Peru: A People Under Siege

Against the Current, No. 38, May/June 1992

Socialist Challenge

AMONG THE FIRST targets of the April 5 anti-constitutional coup of Peruvian president Fujimori and the military were the political parties. Troops and tanks surrounded the headquarters of the parties and trade unions. Party leaders and elected members of the dissolved Peruvian parliament were detained, facing house arrest and worse.

Barrera Bazan, a leftist and vice president of the Chamber of Deputies, is being held on a ship off the coast by the highly anti-communist Peruvian navy. Those not arrested have gone into hiding; security was stepped up at airports to prevent their leaving the country.

By a twist of fate three central leaders of the Unified Mariateguista Party (PUM), the furthest left of the parties in the Peruvian congress, were abroad on an Asian tour at the moment of the coup. Senator Javier Canseco (previously interviewed in “Peru at the Brink,” ATC 34) and Congressional Deputy Ricardo Letts of the PUM were appointed to represent the two chambers at an emergency meeting of the Organization of American States.

Eduardo Caceres, secretary-general of the PUM, came to Vancouver on the first stop of a Canadian tour to build urgently needed international solidarity against the coup. At an April 9 press conference Caceres offered some initial thoughts on the coup. Caceres began by referring to Fujimori as “citizen Fujimori,” noting that when the Peruvian president violates the constitution in the manner of Fujimori he is considered removed from office.

A Very Dangerous Game

The coup makers face a serious contradiction, Caceres explained: They face international political isolation at a time when their whole economic policy depends on opening up Peru to foreign capital. Japan has not suspended aid, and Fujimori is wooing Japanese and Asian capital. To succeed in this, however, he needs to show that he can quickly impose order on a decomposing society.

The Peruvian opposition had warned of the coup danger, but was clearly caught off guard by its timing, partly because they believed the military would not act without the blessing of Washington. According to Caceres, however, there was no reason to believe Washington was directly involved in this coup. Now in a post-cold war world, with domestic discontent rising, Washington may have trouble openly supporting Fujimori and the Peruvian military–to say nothing of the $2 billion aid that Caceres estimated would be necessary to stabilize the situation.

The Peruvian military–which recently topped the world in the numbers of people disappeared–may be given a green light for a total offensive to annihilate the opposition in the short term. This war will not just be waged against (the Maoist-terrorist movement) “Shining Path.” Shining Path’s support is indeed growing, given the hunger and misery caused by Fujimori’s neoliberal policies–but it commands only a fringe base of support, perhaps five percent of the population (a point also discussed by Hugo Blanco elsewhere in this issue).

If the coup, however, succeeds in eliminating all other space and reducing the choice to military dictatorship versus Shining Path, that base could grow. In this sense, Caceres suggested, Shining Path could gain from a coup it has long sought to provoke.

In recent years, the left and popular organizations have been subject to attack by both the military and Shining Path. Caceres expects the military to go after all opposition, in the style of the late 1970s Argentine “dirty war,” a situation which puts all human rights groups, workers’ and peasants’ unions, all manner of popular organizations and left parties in potentially extreme danger.

The Background

In the 1990 presidential campaign Fujimori won popular support by campaigning against the International Monetary Fund-inspired free market “shock” policies of his heavily favored opponent Mario Vargas Llosa. But upon taking office Fujimori implemented the full IMF treatment; gas prices were hiked eight times, price subsidies eliminated, wages frozen and public service slashed. The immediate result was a 400 percent inflation in August 1990 alone.

The aim was to make Peru wide open for foreign investment. This failed–partly due to the international recession, and the very deep recession in Peru, but also because of tumultuous social and political decomposition.

Moves toward a strong presidential/military state began well before the coup. After the parliament authorized the President to enact legislation in a limited number of areas, Fujimori went far beyond the mandate and enacted over 100 laws by decree, some directly contrary to the will of Congress.

The military was allowed to take control of regional governments. A new super-powerful National Intelligence Service was created, controlled by the military, with the power to go into every public office and jail those who refuse to provide information.

According to Caceres, Fujimori expected to create a right-wing alliance in support of militarization and the Strong State. Instead an extraordinarily broad coalition, from the PUM to Vargas Llosa’s right-wing Libertad, united in defense of the constitution. This was the breaking point for Fujimori and the military.

A Difficult Period Ahead

The Peruvian left now faces a double challenge. It needs to join with all possible forces to oppose, and to internationally isolate, the military’s war on democracy. At the same time it must help the mass movement to survive, to defend itself against attack and begin to lay the basis for a working class and popular alternative.

The PUM is confronted with the daunting challenge of quickly re-establishing its organization in Peru to carry out these tasks. They need the assistance of the North American movement.

May-June 1992, ATC 38