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       Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) rebels in Peru made headlines around the world when they entered the Japanese ambassador's residence during a party disguised as servants carrying caviar and champagne, and proceeded to take hundreds of high level officials hostage. The U.S. press has taken the hostage crisis at face value, painting a monolithic picture of the MRTA as one of several extremist terrorist groups who seek to undermine the embattled fledging democracy taking shape in Peru. The Peruvian reality, however, does not so easily reduce to such a black and white caricature of good guys and bad guys. According to non- governmental human rights groups like Amnesty International, the Peruvian government itself is implicated in a record of vicious repression and human rights abuses that dwarfs even the terrorist actions of the MRTA. The bleak reality of the situation in Peru may explain the surprisingly sympathetic coverage being given the "terrorists" in much of the foreign press, which has reported a more balanced picture of conditions in Peru than the U.S. mainstream media.

       Rather than addressing the needs of the poor majority of Peruvians, President Fujimori has guided the country down an authoritarian neo-liberal road, enforcing policies designed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Neo-liberal policies aimed at privatization of national industries, opening up the economy to transnational corporate investment, and increasing exports and corporate exploitation of natural resources have provided impressive economic statistics for Japanese and U.S.-based investors. At the same time these policies have pressed the majority of the population down into destitution. An estimated 50% of Peru's population now live in poverty. While a large percentage of Peru's indigenous population still support themselves through a traditional lifestyle outside the modern economy, unemployment has hit other Peruvians hard as local businesses have been undermined, and social services cut. According to Reuters news service, 80% of Peru's workforce remains either jobless or underemployed, and millions have little or no access to medical care. While 54% of the population are Indian, and 34% are of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry, Peru's governing elite are mostly white. This privileged segment of Peruvian society demands fierce repression of any who challenge their controlling status. As a result, widespread political dissent has been kept in check through institutionalized state terror. In response to growing instability within Peruvian society, President Fujimori instituted a "self coup" in 1992. With the support of the military, Fujimori dissolved the congress and court system, and radically revised the Constitution. The near dictatorial powers assumed by Fujimori in 1992 were limited only by the military's own increased authority. Fujimori declared a national emergency to fight the terrorism of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) guerrilla movements. New anti-terrorism laws were passed which gave the military and the courts greater powers to carry out a domestic counterinsurgency campaign. Fighting terrorism, however, became easy cover for targeting any civilians critical of the regime, including many union leaders, peasant leaders and independent journalists.

       A human rights report that summarized Amnesty International's (AI) concerns from 1980 to 1995 documented the use of torture by the Peruvian National Police, thousands of cases of "disappearances", extrajudicial execution and torture by members of the armed forces and the police, thousands of cases of unfair trials, and hundreds of cases of prisoners of conscience. Similarly, AI documented at least 500 victims killed in separate massacres by the Peruvian military. The Peruvian Army extrajudicially executed at least 30 peasants in April 1994 during a single counter-insurgency operation.

       Torture is routinely practiced on detainees accused by the security forces of having links to the Sendero Luminoso or the MRTA. After 1992, Peruvian human rights organizations began to receive hundreds of testimonies that detainees had been tortured and ill treated during interrogation by the Armed Forces and National Police. Indeed in 1994, the government of Peru openly informed the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) "that agents of the State still resort to [torture]." According to Amnesty International, UNCAT concluded in its report that "there exists a widespread practice of torture during the interrogation phase in terrorism related cases, and that impunity is enjoyed by the perpetrators."

       Human rights groups in Peru estimate that between 700 and 1,000 innocent people have been charged and convicted since 1992. Lawyer Ronald Gamarra of the Institute of Legal Defense, which specializes in human rights cases, estimates that a third of those arrested for terrorism are innocent, including hundreds detained on false or coerced testimony.

       For example, Jose Antonio Alvarez Pachas was arrested and jailed for terrorist activities in his work as a journalist for the independent leftist newspaper Cambio. The newspaper itself was then banned by the government. Alvarez Pachas was adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 1993. A former prisoner known only as Carmen (name changed), was arrested, blindfolded, beaten, hung from the ceiling, shocked with electricity, tortured by near drowning, raped, and accused of being a guerrilla. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison, spent 2 years in jail, and was then found innocent on appeal and freed. Like many others accused of terrorism and later found innocent and released from prison, she still faces possible rearrest and retrial.

       According to Amnesty International (AI), thousands of prisoners charged with terrorist-related offenses have been "denied the fundamental right to a fair trial." Civilians have been "tried in military courts which are neither competent, impartial nor independent..." The military tribunals have a conviction rate of 97%. Since 1992, AI has adopted 86 prisoners of conscience who "have all been falsely accused of terrorism-related offenses." AI has also been able to document an additional 1,000 possible prisoners of conscience.

