Is Peru the Model for Fighting

Huacariz Prison — Cajamarca, Peru

In the early 1990s, at the very same time that the autocratic President Alberto Fujimori implemented a neo-liberal economic policy that sadly further impoverished Peru’s already poor majority and began a political agenda that further removed their social and political rights, the Peruvian government’s propaganda machine labeled the ongoing political violence “terrorism” and made the antiterrorism campaign the central focus of its political endeavors. Today, as it was then in Peru, the figure of “terrorism” is used internationally to silence the voices of those who oppose the decisions made by the powerful minority to the detriment of the well-being of the vast majorities around the globe. The objective of using visual concepts of terrorism to provoke panic and fear has a tremendous psychological and social impact on a population and serves as a smokescreen, enabling a government’s leaders to gain support while, at the same time, hiding the real economic and social problems facing society. In Peru, Alberto Fujimori, now a fugitive in Japan, employed the specter of terrorism for over a decade to conceal his government’s corruption and his thirst for power and control.

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, however, there had been terrible political violence in Peru — which is something that by no means am I trying to justify. There were two organizations that took up arms, the Peruvian Communist Party (PCP-Shining Path) and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). The Peruvian government, however, continues to make no public distinction between its enemies, classifying them together, and labeling both as “terrorists,” despite the well-known vast differences in their ideologies and actions. Nevertheless, the fact that an insurgent organization could have attained any degree of popular support, despite the use of violence, says a lot about how horribly violent, excluding, and dehumanizing society must have been. This is not a justification but a necessary explanation of the social ills that must be addressed here in Peru, and everywhere, if all types of violence are to be eradicated.

This topic of political violence and “terrorism” has been so politicized in Peru that it has now become practically impossible to address it properly. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, named in June 2001, unfortunately is limited by the Peruvian government’s ongoing political use of it. This is the same government that also constantly reminds its people of the 20 years of violence which no longer is a tangible problem but is spoken of as though the danger is once again right around the corner. This appears to be another smokescreen to hide important economic and social problems and make people fear any real attempts at social change in a society so profoundly divided. This is not an affirmation but rather an attempt to explain why “terrorism” in Peru is so often a front-page news item even though it no longer an issue.

But there are still relics from that era of violence. Those detained in the context of political violence, as I was, are some of these relics. And the supreme antiterrorism decrees promulgated by Alberto Fujimori during a state of emergency in order to condemn those detained are others.

I was tried in a summary military trial under these antiterrorism laws that violated my basic human rights. I was convicted of “treason” and given a life sentence. Only due to international pressure, however, the military reviewed my file, found evidence lacking, and vacated my sentence. I then received an “open” civilian trial under the same illegal antiterrorism decrees that violate internationally established standards of due process and human rights. Over a hundred intellectuals from around the world deemed this public trial “inquisitional.” Nevertheless, I was given a 20-year sentence. Without international pressure, however, I would still have the life sentence and I now would be facing the Peruvian government’s new laws, as are hundreds of political prisoners who had been given life sentences in secret military tribunals. These new laws give prison benefits such as parole after 35 years, if and only if prisoners renounce their ideals and their political views. Recent statements to this effect from Justice Minister Alvarado affirm this and again demonstrate that the Peruvian antiterrorist laws have been part of an ongoing, long-term government policy more than a judicial one.

Today, there are approximately 2,500 persons who are imprisoned in Peru after being detained in the context of political violence. Many of these prisoners are innocent of the charges and others were given long sentences totally disproportional to any crimes committed. There should be a fear in Peru, however, that imprisonment could eventually happen to anyone who disagrees with those in power. Examining the international arena and the threats of war that exist today only confirms this. Peru serves as an example of how those who work for social change can be “democratically,” eternally condemned.

Peru’s painful past needs to be carefully examined by all of society and truth cannot be ignored just to benefit one side of the conflict. To date, the Peruvian government has historically denied its great majority their right to be regarded as, and treated as, humans. Someone needs to speak out.

Lori Berenson

Leave a comment