Peru: The Truth about the "Truth Commission"

Revolutionary Worker #1217, October 26, 2003, posted at

We received this article from the Committee to Support the Revolution in Peru (CSRP).

Following in the footsteps of the U.S. imperialist godfathers and their "war on terrorism," the rulers of Peru recently issued a new report attacking the Maoist People's War in that country.

The government of Peru had appointed a "Commission on Truth and Reconciliation" to investigate and hear testimony on the civil war that began in 1980 when the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) initiated the People's War. On August 28 the Commission issued its final report.

The main theme of the report is to portray the People's War in Peru as "terrorism." And its basic conclusion is: It's NEVER right for the people to rebel against their oppressors.

The Commission claims that it examined "the violence on both sides" of the war. Some families of revolutionaries who were falsely imprisoned or "disappeared" by the government had hoped that this Commission might expose and bring to justice those in the government's military and police responsible for 20 years of massacres, mass graves, torture, rapes, and disappearances carried out with impunity by successive Peruvian governments in attempts to defeat the People's War.

But the Commission's purpose was quite the opposite: to justify the crimes of military, police, paramilitary forces, and government leaders by arguing that these things occurred basically because the PCP had led the people to rise up.

The Commission expresses special horror at the fact that the PCP initiated the People's War at a time when the government was conducting "free elections." But the recent history of Peru has been the history of one "democratically elected" government after another sucking the lifeblood of the people.

Under Peru's "democratic" regimes, foreign mining companies have extracted countless millions of dollars in minerals from Peru--while the majority of people in Peru suffer malnutrition and diseases caused by poverty. The masses of indigenous people--abused, despised, and neglected by the power structure--have been excluded from having any voice in the decisions of the government. Millions of peasants have been forced to emigrate to the vast slums and shantytowns of Lima where they are barely able to survive.

But the daily hell of people's lives, their immense suffering under the normal workings of the system, and the just struggle to liberate themselves through armed struggle are not realities that this Commission seriously considered.

Make-up of Commission Shows Which Side They're On

Members of the Commission included Lt. General Luis Arias Graziani of the Peruvian Army; Carlos Tapia and Carlos Ivan Degregori, so-called experts on the People's War who have made careers out of advising the military on how to best conduct the counter-insurgency; Beatriz Alva Hart, an ex-Congresswoman who was part of the coalition under the notorious President Fujimori; two Catholic bishops and a priest; Lay Sun, a leader of a conservative Protestant church; and Rolando Ames, Congressman from a "leftist" group that supported ex-presidents Alan Garcia and Alberto Fujimori.

Who was NOT on the commission? Not a single family member of the thousands subjected to torture, death, or disappearance at the hands of the government. Not a single family member of the thousands of political prisoners who were railroaded by secret military judges and thrown into dehumanizing dungeons. In other words, there was no one on the Commission who might possibly sympathize with the revolution.

The Commission members make clear which side they are on when they express "their most heartfelt homage to the more than one thousand courageous government soldiers who lost their lives or were left disabled because they carried out their duty." On the other hand, the Commission expresses "sorrow" that thousands of youth "wound up seduced by a plan that looked at the profound problems of the country and proclaimed: `It's right to rebel.'"

Testimony heard by the Commission included some damning evidence about the heinous crimes of the government. (See sidebar, "Who Is Oppressing the Revolutionary Women of Peru.") Yet the Commission declares that "the most grave responsibility falls on members of the leadership system of the [Communist Party of Peru]...for having directed their struggle against Peruvian democracy...for their violent practices of occupying and controlling rural territories and peasant populations, with a high cost in lives and human suffering; for their politics of genocide because of the way they provoked the State...."

The Commission's argument boils down to this: The government and its armed forces may have committed horrible acts--but the ultimate responsibility lies with those who "provoked" such a response by leading people to rise up. This is the same perverse logic that labels a woman a "criminal" for using force to fight back against a man who has repeatedly abused and battered her.

The Commission labels the PCP with the usual anti-communist epithets like "authoritarian" and "totalitarian." The truth is that with the initiation of the People's War, the PCP mobilized the peasants in Peru to take control of their land and their lives for the first time in centuries. In the revolutionary Base Areas, the peasants under PCP leadership drove out the oppressive bastions of the old order that had enforced impoverished conditions on the people. People's Committees organized new politics, economics and culture. Among those who stepped forward as fighters and leaders were many young women who found in the program of the PCP a real road toward liberation from abuse and degradation and a different future than the one offered by the "democratic" governments that the Commission defends.

