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William Blum on the MRTA

Posted by: Nikhil Jaikumar ( DSA, MA, USA ) on December 19, 1999 at 02:09:58:

This is a great article. I can identify with it; I can remember whete I was when i found out about these disgusting events on April 22, 1997.
All of us are against terrorism, per se, but I'm sure there are many of us who shed a tear for the 14 young men and women who were slaughtered by the Peruvians with none of the mercy they themselves had shown their victims.

Killing teen age girls while they're surrendering. That's wonderful. Was this the Peruvian Army's finest hour?

Incidentally, a young woman from Boston, Massachusetts is languishing in a Peruvian mountain prison right now for having been concerned about the plight of Peru's poor. Even Congressman Joe Moakley has taken up her cause.

Their Terrorists, Our Freedom Fighters

Imagine that what happened in Peru were to take place in
Cuba -- 14 Cuban dissidents taking over a large social gathering and
holding a few hundred people hostage, including Castro's brother
Raúl and other prominent officials, as well as foreign
ambassadors and businessmen. Imagine that the Cuban rebels made
demands similar to those of the MRTA guerrillas in Peru -- raising
the standard of living of the masses, bettering prison conditions,
freeing a number of political prisoners, and improving the state
of civil liberties.
Imagine the reaction of the American media. The MRTA
"terrorists", through an arcane ideological alchemy, would be
transformed into anti-communist "freedom fighters". The Cubans'
demands would be reported fully, seriously, and regularly, not
disappearing down the great media black hole behind the printing
press. What had been seen before as an appalling, illegitimate
way to achieve social change would give way effortlessly to a
sincere appreciation that under intolerable conditions, desperate
people can be reduced to reckless measures.
We now know that in Lima, on April 22, 1996, Peruvian commandos,
under orders to take no prisoners, executed all the rebels who
survived the initial onslaught. Only President Fujimori still
denies this. Two of the male rebels were captured alive in a room,
told to stand against a wall, and were then shot with separate
bursts of gunfire, one after the other. During the same dramatic
moments, an intelligence operative, who was monitoring the raid
through listening devices, picked up the execution of two teen-age
rebel girls, who were shot despite one of them yelling "We surrender!
We surrender!"
Moreover, Agriculture Minister Rodolfo Munante, one of the
hostages, disclosed that "One rebel surrendered in the room where
the judges were ... he told the judges he surrendered, but then
(a soldier) entered and machine-gunned (the rebels) in the room."
Military sources later revealed that Each rebel was given a
final "coup de grace" shot in the forehead to make sure he was dead.
Munante had a further story to tell. He said he could not
sleep for thinking about a young rebel who spared his life.
"I've hardly slept. I went to bed late and was thinking all the
time ... I've remembered and remembered the attitude of that
youngster." Moments after the Peruvian troops burst into the
building to rescue the hostages, one of the teenage rebels came
into the room where high-ranking captives were held and pointed
his rifle straight at the Agriculture Minister.
"I don't know what happened," said Munante, "I don't know if
he doubted, but I saw sadness in his eyes, maybe because of the
order to kill us, or maybe because he saw his life slipping away.
Then, in a matter of seconds, he turned straight around and
closed the door."
The young man, who was shot dead within seconds, may have had
second thoughts due to the close ties that had formed between
captors and captives after 18 weeks inside the residence, said
Munante. "After so many days of talking and talking an emotional
bond had been established."
"I feel a lot for the youngsters, who were humble people
from the Peruvian jungle," said Jorge Gumucio, the Bolivian
ambassador, who was also a hostage. "But we knew from the start
that it was either us or them."
It would have been a lot more of "us", but "them" released
more than 80 percent of the hostages within the first two weeks;
then, as time went by, released others who had become, or claimed
to be, ill, never killed a single hostage, never hurt any of
them. They were rewarded by a complete refusal of Fujimori to
make even the slightest concession, all the while planning their
summary execution.
Imagine again that Cuba had been the stage for this tragedy.
The halls of the U.S. Congress would have been filled with
operatic wails and forehead smiting over the cold-blooded
execution of the freedom fighters, with Jesse Helms waving a
sword and pleading to lead the invasion of Cuba. Ol' Bill, at
his heartfelt best, would have told the families of the slain
rebels: "I feel your pain!". Flags would have flown at half-mast
in Miami, and any one there who dared to question the prevailing
wisdom or the prevailing emotion would risk premature death.
But inasmuch as these idealistic young people were not
seeking to overthrow a socialist government, their lives have
been accorded scant value in the American media. An editorial in
The Washington Post remarked upon the "successful rescue
in which there were amazingly small losses of life: One hostage
and two attackers died." Then, quite parenthetically: "The
guerrillas, who had claimed a revolutionary cause but found few
takers among Peru's terrorism-weary population, lost all 14 of
their own." Period.
Obscured also in this statement is the idea that fear of a
lifetime of torture and imprisonment in one of Peru's infamous
hellholes might just be responsible for discouraging people from
publicly expressing support for the MRTA, let alone joining them.
Not to mention social indoctrination. One of the saddest sights
to observe in the TV coverage of the events, was the sight of the
many Peruvian soldiers celebrating their victory. These indígena-
looking young men, finding in military service perhaps their only
way to escape poverty, hunger and unemployment, shouting for joy,
back-slapping, high-fiving, burning an MRTA flag, all because they
had killed a number of other poverty-stricken young indígenas who
were struggling to wrench a concession or two from the government
to lighten the load of the poor and the imprisoned.
A "terrorist" -- the Nazi's term for WW2 resistance fighters
-- fights for what he believes in; a soldier fights for what
someone else believes in -- in this case the wealthy coercing the
poor to kill the poor to keep the wealthy in power. So it always
It will come as no surprise that the commandos received
training and sophisticated technological help from the United States
for their operation, including overflights of the RU-38A airplane,
which can photograph a building and guage the thickness of walls,
amongst a host of other details crucial to planning the final raid.
Support of the Peruvian government in such circumstances would be
regarded by Washington as the most natural and good thing in the
world. Why is the question not raised: If the United States felt
compelled to intervene in Peru in a purely internal matter, why
didn't it take the side of the rebels, rather than abetting state
terrorism? Washington could get away with what Havana couldn't.
If Cuba had aided the rebels in any way, there would have been
world-wide denunciation of Fidel Castro for subversion and
violation of international law.
What then is the nature of this Peruvian government that
inspires the passionate support of the United States? One recent
description of Fujimori's regime states:

