Saturday, January 15, 2005
Small revolution in Peru, not many killed – yet
An uprising that brought new year unrest to Peru was easily crushed. But the implications for the fragile democracies of Latin America are ominous and far-reaching
On the morning of January 1, while Peruvians were still celebrating the new year, the retired army major Antauro Humala, with some 150 paramilitary members of his “ethnocacerista” movement, occupied a police station in the Andean city of Andahuaylas, holding nine policemen hostage and capturing the abundant armament in the building. They demanded the resignation of the President of Peru, Alejandro Toledo, whom they accuse, among other things, of selling out Peru to Chile, because of the important investments being made by Chile in the Peruvian economy. The rising, which lasted four days, and in which four policemen were murdered by the ethnocaceristas and two civilians shot by the police, ended in the capture of the leader and a hundred of his followers, while a few dozen of them escaped to the hills when they saw the insurrection was about to collapse.
Antauro Humala and his brother Ollanta, a lieutenant-colonel just expelled from the army — being, it seems, the cleverer of the two, the Government had kept him far away from Peru, as a military attaché in Paris and in Seoul — became famous in the last days of the Fujimori dictatorship, when they also led a rising demanding the resignation of the dictator. Tried and later pardoned, they founded an ultra-nationalist movement which, though never huge, boasts strength in poor and marginal sectors, mainly among the several hundred thousand reservists scattered throughout Peru. Just as in most of the Third World, in Peru the army is recruited almost exclusively from the humblest strata of the population — peasants, outcasts, unemployed people in the provinces — the same social sector that suffered worst from the economic crises deriving from populist policies, burgeoning corruption and the cataclysmic violence, in the 14 years of the revolutionary war unleashed by Shining Path. The reservists or ex-soldiers are among the worst victims of unemployment, falling living standards and rising crime, and their rejection of the legal and political system is extreme. It is hardly surprising that the preaching of the Humala brothers has found a receptive audience among these frustrated, enraged Peruvians.
The Humala brothers’ movement is called “ethnocacerist” in honour of the general Andrés Avelino Cáceres, a 19th-century president of Peru who organised a guerrilla war against the Chilean occupation after the Pacific War of 1879, and because its doctrine is ethnic or racist. The real Peru, it holds, is a homogeneous ethnic entity, the “copper-coloured race”. Those who do not belong to this race — that is, those who are not Indians or mixed-bloods — are only half Peruvian, in fact are foreign interlopers, suspect of disloyalty and treason to the Peruvian essence. The Humala brothers incline to the Nazi outlook not only in terms of racial purity, but also in the military organisation of their adherents, who call each other “compatriots”. They wear uniforms, go about armed, and openly carry out manoeuvres and firing practice for the revolution which, in a wave of patriotic violence, is to cleanse Peru of its stigmas, and of bad Peruvians. Its emblems and insignia are much in the Hitler style, with a condor instead of the eagle and an Inca cross instead of the swastika, on a red and black banner. Alongside the national flag, at their marches and meetings they fly the banner of Tahuantinsuyu, the old empire of the Incas. Since the Incas never had a flag, they use a flag of rainbow colours, the same one favoured by the gay rights movement.
The ethnocacerista movement wants Peru to arm for war with Chile, in order to recover Arica, the territory that remained in Chilean possession after the Pacific War. They also revile Ecuador in their street demonstrations, as they march with rifles, shotguns, machetes and sticks, so that no one will doubt the seriousness of their intentions. In May last year they participated in the mob occupation of the town of Ilave in the region of Puno, which ended in the lynching of the mayor, Cirilo Robles. They defend the cultivation and consumption of coca, as being an ancient and ancestral product of Peru, and reject any action against drugs, seeing in such operations the crooked hand of an imperialism that seeks to despoil Peru of one of its bedrock signs of identity. They want to restore the death penalty, and their journalistic mouthpiece, Ollanta, has published a list of those who will be shot in the main square in Lima as traitors to the country, when the movement comes to power. These include the leaders of the main political parties, parliamentarians, ministers and businessmen, and in general all the neo-liberal sellers-out of the country, who have handed our natural resources over to the voracity of foreign exploiters.