Torture and Disappearances by Government Forces

The Commission's report notes that of the deaths in the war that the Commission attributes to government forces, 61% were "forced disappearances." This means that people were taken into custody by the military or police and tortured. The bodies of these "disappeared" were either so mutilated that they were not recognizable or were buried in mass graves. In 65% of these cases of "forced disappearances," the bodies of the victims have not yet been found. The report explains that disappearing of suspected revolutionaries and their supporters was routine and became especially "systematic" during the years 1989-1993.

According to the Commission, the use of "disappearances" had the advantage of concealing torture of detainees and covering up their eventual killing. In addition, says the report, disappearances provided "intimidation of the population" under military rule.

The Commission's report also sheds some light on the involvement of the U.S. in the Peruvian government's counter-revolutionary war. The operation manuals of the Peruvian military were written by U.S. experts on counter-insurgency. These manuals called for "rapid elimination" of the Maoist insurgents by any means necessary. Most of the officers who led these operations were graduates of the U.S. School of the Americas, which is known worldwide for training Latin American military forces in torture, assassinations, and other tactics.

All this is a stunning indictment of the very system that the Commission defends as "democratic." The Commission may try to paint the revolution as "terrorist." But in reality, it has been the U.S.-backed Peruvian rulers who have terrorized and brutalized the oppressed people of Peru.

Justifying Reactionary Violence

A key mission of the Commission was to dig up dirt to throw against the revolution. In any revolutionary struggle where the masses are rising up against those that have brutally oppressed them, people might at times act based on revenge or lash out against those who are not the real enemy. But the Commission report is not an attempt to understand the real-world contradictions faced by the people and revolutionaries in the context of a just armed struggle. Instead, the Commission puts all revolutionary violence into one category: "unacceptable."

The Commission labels armed actions by revolutionary fighters against police and military as "massacres." They refer to every killing by revolutionaries as an "assassination." When members of the rondas (reactionary para-military forces organized by the armed forces) are killed by the People's Liberation Army, such incidents are called murder of civilians.

In the Commission's view, only violence by the government's armed forces can be considered legal and justifiable--even if such official violence may at times take excessive, cruel and sadistic forms. And the Commission makes clear that, in their view, violence carried out by the oppressed in the struggle to get rid of the old order is NEVER justified.

One specific example cited by the Commission is the case of Maria Elena Moyano. Hailed as a hero by the Commission, Moyano ran soup kitchens in the Villa El Salvador shantytown in Lima. If poor people in the shantytown wanted to eat in the soup kitchens, they were required to denounce the revolution. Moyano and her followers turned in those who refused to the government--at that time headed up by Fujimori and his advisor Montesinos (who was also a long-time CIA operative in Peru). At the time, this regime led the world in torture and disappearances. Revolutionaries reportedly first warned Moyano and, when she continued her activities against the people, she was killed. It would be hard to know how many arrests, tortures, murders and disappearances may have been prevented by Moyano's death. But the Commission shamefully ignores her role in the government's horrendous crimes.

The Commission also highlights the 1983 incident at Lucanamarca in an attempt to attack the revolution. In this case, revolutionary masses who had been victimized by disappearances and torture at the hands of government forces took retaliation against the village of Lucanamarca. The Commission acknowledges that reactionaries in this village had carried out assassinations of revolutionaries and participated in government-led atrocities. The revolutionary masses reportedly killed almost all the villagers of Lucanamarca in revenge.

In a 1988 interview, PCP Chairman Gonzalo said that the PCP summed up the "excesses" that occurred in Lucanamarca. He explained that this attack on Lucanamarca happened at time when the revolutionary masses needed to strike back some way at the extremely brutal atrocities they were facing at the hands of government forces. But instead of taking this context into account, the Commission tries to argue that Lucanamarca is typical of the People's War.

Deception with Numbers

The Commission report features an underhanded juggling of statistics about deaths since the People's War started in 1980. Virtually all the mainstream press immediately reported that the Commission findings showed that the majority of those killed during the People's War--54%--have been killed by the revolutionaries. In fact, the Commission report doesn't show this at all.

The Commission attributes to the PCP responsibility for 54% of the deaths about which they collected testimony or gathered direct evidence . They themselves admit that they were only able to account for less than 25,000 of the estimated 69,280 people who have actually been killed.

Of those estimated 69,280 people killed, more than 60% (over 45,000) have still not been identified. Who is in the 2,000 mass graves that have not been opened? It's clear that they contain remains of peasants and revolutionaries who were disappeared by the police, military, and paramilitaries.

According to the Commission's analysis, 46% of the estimated 69,280 deaths should be attributed to the PCP, 30% to "agents of the state," and 24% to "other agents or circumstances" ("peasant rondas," "self-defense committees," "paramilitary groups," and "unidentified agents"). They also admit that non-governmental human rights groups have attributed a much smaller percentage of deaths to the PCP--from 5% to 16%.

