A Plea About Terrorism


Mamacita,
I am inside the barracks. Look for a lawyer. Look for money and
please get me out of here. I am desperate.” Arquimedes Ascarza
Mendoza, a Peruvian university student at the time, wrote this plea
on a scrap of paper that was smuggled out of the police barracks
and given to his mother, Angelina Mendoza de Ascarza, who was also
desperate—looking for him. That was in 1983 and she never again
heard from her disappeared son. 

In
1983, in the village of Soccos, Peru, people were celebrating a
forthcoming marriage when a contingent of police burst upon them.
Women were raped, then killed. The elderly and children were lined
up and machine-gunned. “When I was escaping, I passed a whole
lot of bodies lying around. Women had their breasts and tongues
cut out. Some had poles stuck in their vaginas …,” narrated
a survivor, whose son was among the dead. When she and other survivors
traveled to Huamanga to denounce the killings, one of them was killed. 

Sixty-nine
people, including children and elderly, were rounded up on August
14, 1985, in the village of Acomarca, then massacred and burned
by soldiers under the command of Sub-Tenant Telmo Hurtado who was
promoted to capitan during the Fujimori regime (1990-2000). 

These
were among seven of the testimonies presented to the Peruvian Commission
of Truth and Reconciliation (CVR) when it held its first public
audience in Ayacucho on Monday, April 8. After the fall of the Fujimori
regime in 2000, the CVR was established in 2001 by the transitional
government of Paniagua. The CVR aims to clarify what were the underlying
causes of the conflict from 1980-2000, who ordered and committed
the atrocities and acts of terrorism, and what is needed to achieve
reconciliation. 

From
1980-2000, as many as 9,000 people were “disappeared,”
close to 30,000 were killed, and over 1,000,000 were displaced from
their communities, many of which were completely destroyed. 

In
April, the Rights Action delegation in Peru watched the Truth Commission
testimonies broadcast live on television. We met with family members
of the disappeared, of the internally displaced, and of thousands
of persons jailed—often in very abusive, isolated conditions—during
the Fujimori regime, after being accused and tried under the widely
denounced “anti-terrorist” legislation. We visited prisoners
in jail. We spoke with human rights workers who were attacked by
both State and rebel forces, and with government officials, officials
from foreign embassies, and members of the CVR. 

While
few question the amount of personal loss and suffering or the damage
to Peru’s political and legal institutions or even the need
for the Truth Commission, many now realize that one of the hardest
challenges ahead for Peruvians is to investigate and answer the
question of who did it. 

For
20 years, Peruvians have been told they were engaged in a “war
against terrorism” spear- headed by the Sendero Luminoso and
MRTA rebel groups. Various western-backed Peruvian governments,
throughout the 1980s and 1990s, justified their actions by acknowledging
they committed some “excesses” and “mistakes”
in the name of the “war against terrorism.” 

Those
who questioned this official story often ended up in jail, accused
of “apology for terrorism” or were killed for being “a
terrorist.” 

Only
after Fujimori fled to Japan in November 2000 has information surfaced
alleging that State forces committed a majority of the atrocities
and human rights violations. In 2001, the Defensoria del Pueblo—an
autonomous government institution—studied 5,000 cases of “disappeared”
persons, concluding that State forces or State-supported paramilitary
were responsible for almost 98 percent. Human rights groups we spoke
with estimated that between 70 and 80 percent of the 30,000 killings
were committed by State forces. 

Most
testimonies during the first week of public hearings point the finger
directly at State forces, under the “democratic” regimes
of Fernando Belaunde (1980-1985), Alan Garcia (1985-1990), and the
autocratic regime of Alberto Fujomori. 

There
is little question in Peru and internationally that the Sendero
Luminoso rebel group used terrorism directly against civilians.
Yet the real challenge for the Peruvian military, political, and
economic elites (and their international political, economic, and
military supporters of the past 20 years) is whether they are willing
to openly investigate and then admit that State forces were responsible
for a majority of the repression and terrorism. 

From
there, the challenge will be whether Peruvian political and legal
institutions—corrupted and abused particularly by the Fujimori
regime—will ensure that once the process of truth-telling is
done (the CVR is slated to end its work in mid 2003), the intellectual
and material authors of the repression and terrorism are tried and
sentenced for their crimes. Reconciliation can only be based on
truth and justice.                   Z 


Grahame
Russell works with Rights Action, which supports community development
and human rights projects in Mexico, Central America, and Peru (www.rightsaction.org).