       As for the torturers, AI continues, the vast majority of human rights abuses "have never been effectively investigated, the perpetrators have not been brought to justice, and the victims and their relatives have received no compensation." In 1995 the government of Peru passed two amnesty laws which according to AI, "effectively closed all unresolved cases of human rights violations committed by the military, the police and other authorities, between May 1990 and mid-June 1995 . . . . (and) rendered void the few prison sentences handed down by the military and civil courts to members of the Armed Forces and National Police convicted of human rights-related crimes."

       Amnesty International (AI) also documented human rights abuses by the two leading guerrilla movements in Peru, the Shining Path and the MRTA. The Maoist inspired Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), also known as the Peruvian Communist Party (PCP), is well known for its vicious terror and ideological extremism directed not only against the government, but also against peasants who fail to support them. AI estimates that the Shining Path committed fully 45% of all extrajudicial assassinations between 1980 to 1992. The Peruvian Government committed 53% of these assassinations during the same period. The Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) is thought to have committed 1%. Specific instances of MRTA human rights abuses include the killing of civilians during an attack on a town and the murder of a U.S. businessman kidnapped and held for ransom. Despite human rights abuses by the guerrillas, "Amnesty International believes that the types of abuses committed by the PCP and the MRTA can never justify the violation by the authorities of fundamental human rights."

       Shortly after taking control of the ambassador's compound, the MRTA freed hostages not directly involved in Peruvian repression as a "humanitarian Christmas gesture." In a statement issued with the release of the first hostages the MRTA declared, "The people linked to this regime Q ministers, vice ministers, members of the judiciary and legislators, leaders of the armed and police forces and representatives of the Japanese businesses Q will remain." Against the backdrop of Peruvian state-sponsored terrorism, the actions of the MRTA received some surprisingly sympathetic coverage in the foreign press.

       The leader of the MRTA embassy takeover, Nestor Cerpa Cartolini, was a union official jailed in 1979 for leading a worker occupation of a textile plant which was being closed. According to a December 25 Reuters story headlined "The Gentlemen Guerrillas?", "Cerpa organized a roundtable discussion to explain the rebel's cause and took great pains to ensure that, as he put it, captives are leaving with a different idea of what the MRTA is." Reuters also reported that, "more than half of the 225 men set free. . . . shook hands with the gunmen as they left, some even wishing them good luck." One released hostage told Reuters, "this has been an excellent propaganda coup for them. " The story went on to describe the MRTA as a "Robin Hood-style movement that hijacked trucks and distributed the goods to peasants." Similarly, a December 26 story in Agence France- Presse, recounted how after the rebels disussed their objectives with their captives, nearly 50 of the hostages asked for Cerpa's autograph. One hostage, Manuel Higa, described Cerpa saying, "He is an idealist. I could understand his point of view. I did not think it possible that he could kill me." Japan's Asahi Evening News headlined a December 20 story as "A Challenge from Peru's Robin Hood", saying that the "storming of the Japanese ambassador's residence. . . . is more than simply a violent act of terrorists." The MRTA was described as a group with "...a huge popular following among the impoverished segments of Peruvian society because the money it steals from companies or received as ransom in kidnapping of rich people is always passed on to the poor."

       Such sympathetic coverage represents a significant blow to the Fujimori regime which had assured foreign investors that the guerrilla movements had been eradicated by the tough new measures instituted in 1992. Fujimori's authoritarian style will be harder to justify if it can't deliver the promised results. European Representative of the MRTA Isaac Velazco capitalized on the international media's attention saying, "We have appealed for years to international organizations, human rights groups, and parties. But there was no interest. At least now the world is talking about Peruvian state terrorism, torture, and the disappearance of opposition activists. That is the first success of this action." The MRTA itself captured the limelight, as journalists from around the world tried to shed light on this little known band of guerrillas. While numbering small in actual combatants, the MRTA apparently influences a large segment of Peruvian society. As U.S. media cameras focussed attention on a government sponsored rally against guerrilla terrorism to demonstrate the MRTA's lack of support, other Peruvians came forward with public support for the rebels, risking possible 20 year prison sentences for the crime of apologizing for terrorism. For instance, a December 29 Reuters report included one opinion which stated, "...the government are worse terrorists than the MRTA, The government only concerns itself with investors abroad, with foreign governments. It ignores its own people here." A Peruvian housewife added, "...I think this is something the people want. While the majority keep quiet, the terrorists are making the protest for us."

       According to guerrilla representative Isaac Velazco, the MRTA was founded in 1984 "as a political and military organization, not to follow a specific ideology, but because the Peruvian people's historic conditions have always been characterized by the ruling classes' use of violence." The group's name symbolizes the Peruvian indigenous people's historical resistance to oppression. Tupac Amaru was an Inca leader who led an anti-colonialist rebellion which almost shook off Spanish domination of a large part of South America before he was caught and drawn and quartered in the square of Cuzco. Velazco continued, "we've always said that it isn't the MRTA that's going to make a revolution in Peru, but the Peruvian people, through their numerous social and political organizations."

