When Peru's APRA—one of the oldest and most controversial political parties in Latin America—came to power in 1985, expectations were high for the new government, in part because a decade of economic decline and social crisis had discredited both the military and the right as alternatives. APRA did manage to maintain an unprecedented consensus for two years. But a sudden shift in strategy to confrontational rhetoric and authoritarian tactics led to policy stagnation, economic collapse, and a surge of reaction and political violence from extremes of the left and right. Rather than playing the role of the strong center, APRA acted as a catalyst to the polarization process. The party's sectarian and authoritarian strains, coupled with the increasingly erratic behavior of its once-popular young leader, Alan Garcia, created damaging and perhaps irreparable cleavages between the party and the rest of society, and between society and polity in general.
This book examines the evolution of APRA from its origins in the 1920s through its tenure in government, ending with the 1990 elections. Graham explores the consensus that the party built and the reasons for its breakdown, looking at party-government relations, the party's role in economic policymaking, its relations with the opposition, and finally, its relations with the marginalized sectors of society, in particular the urban poor. Beyond explaining the extreme crisis in Peru, she contributes to an understanding of the role of parties in the difficult process of democratic consolidation in developing countries.