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Editor’s note:

The following commentary, prepared under the auspices of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philadelphia, Pa., fits well into the category of controversial inquiry offered by Curt Jones in the previous ‘issue’ of American Diplomacy. Jones, a former senior U. S. diplomat, raised challenging issues of social equity and the related responsibility internationally of the United States. The experience of the long siege at the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Peru has again focussed these issues in our consciousness.

(It bears repeating that American Diplomacy and its Editorial Board do not necessarily share any of our writers’ opinions.)

Terrorism in
Latin America


By Michael Radu O n  t h e  a f t e r n o o n of April 22, siesta time in Lima, combined forces from Peru’s army, navy, air force, and police stormed the Japanese ambassador’s residence, thus ending the 126-day hostage crisis that began when the building was taken over by members of the Marxist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) on December 17, 1996.

Peru’s hostage crisis was the longest in the history of the Americas; fortunately, it ended with one of the most successful rescue operations in the history of anti-terrorism. Only one of the seventy-two hostages died: Supreme Court Justice Carlos Giusti, who suffered a heart attack following a wound. No less remarkably, only two members of the attacking force lost their lives. By contrast, all fourteen MRTA terrorists were killed, some allegedly after trying to surrender.

Aptly, and ironically, the operation was dubbed Chavín de Huántar, which is the name of a pre-Columbian civilization whose ruins include a number of tunnels. The name’s aptness comes from the significant role that tunnels have played in the MRTA’s history. Specifically, in 1990, forty-eight of the groups’ jailed leaders tunneled their way to freedom — a feat celebrated by the Left everywhere. The irony of the operation’s name comes from the role that tunnels play on the 22nd of April, when the military used tunnels dug under the ambassador’s residence to free the hostages and largely destroy the MRTA.

Given the fact that the rescue operation involved units from all three services of the armed forces, plus the police, the ingredients for failure were certainly present, as previously demonstrated by the United States’ experience with mixed-force rescue operations in Grenada and Iran. What neutralized the dangers inherent in a mixed force was President Alberto Fujimori’s personal, hands-on leadership of the crisis, exercised through the National Intelligence Service, which he controls. Thus, Fujimori’s immediate, persistent, and successful campaign to take credit for the operation was not only politically expedient, it had a grounding in the facts of the case.

Yes, Fujimori needed a boost in public opinion, given his steady drop in polls and a number of recent scandals plaguing his intelligence services and security forces. But he earned one, not only through his oversight of the operation, but through his strength under months of pressure to give in to the kidnappers, pressure multiplied many times over by his brother Pedro’s presence among the hostages.

Military forces — anti-terrorist as well as terrorist — will likely study this operation for a long time to come. And so they should. But the political and psychological implications of April 22 deserve to be studied no less. For the events in Lima raise important political and moral questions, including questions about the true values of some self-proclaimed human-rights activists and social-democratic politicians; questions about the attitudes and policies of different governments; and questions regarding the remnants of the violent Left in Latin America and elsewhere.

