Peruvian left bids farewell to Genaro Ledesma

Genaro Ledesma Izquieta, a campesino leader and later congressmember who was one of the most respected figures on Peru's political left, died April 1 at the age of 86. Born in Cajabamba, Cajamarca region, he moved in his youth to the mining town of Cerro de Pasco in the Central Andes, where he founded the Popular Worker-Student-Peasant Front (FOCEP), uniting campesinos and mine workers to fight for land and labor rights. In 1960, he was elected mayor of Cerro de Pasco province. But he was imprisoned later that year in connection with a May Day campesino mobilization at the hamlet of San Antonio de Rancas. Three were killed when police fired on the protest, but Ledesma was charged with provoking the violence. With the military coup of Gen. Ricardo Pérez Godoy in 1963, Ledesma was imprisoned a second time—now in the notoriously harsh island prison of El Frontón. But the workers and peasants of Cerro de Pasco launched a sucessful campaign to have him elected to Peru's Congress, and authorities were forced to free him to allow him to take his seat.

In 1976, another right-wing coup, that of Gen. Francisco Morales Bermúdez, forced Ledesma into exile in Argentina. But with Peru's democratic transition in 1978, he returned to the country to participate in drafting the new constitution, one of 12 FOCEP representatives awarded seats in the Constituent Assembly. Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, the elder statesman who oversaw the Constituent Assembly, hailed Ledesma as the "leader of the left."

In 1979, Ledesma participated in a 15-day hunger strike with leaders of the SUTEP trade union in support of teachers who had walked off the job to demand better wages.

In 1980, Ledesma ran for president, with the writer Manuel Scorza as his running mate. Characters based on Ledesma appear in Scorza's works Redoble por Rancas (Drums for Rancas) and La Tumba del Relámpago (The Tomb of Lightning), both part of his five-book series La Guerra Silenciosa (The Silent War). A film version of Redoble por Rancas was later produced. Ledesma was himself the author of several books, including La Conquista del Ibero-Suyo (The Conquest of Suyo-Iberia, his name for the Andes) and Las Pulgas del Juicio Final (Final Judgment of the Fleas).

Ledesma served in the Senate from 1980 to 1990, initially representing FOCEP and later the Izquierda Unida (United Left). He continued to work for unity of Peru's democratic left in the polarized years of the Sendero Luminoso insurgency and later Alberto Fujimori dictatorship. (La República, La Mula, Diario Correo, RPP; interview in La República, Sept. 13, 2011)