Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

RIGHTS-PERU: Terrorist Supporters or Victims of Witch Hunt?

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Mar 26 2008 (IPS) - Peru’s counter-terrorism police dismantled the local chapter of the Continental Bolivarian Committee (CCB-CP) and arrested its members on charges of supporting terrorism and having ties to Colombia’s guerrillas.

But human rights groups and opposition parties complain that the “war” declared by Peruvian President Alan García on groups that sympathise with Venezuela’s leftist President Hugo Chávez is aimed at silencing popular protests against the government’s free market economic policies.

Most Latin American countries have avoided declaring the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas a “terrorist” group – as the United States and European Union have done – despite calls by Colombia’s rightwing government to do so.

However, the Peruvian government, one of the few centre-right administrations in South America today, occasionally uses the term to refer to the FARC, an insurgent group with rural roots that emerged in 1964.

On Feb. 29, DIRCOTE, Spain’s counter-terrorism police, arrested seven people along Peru’s border with Ecuador as they returned from the second CCB congress, held Feb. 24-27 in Quito.

A judge ordered that they be held in pretrial detention, and charges of supporting terrorism have been brought against them.

One of the arrested activists, Roque Gonzales La Rosa, who headed the Peruvian delegation to the CCB congress, had earlier spent eight years in prison for being a member of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), the smaller of the two guerrilla groups fought by counterinsurgency forces during Peru’s 1980-2000 civil war. (The larger group was the Maoist Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path).

Gonzales La Rosa formed part of an MRTA commando that kidnapped Bolivian politician and businessman Samuel Doria Medina on Nov. 1, 1995. The 1.4 million dollar ransom paid by Doria Medina’s family was used by the rebel group to finance the Dec. 17, 1996 occupation of the Japanese ambassador’s residency in Lima.

The police identified five other former MRTA members who now have links to the CCB-CP, including Chilean citizen Alejandro Astorga, a former member of the MRTA special forces, which were involved in kidnappings and extortion during the civil war. Astorga also served time in prison in Peru.

“It’s true. I was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the Doria Medina case, and served nine years. I was released in 2005, and since then, I have to sign in every month (with the parole officer) and am under police vigilance,” Gonzales La Rosa, who was arrested on Feb. 29 and is being held in the San Jorge maximum security penitentiary in Lima, told IPS.

“But I am no longer a member of the MRTA; I am involved in legal political activities,” he argued. “Those of us who took part in the internal war have every right to be engaged in politics. I cannot be persecuted for my ideas. I am a leftist politician. Neither the CCB-CP nor any of its member groups are terrorist organisations.

“It is also true that some of us were in prison at some point because of our activities in the MRTA, but we aren’t involved in those things anymore. They can’t keep us from engaging in legal activities,” said Gonzales La Rosa.

The government has alleged that former members of the now defunct MRTA are interested in reviving the organisation using the CCB-CP as a screen.

García administration officials have asserted that a key element in this process are the former MRTA members like Gonzales La Rosa, who supposedly have ties to the FARC.

“It’s all false,” said the activist. “These are unfounded allegations. Evidence has been fabricated to frame us. We are not terrorists, I repeat. We are victims of a witch hunt against the left and the opposition.”

A source with DIRCOTE showed IPS surveillance photos of several people who took part in a “José Carlos Mariátegui Bolivarian seminar” in 2006 in Lima. The pictures show Gonzales La Rosa sitting on a panel alongside Dominican Republic Communist Party leader Narciso Isa Conde.

As alleged “proof” of Gonzales La Rosa’s ties with leftwing terrorists, the police also showed this journalist photos taken in 2007 of Isa Conde wearing a FARC uniform during a visit with Iván Márquez, a member of the guerrilla group’s top brass.

“Isa Conde is a FARC propagandist, and thus a collaborator with international terrorism, and everyone who follows his instructions is as well,” said the DIRCOTE source. “That is a crime that is punished here in Peru.”

“At the same time, he is a promoter of the CCB in the region. He came here to encourage the organisation of a Peruvian branch, headed by Gonzales La Rosa,” he added.

As “evidence” of the alleged link between the CCB-CP and the FARC, the police point to a link on the CCB web site, to the Agencia Bolivariana de Prensa (Bolivarian Press Agency), whose web site in turn offers access to information on the activities of the FARC and has posted condolences from different organisations – including the MRTA – for the death of Raúl Reyes.

Reyes, the FARC’s international spokesman, was killed in a Mar. 1 bombing raid by Colombia on a rebel camp in Ecuadorean territory, which triggered a major political crisis in the region.

In fact, the CCB’s own list of its members includes the FARC, and the insurgent group’s official web site is on the CCB’s list of links to “our organisations.”

“Isa Conde came to Lima as a guest and had no problems with the police because he is not facing any warrant or charges,” said Gonzales La Rosa. “The activity he took part in was open and public, not clandestine in any way, and was held at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (university) with the full knowledge of the authorities. There was nothing illegal about it.”

“Narciso is well-known in the Dominican Republic because he has a television programme and writes for the leading newspapers. And with respect to his meeting with the FARC, he was writing an article that was published in several media outlets. Just because someone meets with the FARC doesn’t mean they are a terrorist. That campaign is slanderous,” he complained.

The García government has launched a major campaign against groups that it considers “pro-Chávez”, like the CCB-CP and the “Casas del ALBA” or “ALBA centres”- solidarity groups created under the influence of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), promoted by Chávez in opposition to the Washington-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which never took shape.

García’s supporters in Congress approved the creation of a special commission to investigate the financing of the ALBA humanitarian centres, which provide assistance to the poor.

The ALBA centres’ activities include helping people gain access to education and healthcare, and coordinating trips by poor Peruvians to Venezuela, where they receive free cataract and other eye operations.

Human rights groups and the opposition Nationalist Party, whose leader Ollanta Humala was backed by Chávez in the campaign for the 2006 presidential elections, complain that García is carrying out a witch hunt targeting the left with the aim of silencing protests against his policies.

The spokesman for the Nationalist Party legislators, Cayo Galindo, told IPS that “no one can be punished or persecuted because of their ideology, unless their ideology promotes terrorism.”

He added that there is an “ideological brotherhood” between his party and Chávez.

Galindo clarified that his party supported the creation of the special commission to investigate the sources of financing of the ALBA centres, “because if we didn’t do so, they would have accused us of trying to hide something, so we hope this commission doesn’t turn into a means of ideological persecution.”

“This government is saying that ‘violent ideologies’ are penetrating social groups that protest against its policies,” said the lawmaker. “We, who defend fair social causes, believe there is persecution against our movement and our leader Humala.”

The view that the government is trying to blame popular protests on supposed “terrorist infiltrators” is shared by the executive director of the Human Rights Association, Miguel Jugo.

“The government says there are promoters of terrorism behind the demonstrations, but it has failed to substantiate its accusations,” he told IPS. “What worries me is that this kind of allegation could be used to smear the reputations of social activists and implicate them (in illegal activities). It is truly a dangerous situation.”

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