Photo of President Augusto Leguía

The 1909 Peruvian Coup

May 1909 newspaper clippingWhile I was recently going through some old family books, a group of papers fell out of one. They were mostly letters, poems, and postcards written by my ancestors (too private to share here), but among them was the newspaper clipping pictured above. After some brief research, I learned it dated from May 1909 and discusses an event little-known to people outside of Latin America. I thought I’d take a break from writing about Byzantium to share.

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In September 1908, Augusto Bernardino Leguía y Salcedo won the presidency of Peru and succeeded the four-year term of President José Pardo y Barreda. Peru had been going through a tumultuous time, having been independent from Spain for a little less than a century and being torn by conflicted political parties. By most reports, Leguía immediately tried to tackle the challenges facing his nation, working to create stability and economic growth.

Photo of President Augusto Leguía
President Augusto Bernardino Leguía y Salcedo

Unfortunately for the new president, the political strife soon posed a personal danger. On May 29, 1909, members of the dissident Peruvian Democratic Party sprung their plan to topple Leguía from power. Leading the conspirators were Carlos de Piérola, Isaías de Piérola, and Amadeo de Piérola, the relatives of former president José Nicolás Baltasar Fernández de Piérola y Villena. (Notice how the article incorrectly refers to the conspirators as “Prerola.”) It’s unclear whether Nicolás genuinely supported or felt compelled to support his relatives’ coup, but it appears that the party didn’t feel as though his support was needed.

Photo of Nicolás Piérola
Nicolás Piérola, Peruvian president (1895-1899) and Democratic leader

Around 2 p.m. the Piérolas assembled some supporters and stormed the governmental palace in Lima, the Peruvian capital. Once inside, they split into smaller groups and proceeded to the presidential quarters, killing Leguía’s adjutant and threatening Leguía to resign the presidency. When the president refused, they kidnapped him and conveyed him to the Plaza de la Inquisición, where they again attempted to force his resignation. It’s possible they wanted to make a public example of him; however, Leguía again refused, saying “No firmo” (“I do not sign”).

By 6 p.m. a group of police and soldiers had gathered to rescue their president. They stormed the plaza and battled the kidnappers, forcing the conspirators to flee. Leguía was safe, but the failed coup resulted in approximately one hundred casualties.

Photo of Luis Miguel Sánchez Cerro
Lt. Col. Luis Miguel Sánchez Cerro

Leguía’s term concluded in 1912, but his political career wasn’t over. In 1919 his supporters staged their own coup to return him to the presidency. He essentially ruled as a dictator during his second term, silencing his opponents and remaining in power for eleven years. On August 22, 1930, he was the subject of another coup, this time successful: Lieutenant Colonel Luis Miguel Sánchez Cerro incited the Arequipa military garrison to revolt and march to Lima. Leguía fled the capital and escaped aboard a military vessel, yet Sánchez Cerro’s forces captured and imprisoned him when the ship returned to land. He was placed on trial and died soon thereafter, while Peru entered another period of political instability.

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