The Lima Hostage Takeover and the Murderous Prison Conditions in Peru

Revolutionary Worker #888, January 5, 1997

On December 17, a commando unit of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) took over the home of the Japanese ambassador in Lima, the capital of Peru. The occupation took place as the ambassador hosted a party to celebrate the Japanese emperor's birthday, and hundreds of high-level diplomatic, government and business officials were present. According to news reports, some MRTA members gained entrance into the ambassador's residence by dynamiting a hole in a retaining wall from a house next door, while others slipped past security by posing as waiters for the party. One MRTA member was reportedly injured, but no one else was hurt or killed in the takeover.

Many of the original hostages, numbering about 500, were released over the next few days. As of December 28, the MRTA commandos still held about 80. Among them were ambassadors from Japan and a number of other countries; Peru's foreign, agriculture and justice ministers; the director and former director of the DINCOTE (Peruvian political police) and the head of police intelligence; and many Japanese and Peruvian business executives.

A December 17 communique by the MRTA declared that the action was taken "in protest against the interference of the Japanese government in the political life of our country." The U.S. is the main power behind Peru's Fujimori regime, but Japan has been playing an increasing economic and political role in Peru. The MRTA communique also said, "We have been forced to take this extreme measure in order to save the life of dozens of members and leaders of our organization, who suffer imprisonment under subhuman conditions and under a prison system which aims for their physical and mental annihilation." The communique listed four demands: that the government change its economic policies; that prisoners belonging to the MRTA be set free; the safe transfer of the MRTA commandos to Peru's central jungle area; the payment of a "war tax."

Fujimori has said very little in public about the occupation, but he is clearly in close consultation with his big-power backers, especially the U.S. Under the cover of the "war on drugs," the U.S. sends military "trainers" and millions of dollars in aid to the Peruvian army and police. The DINCOTE has worked closely with the CIA in operations against the people's war led by the Communist Party of Peru (PCP, known as the Shining Path in the media)--including the 1992 capture of PCP Chairman Gonzalo.

On Dec. 27, Fujimori widened the emergency rule in the capital to include all of the city and the neighboring port of Callao. The measure suspends constitutional guarantees such as protection from house searches and arrests without warrants, and it limits rights to travel and assembly. Large areas of Peru are already under such emergency rule, as part of attempts by the government to suppress the PCP-led people's war.

Who Are the Real Criminals?

U.S. government officials say they are outraged at the "terrorist" takeover in Lima and voice "concern" for the hostages. These hypocritical words come from international gangsters who carry out mass murder around the world and take whole nations hostage. Look at Iraq, where the U.S. waged a massive air war that devastated the country and killed many people, including hundreds at a civilian air raid shelter hit by a U.S. "smart bomb." Then the U.S. used the weapon of economic embargo to try to pressure Saddam Hussein, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.

In Peru, the U.S. props up a brutal regime that holds more than 5,000 people in jail as political prisoners. A large majority of these prisoners are members and supporters of the PCP, while several hundred are associated with the MRTA. They have been charged with political crimes, tried by hooded military judges without any chance to defend themselves, and sentenced to long jail terms under some of the most inhumane prison conditions in the world.

One Peruvian prison, Yanamayo, was deliberately built in a very remote and harsh area of the Andes mountains. An account in the New York Times (Dec. 9) gives an idea of what the prisoners face there: "Inmates in Yanamayo...are confined to small cells with no running water, no lighting and no glass in the windows to stop the frigid mountain winds. Temperatures drop as low as zero during the winter, but the altitude makes it cold much of the year. Prisoners in Yanamayo receive about a gallon of water each day that is used for drinking, washing and flushing a hole in the concrete floor that serves as a toilet. The beds are concrete, and prisoners are allowed only a half-hour of yard time a day. They are confined to their cells the rest of the day."

In Callao prison near Lima, the Peruvian regime built special underground isolation cells to hold captured leaders like PCP Chairman Gonzalo. Fujimori bragged that these underground cells were "grave prisons" and that "there [the prisoners] will rot and will only get out dead."

Where is the outrage from the U.S. government at the horrendous conditions these captives face? Where is the outrage at a judicial system that has railroaded thousands of people for political crimes? There is no such outrage from Washington (aside from a few token words of caution at times about Fujimori's "autocratic methods"), because the U.S. backs--and in many ways directs--the Peruvian regime's attempts to "pacify" the country through whatever means necessary.

Fujimori's "free market" economic policies are praised for having "saved" Peru from the brink of collapse, and he is pictured as a "model" for other Latin American governments. In reality, Fujimori's "privatization" schemes--carried out under orders from the International Monetary Fund--have only benefited a small class of rich in Peru and foreign capitalists who are buying Peru's resources at bargain prices. For the majority of the people, there is only more poverty and misery.

Over one half of Peru's 23 million people live below the official poverty line, and five million live in "extreme poverty," unable to meet even the basic standards of nutrition and health. At least 20,000 children work in the streets of Lima as vendors to help support their families. Millions of poor people in the rural areas and in the urban shantytowns are without sanitation facilities or safe drinking water--and this causes many deaths, especially among children. Where is the official outrage at this criminal situation?

The conditions of extreme poverty and injustice in Peru have given rise to people's war and other forms of struggle. The people's war, initiated in 1980 by the PCP, organizes peasants, workers and middle class allies in a revolutionary armed struggle to overthrow the reactionary system and liberate Peru from imperialist domination. The PCP follows the strategy of protracted people's war--building revolutionary base areas in the countryside and surrounding the center of reactionary power in the cities, with the goal of seizing nationwide political power. This is a revolution guided by the ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and waged as part of the worldwide proletarian revolution.

The MRTA, which emerged in the mid-1980s in Lima, has a different outlook and strategy. It does not carry out the Maoist line of waging people's war, building base areas in the countryside and aiming at a complete break with the system of imperialism and domestic reaction. Instead, they have tended to focus on "spectacular actions" like the current one, combined with attempts to reach "understandings" with different ruling class parties.

The Peruvian rulers and the U.S. denounce all armed struggle against them, and especially the Maoist people's war, as "terrorism." And they use this label to justify all kinds of reactionary violence and fascist repression against the people. But justice is on the side of the oppressed people of Peru. It's the rulers of Peru and their Yankee masters who are the real criminals.

Vicious Moves by U.S. and Fujimori

It is unclear how the stand-off in Lima will be resolved. The media has speculated that Fujimori and/or the Japanese government might reach some compromise deal with the MRTA. As we go to press, there are reports that the MRTA commandos and the government negotiator had talked face-to-face for the first time. But Fujimori has surrounded the ambassador's residence with heavily armed troops and police, and the U.S. government has been taking a hard-line stance against any negotiated deals with the MRTA commandos.

The New York Times reported on Dec. 24: "The U.S. had encouraged Fujimori not to give in to the guerrilla demands and reportedly sent a force of advisers and military commandos to help the Peruvians." Reuters reported on Dec. 27 that, according to Peruvian intelligence sources, "A U.S. spy plane had made several high-altitude night flights over the site of the siege, gathering information for a possible attack on guerrillas inside." Russia's Boris Yeltsin joined in this vicious chorus when he proposed that Russia and the "Group of Seven" (the U.S., Japan and other Western imperialist countries) consider sending "anti-terrorist" security units to Lima to help Fujimori.

All this points to the possibility of a violent assault on the embassy that could lead to many deaths. The blood that is shed in any such attack will be on the hands of the Fujimori regime and their U.S. backers. If Fujimori does order an assault, it will be a criminal action based on the cold calculations of the Peruvian rulers and the imperialists--and it should be opposed by all those with a sense of justice.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.) 4