       Isaac Velazco took great pains to distinguish the MRTA from the Shining Path guerrillas, saying; "There's more that separates us from than unites us with Sendero Luminoso. Sendero is a profoundly dogmatic, sectarian movement. . . . They don't seek to win hearts and minds, but impose their direction on the people, which is why they don't hesitate to kill to achieve their domination. Sendero is also characterized by its cruelty. . . . (the Peruvian people) don't support that kind of a struggle, that kind of inhumanity. I would hesitate to describe Sendero as a revolutionary group because of their Pol Pot concept of life and revolution is a long way from what we think of as revolution." Velazco attributed Sendero's large size to their early willingness to use armed resistance against government repression. At first Sendero won sympathy and members, but through their cruelty eventually showed their true character and limited their growth.

       Velazco described the activities of the MRTA saying, "We do things like expropriate food from the big supermarket chains and hand it out to the people. . . . we strike at the army and the police who are becoming more and more like occupation forces within their own country. They're forces who are always blood-stained, highly corrupt, extortionists of the people."

       Describing the group's ideology, Velazco continued, "We try to put Peruvian reality ahead of any pre-defined ideology. We hope to build socialism. . . . That's not to say we're going to build a socialism styled and modeled after the eastern European countries, a model which failed in practice. . . . We don't want state centralism or the bureaucratization of Peruvian society. Life has taught us that is not the way. We should have a democratic, very participatory society, not an electoral democracy every five years, but a democracy where men and women get involved in their workplace, their community, their neighborhood and decide their own destiny. We want it to be a participatory democracy with the people as actors. It has to be that way."

       Past military successes of the MRTA have not been reported by the Peruvian press or acknowledged by the government. In the past three years, the MRTA destroyed 2 military barracks, four army helicopters, and staged perhaps the most elaborate prison escape in Peruvian history. Freeing jailed comrades is a high priority for the MRTA, since guerrilla prisoners are often tortured, sexually abused, kept in isolated dark and unsanitary conditions, receive no medical care, and suffer from serious illnesses. The MRTA constructed a 330 meter long tunnel to free captured members in the Canto Grande maximum security prison. With the participation of mine workers, they solved problems of ventilation, bracing, and used a theodolite compass to ingeniously come out at the right point in the prison, rescuing all 47 comrades, each of whom returned to their posts, with no one killed. Current demands in the embassy takeover include the release of Tupac Amaru prisoners, over a thousand of which are now engaged in a hunger strike somehow coordinating their activities with the outside world.

       The U.S. government repeatedly emphasized during the crisis that it would not negotiate with terrorists. At the same time the U.S. reaffirmed its support for the Peruvian government. While depoloring the hostage crisis as terrorism, U.S. officials continue to ignore the well-documented record of Peruvian state-sponsored terror. Ironically, the crisis in Peru comes just following the ten year anniversary of the November 1986 admission by the Reagan White House that the U.S. had repeatedly sold arms worth millions of dollars to Iran in exchange for U.S. hostages being held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian groups.

       In response to the crisis, the U.S. rushed a team of "security advisors" to the Peruvian capital. There have also been unconfirmed reports that the Pentagon dispatched a special commando called Delta Force from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Howard Air Force Base in the Panama Canal Zone. Such U.S. assistance has played a key role in creating the domestic counterinsurgency campaigns used in Peru for decades. In a 1975 book entitled The CIA and Cult of Intelligence, former high-ranking CIA official Victor Marchetti described that agency's role in Peru during the mid-1960s as "the CIA's single large-scale Latin American intervention in the post-Bay of Pigs era," saying, "The agency financed the construction of . . . . 'a miniature Fort Bragg' in the troubled Peruvian jungle region. . . . Helicopters were furnished under cover of official military aid programs, and the CIA flew in arms and other combat equipment. Training was provided by the agency's Special Operations Division personnel and by Green Beret instructors on loan from the Army." In 1966, while the U.S. was fighting in Vietnam, Defense Secretary Robert MacNamera told the Senate that, "U.S. trained and supported Peruvian army and air force units have played prominent roles in this counter-guerrilla campaign." Peru's war of the 1960s, which included burning villages to punish support for the guerrillas, defoliating the countryside with napalm, saturation bombing with high explosives, and even throwing prisoners out of helicopters, silenced the armed opposition in Peru for more than a decade. Today the U.S. openly provides military helicopters and advisors to Peru, ostensibly for use in fighting the drug war. There is little official concern when the Peruvian military uses these weapons to fight counterinsurgency campaigns against the PCP, the MRTA, or against the civilian population. This disturbing side of the international drug war, which assists both Peruvian and Colombian military repression against civilians, has become known as "the dirty war" in South America. Unfortunately, it's effects on human rights are too often overlooked by critics focused solely on the domestic drug war in the United States.

       The U.S. government has been willing to turn a blind eye to Fujimori's repressive regime as long as progress is made in fighting the guerrillas, and in moving the economy down the road of neo- liberalism. Unlike Japan, which has urged a peaceful solution to the crisis, the United States has responded with bellicose rhetoric, implying a readiness to intervene both covertly and overtly if necessary. While it is not clear whether the current crisis will defuse peacefully or explode in violence, it is clear that conflict will continue in Peru.

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