You don’t have to buy into a wholesale and probably illusionary emancipation narrative – seeing humanity as moving progressively through history and liberating itself in the process– to realize that Hugo Blanco has made a hugely positive difference to the struggle for social justice in Latin America.
In his own way, alongside figures like Chavez, Castro, Allende and Zapata, Blanco’s decisive interventions in history are acts in accordance with Alain Badiou’s belief that emancipation depends on historical ruptures.
Blanco’s earliest creation of a rupture was his joining of a movement in his high school to remove a new right-wing principal appointed by a like-minded government.
More recently, he joined protests against the pardoning of former President Fujimori – whose crimes included the forced sterilisation of indigenous women – that resulted in Fujimori being returned to prison.
In between these moments, Blanco’s life has been inseparable from the history of the left in Latin America and the dangers faced by activists.
Derek Wall, in his important new book, details how on a number of occasions the “Fidel Castro of the Andes” narrowly escaped being killed because of who he was and what he represented. What he didn’t escape were arrests, imprisonment, beatings and exile.
Derek Wall is writing as someone who knows Blanco from personal acquaintance and this has helped in his telling of the story of a remarkable and inspiring life.
He traces the early influence of Marxism, via Trotsky and José Carlos Mariátegui, and that of the novelist José María Arguedas, on Blanco’s thinking. Wall also outlines the Peruvian context and Blanco’s early years of militancy in the 1950s.
A chapter is devoted to the momentous period (1958-1963) when Blanco became involved in the La Convencíon peasant uprising and the period when he joined the guerrilla phase of the campaign. The uprising carried on after his imprisonment and the system of land ownership was transformed for the better.
Blanco’s incarceration in the island jail of El Frontón, and the international campaign to save his life, is well covered in the book. So too are the years of exile in the 1970s, in Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Sweden.
Derek Wall’s eco-warrior credentials make him well placed to recognise the importance of environmental concerns in Blanco’s political and social agenda.
He points to Blanco’s 1991 essay, “The environmentalism of the people” for the way it pointed the finger at NGOs for their failure to lay the blame – where it belonged – with the mad logic of capitalism.
It marks the start of an increasing commitment to ecological matters and the condemnation of President Trump, in a 2006 issue of Blanco’s monthly newspaper Lucha Indigena, as the face of a system that endangers the environment, is just one example of this.
His 2010 tour of Europe confirmed to a wider audience his eco-socialism and the final two chapters of Wall’s book drive this home with conviction.