Security forces were responsible for extrajudicial
killings, disappearances, torture, and beatings.
Although individual prison directors made some efforts
to improve conditions in their own prisons, overall
prison conditions remain extremely harsh, particularly
in the case of prisoners jailed for terrorism offenses.
Arbitrary detention, accountability, lack of due
process, lengthy trial delays, and prolonged pretrial
detention remain problems. The authorities at times
infringed upon citizens' privacy rights. Violence
against women and children and discrimination against
the disabled, indigenous people, and minorities are
continuing problems. Child labor is also a problem.

This is taken from the latest State Department human rights
report on Peru. Yet President Clinton gave unquestioning support
and encouragement to the Fujimori government. The cold war is alive
and well at the White House. If the Soviet Union still existed,
the rebel action in Peru would have been branded as part of the
International Communist Conspiracy. Which conspiracy do the
anti-communists blame now? Could it be that the revolutionary
and "terrorist" actions of the cold war were home grown,
springing from indigenous roots?
One week after the United States warmly congratulated Peru
for its stylishly-executed executions, US ambassador to the
United Nations, Bill Richardson, was in Zaire to mediate the
waning days of President Mobutu, another brutal American cold-war
ally, who has outlived his usefulness to The Empire. Said
Richardson: "The United States firmly believes that there can be
no military solution to the crisis, but rather a negotiated
As Secretary of State Madeline Albright said on the very day
of the hostage rescue -- when asked if it was not hypocritical to
punish Burma for human rights violations while refraining from
sanctions against China -- "We have consistent principles and
flexible tactics."

Written by William Blum
Author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since
World War II

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