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two-time President of Peru
Fernando Belaúnde Terry was born into an established family in Lima, Peru, on October 7, 1912. His great-grandfather was a former President, his father a diplomat, and one of his uncles a respected intellectual. After graduating from high school in Paris, he attended the University of Miami, where his father served on the faculty, and then received a degree in architecture from the University of Texas (1935).
Returning to Peru in 1936, Belaúnde became a teacher of architecture and urban planning at Catholic University in Lima, and then at the National Engineering University. He subsequently became dean of NEU's School of Architecture, founded Peru's major architectural journal, and established the Peruvian Urban Institute.
Early Political Career
In 1945, Belaúnde was elected to Congress as a member of the National Democratic Front, a reformist coalition that supported President José Luis Bustamente y Rivero. He returned to the architectural profession after Bustamente was overthrown in 1948.
Belaúnde spent the next ten years traveling the country promoting a program of economic development and social justice through the active intervention of a democratic government, and calling for greater attention to the neglected peoples of the Peruvian hinterlands.
In 1956, he ran for the presidency as the candidate of the newly-formed National Front of Democratic Youth, but lost the election to Manuel Prado y Ugarteche. He then founded the Popular Action Party, which soon became a broad-based national organization.
Belaúnde made another bid for the presidency in 1962, this time against Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre, founder of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) , and former dictator General Manuel Odría. Haya won the election by a handful of votes, but military backers of Odría made charges of massive voter fraud and annulled the results. A 1963 rematch between the three candidates resulted in Belaúnde winning by a substantial majority.
Almost immediately after taking office, Belaúnde began instituting the programs he had been proposing over the last ten years. Large sums of money were spent on health and education, as well as on a variety of public works projects. The Popular Cooperation program instituted by Belaúnde provided tools, technical assistance, and money to any local community whose residents volunteered their labor for public works.
Despite making some improvements to Peru's standard of living, Belaúnde was constantly impeded by Congress, where the opposition held the majority of seats. He tried to get low-cost development loans from the United States, but was turned down because Peru insisted on enforcing a 200-mile fishing limit; his demand for the nationalization of the International Petroleum Company, a subsidiary of Standard Oil, also contributed to the U.S.'s refusal to make the loans. He was successful, however, in getting loans from European commercial banks, but with far less favorable repayment requirements.
In 1968 Belaúnde signed a compromise agreement with the International Petroleum Company in an effort to appease the United States, but his critics charged that the agreement was far too generous to the foreign-owned firm. The country was already in economic turmoil by this time, and the people were on the verge of revolt. As demonstrations began breaking out across the country, General Juan Velasco Alvardo led a coup and overthrew Belaúnde on October 3, 1968, just six months before his term was due to expire.
Belaúnde spent the next decade teaching at various U.S. universities, including Harvard. In April 1980, the military government provided for a new round of elections and a restoration of constitutional rule. Belaúnde won the presidency by 45 percent of the vote, in a 15-man contest.
As he had before, Belaúnde faced a massive foreign debt, major budget deficits, and rampant inflation, all of which were complicated by several natural disasters and a weak world market for Peruvian exports. The country was also being terrorized by the Shining Path, a Maoist guerrilla organization. Efforts to suppress Shining Path frequently resulted in the widespread abuse of innocent citizens, which in turn led to even more popular discontent.
In the election of April 1985, Belaúnde's hand-picked successor only managed to garner 5 percent of the vote and finished last in a four-man race.
Belaúnde spent most of his post-presidential years as either a diplomat or an educator. In 1985 he inaugurated Loyola University's Latin American Studies Program and served as Columbia University's visiting scholar for Latin American and Iberian Studies. In November 1986 he became a member of the Carter Center's Council of Freely Elected Heads of Government, a group that promotes and reinforces democracy in the Americas and observes elections in newly democratized nations.
Fernando Belaúnde Terry died in Peru on June 4, 2002.
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This page was last updated on April 26, 2017.