Q:What has the Peruvian hostage crisis demonstrated about the Latin American Left?
D u r i n g  t h e  L i m a  c r i s i s, some alleged human-rights organizations displayed a peculiarly twisted set of values, which should be kept in mind the next time they raise their voices.
For example,
  • The executive secretary of the Quito-based Latin American Human Rights Association condemned the use of force against “political opponents.” The implication is that anyone advancing a (sufficiently leftist) motive is merely engaging in politics if he practices kidnapping and murder; thus, if the government responds to those crimes, it is guilty of using force against its political opposition.
  • Similarly, Guatemala’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu described Fujimori’s unwillingness to cave in to the terrorists demands as “state terrorism.” Joining in this general chorus were the Central American Human Rights Commission and the Chilean Green Humanist Alliance. People who are seriously concerned with human rights should not forget.More disturbing still were the statements by two former presidents from Latin America: Carlos Andrés Pérez of Venezuela and Raúl Alfonsín of Argentina. Given their past high offices and democratic credentials (social democratic, to be sure), one would expect these men to shun any links to anti-democratic terrorists, however leftist. Yet Perez called the Peruvian action “assassination,” and Alfonsin described it as “barbaric.”It is a question, in need of urgent answer, why two such prominent Latin American politicians would want to place themselves in the dubious company of the Basque ETA, the Turkish PKK, the Colombian ELN, and other terrorist groups who came forth to honor the MRTA “martyrs.” Those who pursue an answer to that question will likely find it in the general moral bankruptcy of the Latin American Left — whether democratic or not. Notice that the Salvadoran FMLN, an alleged convert to democratic politics, had no scruples about echoing the Pérez/Alfonsín line. Where is the outcry about MRTA’s record of kidnapping? (It turns out that one of the female terrorists, according to the terrorist’s mother, had been kidnapped by the MRTA at the age of 12 and brainwashed for the past four years.)
    Q:How will the events in Lima affect the attitudes and policies of other governments?
A m o n g  t h e  g o v e r n m e n t s indirectly affected by the events in Lima, the two which most urgently need to reconsider their attitudes and policies toward terrorism are Uruguay and Japan.
At the beginning of the hostage crisis, Uruguay promptly caved in to MRTA terrorist blackmail. Abandoning its long-respected democratic traditions, the government arranged for one of its courts to release two obvious MRTA murderers and kidnappers — sought for crimes in both Bolivia and Peru — in exchange for the freedom of the Uruguayan ambassador being held in Lima. By contrast, it should be noted, Bolivia refused to release MRTA terrorist kidnappers in its jails, though the Bolivian ambassador remained a hostage to the very end of the crisis. Whether Montevideo will undertake any reconsideration of its policies remains uncertain at this time.
The case of Japan is more hopeful, if one may judge by public and press reactions to “Operation Chavín de Huántar.” Conceivably, Japan’s formerly meek reaction to terrorist blackmail — most obvious in the country’s willingness to pay ransom — will be reconsidered. Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s admission that, while he was not forewarned by Fujimori, he nonetheless congratulated the Peruvians, was an admission of the failure of official Tokyo pacifism.The countries of Western Europe, too, need to consider their policies on terrorism, for it was in Western Europe, among the unreconstructed communists and radicals of Spain, Italy, and Germany, that the MRTA had its strongest public relations and “solidarity” network. And it is from her safe “asylum” in France that the mother of Nestor Cerpa Cartolini, the now-dead terrorist leader, has the chutzpah to announce that she will sue Japan for the “murder” of her murderous son. Why Japan? Because, perhaps, as Willie Sutton would have put it, that is where the money is. The governments of those countries may now wish to restrict their notion of asylum so as to exclude terrorist activists, including those who engage in propaganda and incitement, even if such activities affect “only” a poor and remote Third World country like Peru.

As for the United States, the Clinton administration consistently supported Fujimori’s decisions, perhaps because that provided a vicarious demonstration of toughness against terrorism. Unfortunately, Washington may not continue to have the luxury of applauding tough antiterrorist measures abroad. Given the reflexive anti-Americanism of the Latin American Left, one consequence of the events in Lima may well be to make Washington (rather than Fujimori) the target of demonstrations and, possibly, terrorist attacks. To a lesser extent, that could also apply to Tokyo.

Q:Where does the violent Left stand now in Latin America?
T h e  M R T A ,  s t r a t e g i c a l l y defeated since 1992, was largely wiped out by the action of April 22nd. But if Peru’s leader has learned one thing during these past several months, it is to shun triumphalism — hence, President Fujimori’s admission that terrorism is licked but not totally dead. Some MRTA leaders live abroad: Hugo Avellaneda and Dante Limaylla Huaman, the latter soon to be released from a Bolivian jail following a conviction for kidnapping. Any or all of these may try to pick up the pieces, and therefore some assassinations, bombings, or kidnappings may still take place.Nevertheless, the MRTA as an organized group, small to begin with, will likely survive only in the imagination of the nostalgic and marginal European and Latin American political fringe.

Source: Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Dr. Michael Radu is an Associate Scholar of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a recognized authority on Latin American revolutionary and terrorist groups. He was in Lima at the beginning of the hostage crisis and is personally acquainted with several of the hostages, the most prominent being Foreign Minister Francisco Tudela. His comments on the events in Lima have appeared in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, and have been carried on PBS, FoxTV and numerous radio stations.

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