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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 desperatelooking 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 jailedoften in very abusive, isolated conditionsduring 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 Perus 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 Puebloan autonomous government institutionstudied 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 institutionscorrupted and abused particularly by the Fujimori regimewill 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).