Alfonso W. Quiroz


On his book Corrupt Circles: A History of Unbound Graft in Peru

Cover Interview of June 14, 2009

A close-up

Description of the personal efforts of distinguished past foes of corruption is a leitmotiv set up in pages 21-25 and repeated in the opening sections of each subsequent chapter.

The first pages of chapter 1 frame the dilemma of don Antonio de Ulloa (1716-1795), an enlightened governor of the mining center of Huancavelica, a strategic source of mercury in the viceroyalty of Peru in 1757.

Armed with a reformist training and honest intentions, Ulloa detected day after day what he termed his “purgatory” in dealing with appalling maladministration and dangerous neglect of the mines.  Counting with the support of the royal council in Madrid, Ulloa was very aware of the urgency of reforming the management of mercury supply essential for the amalgamation process in silver production.  Silver was the main source of American wealth fueling the Spanish empire and its involvement in European wars.  However, in Huancavelica Ulloa found that groups of miners, merchants, and even priests conspired to drain as much private benefit out of the royal mines and the indigenous population.  These corrupt networks had a long reach all the way to the viceregal court in Lima. A Peruvian president’s failed intention to exterminate corruption, 1945.  Courtesy of Biblioteca Nacional del Peru.

Ulloa’s reformist measures were bitterly opposed in Huancavelica.  He even got in deep legal trouble in Lima accused of the same crimes he was trying to stamp out.  One viceroy, the highest authority in Peru at the time, became Ulloa’s most bitter enemy.  After several years of troubles and persecution, Ulloa was able to leave Peru in defeat despite his valiant fight.

The letters, reports, and analytical essays Ulloa wrote, to inform Madrid how corruption operated in Peru, are true historical windows for studying connections between past and more recent manifestations of costly graft.  Ulloa’s Noticias secretas de América, coauthored in part with his fellow naval officer Jorge Juan and published only in 1826, can be considered one of the first anticorruption treatises in Spanish America.

Other valiant personal and mostly frustrated efforts at reform included the actions and writings of Domingo Elias (1805-1867), Francisco García Calderón Landa (1834-1905), Manuel González Prada (1844-1918), Jorge Basadre (1903-1980), Héctor Vargas Haya (b.  1928), and Mario Vargas Llosa (b.  1936).  Their stories can be followed in the context of the corrupt administrations they had to deal with.  Through their detective, journalistic, and activist work, and together with a host of new anticorruption reformists arising just after the fall of Fujimori, these admirable individuals have contributed to hopes that one day the damaging excesses of corruption will be controlled in Peru.