged the judiciary in a Presidential coup to increase his power was sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in jail for human rights violationsand later convicted of embezzlement and corruption (Levitsky 1999, Goldenberg 2017). President Alejandro Toldeo, who served from 2001 to 2006, currently faces extradition charges due to allegations that he accepted high-level bribes from the construction company Odebrecht”the same company that later bribed President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (2016-2018), who currently resides in prison for accepting bribes and attempting to purchase votes. Kuczynski is also remembered for pardoning President Fujimori in 2017. President from 2011-2016, Ollanta Humala Tasso is currently in the same prison as his wife and Toledo while being investigated on money-laundering and conspiracy charges in addition to extrajudicial killings during his time as an army captain in the 1990’s (Goldenberg 2017). The only living former head of state not incriminated so far is Alan Garcia, who has a legendary reputation for corruption and is currently being investigated for financial irregularities between himself and, again, the construction company Odenbrecht. Most historians believe similar if not greater levels of corruption to be evident in a majority of administrations going back to the nation’s founding, though a lack of information and even fewer oversight mechanisms prevented them from incrimination.
Politicians with overwhelming power over rural lands frequently resettle populations to environmentally unsafe and economically useless regions intentionally as a means of manipulating and garnering their votes (Hill 2017). This leads to a cyclical reliance on governmental support as rural communities are moved by politicians due to a lack of stable sources of income, put in regions unsafe due to both environmental and health-related disasters, then had their votes manipulated by a lack of access to free information and actual fraudulent voting, only to be moved again to restart the process. The result is poor, native, underrepresented, and rural citizens becoming the most impacted by natural disasters and the least able to access assistance.
It is then clear that Peru’s executives, elected by urban populations often misinformed by manipulated media and rural populations whose votes are manipulated by candidates regularly, trend towards personal and macroeconomic interests over those of the people. This trend led to drastic income inequality and is rooted in a failed colonial empire, over-reliance on resource extraction, and a lack of strong checks on authority”all of which having created a system incentivizing the prioritization of self-interest over that of the people (Thorp 1987: 360). The lack of a right to protest has been, arguably, most notable in native communities that have been historically subjugated and recently deprived of any practical access to their contractual rights to free, prior, and informed consent over requests to access and utilize resources on their lands (Hill 2017). Though most notable in rural communities, Peruvians from almost all regions, income levels, and races see this rampant political corruption at the top of their federal government as undemocratic and continuing”prompting many to leave in hopes of finding a nation with an accessible government responsive to their needs. The primary methods of recourse for those forced to the bottom of the class system”political representation, protest, and publication”are inhibited, making it only more difficult to escape the rigid structure. The first of these recourses, political representation, is minimized clearly as a result of an intense power dynamic between rural residents and the urban politicians who govern them. In Marx’ view, this power gap comes as a result of the governing owning the land, and thus controlling the residency and habitat of the residents”a problem that exists as a result of centuries of racial systems built around private property ownership. Similarly, the rights to protest and free speech are vital in general, though much more so for those who lack political representation”the same group which, in Peru, have the least access to them as a result of geographic location and class structure.
Massey and Denton detail in their book, American Apartheid: Segregation and Making the Underclass, how racially segregated housing was manufactured by whites through a series of self-conscious actions and purposeful institutional arrangements that continue today (Massey, 1993). The impact of this is cyclical poverty, lower average voter turnout, increased crime and death rates, and lower rates of education. This practice effectively mirrors that of Peru’s rural shuffling”while the nation focuses on macroeconomic growth, it diverts its attention from ongoing racial segregation in housing that prevents upward class mobility in racial minorities and maintains the race-based class structure (Massey, 1993). This, however, is not the perception immigrants have of the United States when they are pulled towards it. Rather, immigrants perceive the U.S. as, in large part, having moved beyond the race-related issues of its past and of their countries present. This perception then pulls them towards the United States, despite similar issues existing, meaning the pull factor is not due to an objective reality but rather the reality perceived by the immigrant relative to their home or alternative options. Similarly, the desire to garner sociopolitical stability by leaving their home and coming to the U.S. is based on a lack of corruption”another conceptualization of the nation that is not entirely accurate, though obvious in relative relation to Peru.
Coming from Peru to the United States, then, provided a stark contrast in socioeconomic class structure as, despite similar racial hierarchy issues, significant blockades on political corruption prevent contemporary, long-term, outright disenfranchisement from taking shape on the scale perceivable in Peruvian democracy. In addition, the large swaths of land available as the country expanded west permitted a larger percentage of the population to obtain private property. Though many of the same issues exist in the U.S., the extent to which they are the actively reproduced in the modern era is significantly lower, though, as detailed above, clearly still extant. In coming to the U.S., Peruvian immigrants, though likely expecting or hoping for a stark contrast with the race-based class relations in their home, would unfortunately be inclined to see very similar forms of hierarchy. Native American’s would still experience the worst of public infrastructure and representation, though for different reasons. Rural populations would still be more susceptible to disease, natural disaster, and economic crises, though they would arguably demonstrate a sharp contrast with Peruvian rural residents’ underrepresentation as rural Americans exercise disproportionately high representation in the federal government due to the structure of the U.S. Senate and Electoral College process. Finally, a system of private property ownership which began prior to the legalization or feasibility of land ownership by racial minorities, in addition to a long history of legalized subjugation and segregation, has created a race-based class system that, though distinct from Peru’s, offers striking similarities. The primary distinction, however, is that the Caucasian Spanish-descendants that would tend to reside in the middle or upper classes in Peru”due to historical land ownership and current racial hierarchies”would face a much more significant uphill battle in the United States where the Hispanic ethnic minority group faces serious contemporary pressure from sociopolitical and economic powers.
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