CUZCO, Peru — The Marxist mayor of this imperial Inca capital said to pardon him if he seemed disheveled.
"They tried to kill me two nights ago," Daniel Estrada asserted, blaming supporters of what he called the "authoritarian" American Popular Revolutionary Alliance, Peru's governing political party.
"If there was an attempt, it was self-inflicted," scoffed Carlos Chacon, the APRA candidate running against Estrada. Chacon's jacket concealed a gun on his hip--for protection, he said, against the "totalitarian" instincts of Estrada's followers.
Ancient and elegant Cuzco, an alluring Andean magnet for international visitors, is a microcosm of a struggle for power being waged in the shadow of South America's most bizarre guerrilla movement, a Maoist infestation called Sendero Luminoso.
10,000 Lives Lost in War
Rival political movements, led on the one hand by populist President Alan Garcia and on the other by a rules-abiding Marxist coalition, jostle with Sendero throughout the Peruvian Andes today for the support of Peru's poor majority.
Since 1980, the stubborn and elusive guerrillas have stung two elected governments in far-off Lima during a primitive backland war that has already claimed 10,000 lives.
Sendero is no closer than ever to achieving its quest for power, but it is expanding despite government counterattack, and its onslaught has rewritten the rules of Andean political life.
Because of Sendero, an unprecedented degree of national concern and resources are focused today on the long-neglected plight of the poorest of Peruvians who live here on the sere altiplano two miles above the sea.
Calls Garcia Rightist
"Sendero is not a military problem. It is the historic fight of the Andes with the outside world, the battle of oppressed and oppressor," said Estrada, who describes his politics as "redder than red."
Estrada portrays the social democratic Garcia as "a rightist," a description that would find scant echo among Peru's international creditors, whom Garcia taunts with severely limited debt repayments.
A chunk of what Garcia is withholding from foreign banks is earmarked for a $350-million-a-year grass-roots development plan aimed at alleviating what Ramiro Velasco, head of the government's development corporation for Cuzco, calls "some of the most depressing social and economic conditions in the world."
"Sendero drew attention to the misery. The guerrillas exist because the state never paid any heed, and now they are difficult to control. In response, we are trying to lay the foundations for necessary peaceful change," said Velasco.
Peru's Third City
Although it is probably no more dangerous than any big American city, Cuzco, Peru's third-largest city and capital of a highland region of about 800,000 people, feels ripples of guerrilla savagery swirling around the cities of Ayacucho, to the north, and Puno, to the south.
A midyear bomb on a tourist train to the nearby Inca ruins of Machu Picchu killed seven tourists. Three policemen died in terrorist attacks presaging the electoral showdown between Estrada, a lawyer-member of a nationwide Marxist coalition called the United Left, and Chacon, a social Christian recruited to the ruling party's banner for the election.
Estrada won the mayoralty three years ago in a city known as "Red Cuzco" in memory of its long leftist tradition. Coming to power with him in the colonial City Hall was a 12-to-8 majority of Marxist councilmen.
They have ruled since with polemics and vigor, stoking Incan nationalism in the context of Marxist ideology, which they depict as a peaceful alternative to Sendero.
Spurred Public Works
Estrada's team embarked on an ambitious public works program; nearly 200 projects are aimed principally at fast-growing slum neighborhoods. They paved General Buendia Street, brought light to the Plaza del Cabildo, built a market in the San Blas district, expanded the municipal library, erected 20 playgrounds, extended sewer lines and potable water supplies and began a monument to the Incas.
To beef up municipal finances, Estrada imposed a $2-per-head exit tax for air travelers, most of them foreign tourists. When expected financial aid from Lima was slow in arriving, he threatened--jokingly, he says--to hijack a plane belonging to the government's airline.
The Marxist city government sued a brewery that is the city's second-largest industry for increased tax payments.
"They use one-third of our drinking water in a city where one-third of the people have no drinking water and pay us $5 per year," Estrada snapped. The suit is before Peru's molasses-slow courts.
When Pope John Paul II came visiting last year, there was some suggestion that an official less "red" might more appropriately receive him at Cuzco Airport.