Peru: Caught in the Crossfire

Mauricio Tuesta

Peru: Caught in the Crossfire
By Aldo Panfichi and Jo-Marie Burt
Jefferson City, Missouri: Peru Peace Network-USA, 1992, 66 pages, $6.

AN IMPORTANT RESOURCE for human rights advocates published by the Peru Peace Network-USA, Peru’s Caught in the Crossfire puts Peru’s complex social and political problems in historical context. It has been published with the intention of educating the North American public on the Peruvian reality and the causes of the violence endemic in this country of 22 million people.

The work covers the rise of the organizations that have taken up arms against the government, the political violence that has been unleashed, the economic and political role of coca and the relation of the drug trade to the insurgency. The positive aspects of Peru are discussed in the rise of popular organizations and movements to resolve the problems created by the inability of the state and traditional organizations to meet the needs of the most impoverished.

Jo-Marie Burt is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University in New York who has focused her studies on political violence in Guatemala and Peru. She has lived and worked on human rights in Peru. Aldo Panfichi, a Peruvian, is a doctoral candidate at the New School for Social Research in New York. He has been the coordinator of the Grupo de Apoyo Peruano/Peruvian Support Group in New York, which publishes a newsletter of political analysis and information with the goal of informing the U.S. public on the human rights situation in Peru.

A most valuable aspect of their work is the analysis of the two armed opposition groups in Peru: Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the Revolutionary Movement Tupac Amaru (MRTA). [The captures of top leaders of both these organizations occurred since the booklet was published—ed.

Although Sendero Luminoso began to engage in guerilla activity thirteen years ago, there has been much ignorance as to what they represent. The organization views itself as the center of world revolution, and the guiding thought of their central leader Abimael Guzman, called by his followers “Presidente Gonzalo,” as the “fourth pillar” of Marxism.

An entire philosophical framework for this sectarian-militarist organization has been developed based on the view that feudal social relations still exist in Peru. Since the initiation of their guerilla war at the time of the 1980 elections after twelve years of military dictatorship, the casualties of this war have grown to 25,000 dead, hundreds of disappeared and hundreds of thousands of internal refugees.

Sendero has targeted for assassination not only military and police but low-level government functionaries such as public health nurses, as well as priests and nuns, elected local officials and leaders of popular organizations such as peasant unions, labor unions and shanty town organizations.

The other organization in arms against the government, the MRTA, often portrayed as the “good guerrillas,” view themselves as the army for the popular movement Many of their actions have been attempts to win the support of the poor, such as distribution of food and goods robbed from factories and truck.

They also commit violence against those who have political differences with them. In 1989 the MRTA murdered the leader of the Ashaninka people, an indigenous nationality that lives in the mountainous jungle of central Peru, for crimes he supposedly committed in the 1960s against the guerilla movement of that period. Last year, the MRTA assassinated Andrea Sosa—a former leader of the pro-Moscow Communist Party who had split with that organization and was involved in a new political formation, Patria Libre, composed of forces with political views similar to the MRTA.

In addition to assassination, both the MRTA and Sendero often use terrorism, with car bombs a favorite tactic in major cities.

Political Economy of Coca

The authors also cover in detail the problem of coca production, one that should be of the most importance to North American readers because of the growing involvement of the U.S. military and Drug Enforcement Agency in Peru.

In the Huallaga Valley, where most of the coca for illicit cocaine production is grown, Sendero Luminoso acts as a mediator between the coca growers and drug cartels. The MRTA, also active in the area, have attempted to organize coca growers into production committees. The two organizations have engaged in battles over which would prevail in the area.

In the Huallaga Valley, the repressing policies of the military—between repression of the coca trade and concentrating on the “subversion”—has created a situation that at best is incoherent This appeared to be one of the factors behind the “self-coup’ of President Fujimori in April 1992.

The military has tended to view the support of the coca growers as necessary for carrying out the war against Sendero and the MRTA, while the U.S. government pushes the position that coca growers as part of the international drug traffic should not be encouraged. The coup allows the Peruvian military once again a free hand in the Huallaga Valley, unrestricted by human rights concerns imposed by the U.S. Congress in 1991 as a condition for aid to the anti-drug campaign, and free to make alliances with the coca growers to reduce the influence of Sendero.

Because of the inability of the state to meet basic human needs, particularly of the poor majority, various self-generated movements have risen, from committees that provide a glass of milk a day to children to self-organized cities that have grown up out of land “invasions.” One of the most interesting is the development of rondas, or patrols that assume police powers to protect the population from criminals and terrorist attacks.

These patrols, both urban and rural, have arrested police as well as common criminals engaged in robberies and kidnappings. They have engaged Sendero Luminoso in battle, partly accounting for Sendero’s shift from concentrating on the countryside to the cities. The role of their popular movement is the one bright side to the Peruvian situation.

This booklet should be read especially by those interested in preventing a new U.S. military adventure in Latin America.

Peru: Caught in the Crossfire is available for $6 from the Peru Peace Network-USA, P.O. Box 551, Jefferson City, MO 65152.

For those interested in regular reports, the Peruvian Support Group publishes a newsletter for $15 a year. Their address is 298 Fifth Avenue, Suite 136, New York, NY 10001-4592. Make checks payable to GAP-Church Women United.

July-August 1993, ATC 45