Even if one accepts the data collected by the Commission (which is suspect, given the Commission's bias), the deceptive method they use is rather blatant. How can the killings by rondas and other government-led paramilitary forces NOT be considered killings by "agents of the state"? These paramilitary forces have been organized by the successive Peruvian regimes as a key part of the counter- insurgency. They have been recruited, paid, armed, and led by the military and police.

Even more outrageously, the Commission includes in the "other agents or circumstances" category all the people killed by secret government death squads --like the Rodrigo Franco death squad under Alan Garcia or the Colina death squad organized by Fujimori and Mon- tesinos. This is a crude attempt to promote the fiction that these death squads had nothing to do with the government.

When the two categories--"agents of the state" and "other agents or circumstances"--are added up, they account for 54% of the deaths. In other words, the Commission's own data shows that killings by government-led forces have accounted for at least 54% of the deaths.

However, even these figures are very much open to question when one considers that people in the rural areas--where the majority of deaths and disappearances took place--were still living under military rule ("state of emergency") at the very same time that the Commission was soliciting their testimonies. Under these conditions, how could peasants living in these areas speak freely? It's not hard to figure out what would have happened to someone who came forward to express solidarity or even sympathy with the People's War--to someone who testified that the People's War has unleashed people against their oppressors and offered hope for a different future. If a peasant in the Andean highlands of Ayacucho came forward with such testimony, how long would it be before he or she ended up among the tens of thousands who have been tortured and disappeared?

Under laws that were instituted during the Fujimori regime, anyone expressing support for the revolution can still be charged with "apology for terrorism" and imprisoned for 8 to 18 years. And many people still have outstanding warrants issued during the Fujimori regime when thousands were detained, imprisoned and tried by secret military judges.

When the tens of thousands of "unidentified" victims of government and paramilitary terror are considered, it becomes clear that the great majority of deaths in the Peruvian war have been at the hands of the official military and police as well as government-backed paramilitary and other reactionary forces.

After the Commission: A Question of Justice and Injustice

For years, successive governments in Peru (with U.S. backing) have been killing the people with impunity. In 1995 Fujimori gave a general amnesty to all the police and military officers who had been charged with and convicted for "human rights abuses." Now in connection with the Commission report and other developments, there is talk of reviving charges against some in the police and military. These developments have to do with some contradictions among the Peruvian rulers, and the efforts of those currently in power to distance themselves from the deeply exposed Fujimori/Montesinos regime.

It remains to be seen if any of these military, police, or government leaders will really be tried. But the talk of reviving charges has some of these pigs squealing.

On the heels of the Commission report, Major Martin Rivas, who headed up the Colina military death squad, told the press that Fujimori and Montesinos had directly ordered the 1991 murder in broad daylight of 15 people, including a 9-year-old, who had gathered at a party in the poor Lima neighborhood of Barrios Altos. Rivas explained that this massacre was part of the government's strategy of targeting supporters of the revolution for assassination. He also confirmed that Fujimori had ordered the assassinations of PCP leaders after they had surrendered and were lying face down following the military assault of Canto Grande prison in 1992.

In addition, Rivas confirmed in his interviews that the Colina death squad arose from the training he and other Peruvian military commanders received at the School of the Americas. Montesinos was also a graduate of this "School of Assassins."

Other Peruvian military officers are openly unrepentant. Carlos Infantas, a vice president of the Peruvian Congress, reflected the views of these officers when he declared on TV two days after the release of the Commission report that he "would not hesitate to order collective assassinations in order to eradicate subversion and defend my fatherland... If it is for my fatherland, I would order one hundred collective assassinations... It is the only way to resolve the problem... We have to be capable of carrying out heroic actions in order to do away with this scum of terrorism."

The Peruvian authorities may choose a few military and police scapegoats to prosecute. Large sections of the ruling class in Peru are trying to wash their hands of Fujimori and calling for him to be held accountable for some of his crimes. At the same time, the Commission report indicates that ex-presidents Alan Garcia and Fernando Belaunde will only get a slap on the hand for having "allowed" excesses to go on under their "democratic" governments.

And, of course, the U.S. government--whose CIA and military advisors have trained and advised the Peruvian military and police--now parades around the world as "defender of democracy."

But there are those who don't accept the unjust conclusions of Peru's "Truth and Reconciliation Commission." When the president of the Commission made his big public announcement about the final report in the mountain town of Ayacucho, he was jeered from the edge of the plaza. One sign read: "There will be no justice, peace, while there is inequality, discrimination and corruption." For its part, the Communist Party of Peru has been answering the lies of the Commission by continuing to organize the masses in People's War.

(For more information on the People's War in Peru, check out the website of the CSRP at Background articles on Peru are also available on the RW website at