RIGHTS-PERU: 20 Years of Bloodshed and Death

Laura Puertas

LIMA, Aug 28 2003 (IPS) - A nine-volume report handed over to Peru’s President Alejandro Toledo Thursday by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes a detailed analysis of the causes of the political violence that shook the country for 20 years – 1980 to 2000.

A nine-volume report handed over to Peru’s President Alejandro Toledo Thursday by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes a detailed analysis of the causes of the political violence that shook the country for 20 years.

The document accuses the Maoist guerrilla movement Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and its leader Abimael Guzmán of being the worst human rights violators, and estimates that 69,280 people were killed or ”disappeared” between 1980 and 2000, falling victim to insurgent groups or to government repression.

Three of every four victims were Quechua-speakers, members of the country’s biggest indigenous community.

The report also holds former presidents Fernando Belaúnde (1980-1985), Alan García (1985-1990) and Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) responsible for what occurred.

”The last two decades of the 20th century were…a blemish of horror and dishonour on the Peruvian state and society. The story that is told here talks about us, about what we were, about what we must stop being,” said the chairman of the Commission, Salomón Lerner after handing the report over to the president.

The document culminates a 22 months of research, in which testimony was gathered from more than 16,000 people in 530 remote parts of Peru.

The Commission’s estimate of the number of lives claimed by the civil conflict is up to three times the figure previously mentioned in Peru.

Most of the victims – 79 percent – lived in rural areas, three-quarters were Quechua Indians, and 68 percent had only primary school education.

The Commission also reported that 40 percent of the deaths and disappearances occurred in the southwestern department of Ayacucho, the Andean highlands area where the civil war first started.

The lion’s share of the victims – 85 percent – were from Ayacucho, the central departments of Huánuco and San Martín, and Huancavelica and Apurimac in the south.

The Commission held Shining Path responsible for 54 percent of the deaths and forced disappearances, underlining that Peru was an exception in Latin America in that a guerrilla group was the worst perpetrator.

Shining Path ”used extreme violence and unusual maliciousness that included torture and excessive cruelty as forms of punishing or setting examples to intimidate the population that it sought to control,” says the report.

According to the Commission, that was a result of the guerrilla group’s fundamentalist Maoist ideology, which ”scorned the value of life, and denied human rights.”

Shining Path’s imprisoned founder Guzmán is accused of carrying the cult of personality to the extreme, and of ”scorning his own activists, who he instigated to kill and to die in the cruellest, bloodiest manner, while the top leaders…lived in Lima, safe from physical risk and hardships.”

The Commission held the smaller Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) responsible for just 1.5 percent of the deaths and disappearances.

Nevertheless, the reports states that the MRTA committed ”criminal acts, murders, the taking of hostages, and the systematic practice of kidnapping.”

In addition, the report pins responsibility on the governments of Belaúnde and García, and on the dictatorship of Fujimori, who was democratically elected but then staged a “self-coup” in April 1992 in which he dissolved parliament and the judiciary and banned political parties.

Although the report acknowledges that democratic institutions were maintained until that time, it says those who governed the country “lacked the necessary comprehension and for handling the armed conflict appropriately.”

Under those governments the civilian authorities were made subordinate to the security apparatus’s anti-insurgency strategy, says the document.

The Commission states that the Belaúnde and García administrations are to be held responsible for failing to implement an integral strategy and for allowing human rights violations to become a systematic practice by the armed forces during some periods and in certain zones of conflict.

In just two years – 1983 and 1984 – under the Belaúnde government, the greatest number of deaths were committed in the entire conflict: 19,468 victims, or 28 percent of the total.

Under García, of the centre-left APRA and now the leader of the political opposition, the report notes an early attempt to redirect the counterinsurgency fight by punishing military chiefs responsible for massacres.

But the June 1986 “massacres in the prisons Lurigancho and El Frontón marked a breaking point in the efforts of the APRA government to impose from a civilian power a new framework for the security forces to respect human rights.”

The report is much more critical of the Fujimori government. The 1992 coup represented the “collapse of the state of law,” says the text.

The Commission points to the emergence of a death squad, known as the Colina Group, and linked to Fujimori’s former adviser and spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos, in prison on dozens of charges ranging from money laundering to murder.

The death squad committed “assassinations, forced disappearances and massacres committed with cruelty and ruthlessness.”

“There is reasonable evidence to affirm that President Alberto Fujimori, his adviser Vladimiro Montesinos and top officials of the SIN (National Intelligence Service) hold criminal responsibility for the assassinations, disappearances and massacres,” perpetrated by the Colina Group.

As for the actions of the Peruvian armed forces, accused of 31 percent of the deaths, the Commission concludes, “They applied a strategy that in the early period was one of indiscriminate repression against the population suspected of belonging to Shining Path.”

In a second phase, “that strategy became more selective, but it continued to entail numerous human rights violations.”

According to the report, there were times during the conflict that it was not a matter of individual excesses, but rather “widespread and/or systematic practices of human rights violations.”

It will be up to the Peruvian judiciary to determine to what degree the officials involved are criminally responsible, and to what extent they led the counterinsurgency strategy in each of the areas declared emergency zones, says the Truth Commission.

The names of some 120 people – military and civilian alike – engaged in such crimes, says the Commission, will be presented in a sealed document to the Attorney General’s Office to be dealt with according to Peruvian law.

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