All this may seem buffoonish, primitive and stupid, and no doubt it is all that, but it would be a serious mistake to suppose that, just because its message is primary and visceral, the ethnocacerista movement is doomed to disappear as an ephemeral flash in the pan of the Third World. By so believing, the Peruvian Government let Humala and his 150 followers have their way at the new year, though, it now appears, the army intelligence services had warned the authorities two days before the assault, when the belligerent paramilitary formation had arrived in Andahuaylas. Similarly, the risings conducted early in their political careers by the Venezuelan lieutenant-colonel Hugo Chávez and the Ecuadorian general Lucio Gutiérrez looked at first like buffoonery — hopeless though bloody. But both, in spite of their pathetic dearth of ideas and florid wealth of idiotic demagogy, have come to be viewed with sympathy in wide sectors of society which, due to the corruption of the upper classes and the defective democratic system’s incapacity to create jobs and opportunities, are receptive to any sort of anti-system preaching. Now these two officers, both guilty of organising coups d’état, are presiding over a gradual decomposition of democratic institutions in their countries, and a return to the old authoritarian barbarism.
Though it ended quickly, with only a few victims, the episode in Andahuaylas is a very bad sign of what may happen in Peru if things continue on their present course. That is, continued discredit of the democratic institutions, and an ever greater number of Peruvians coming to believe, as did those who rose in Apurímac, that there is no room in democracy for economic progress except among the upper elite of society; that there is no hope for an end to the corruption and for any mitigation of the tremendous social and economic inequalities. And that only violence can remedy these ills. It was disturbing to see how in many cities in Peru, such as Arequipa, Tacna, Huaraz, Moquegua and Cuzco, hundreds of people came out to demonstrate in favour of Humala’s putsch, and how the population of Andahuaylas itself was divided; many people, especially the young, showing enthusiastic solidarity with the insurrection.
It is true that all the political parties formally condemned the rising, but also that many glib voices of the national political lowlife, including a former prime minister under the Fujimori-Montesinos regime, hastened to speak of the “patriotism” and “idealism” of the young adherents of the putsch, and to demand, even before any trial, an “amnesty” that would reward their action. Such are the eternal, contemptible hacks of South American history, the ever-present rabble ready to crowd round and offer their services to the first officer who seems to have a chance of mounting a successful coup.
What this buffoonery with blood has shown up is the fragility of democracy in a country like Peru. Not one single political party, not one single civic institution even thought of calling a demonstration to protest in favour of democracy, in the face of an act of violence aimed at destroying it. Why did they hold back? Because they knew that, probably, few people would come out to demonstrate. Though the Humalas and their adherents have so far been incapable of attracting a real mass following, the enthusiasm felt upon the return of democracy in Peru five years ago, after ten years of authoritarian kleptocracy, has also faded. And now that we everywhere hear expressions of contempt for this inefficient system which opens the doors of power to mediocrity and corruption, the opinion polls are showing that, in the higher popularity ranking of public figures in Peru, a high place is occupied by none other than Fujimori.
© El País, SL/Mario Vargas Llosa
The many coups of Peru
Peru has had a chequered political history. The beginning of the 20th century was dominated by President Augusto B. Leguía, who governed as a virtual dictator. A new political party, the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana, was founded in 1924. The party, concerned with the condition of the native peoples, was banned by Leguía. When they were finally allowed to participate in elections in 1945, their candidate — the moderate José Luis Bustamante y Rivero — won. But the APRA split with Bustamente in 1947, leading to a military coup by the conservative Manuel Odría.
The country’s economic situation improved in the 1950s, but an increasing rate of inflation led to labour unrest, and the military seized power in 1963, holding elections in which Fernando Belaúnde gained the presidency. Belaúnde’s poor control of the economy led to a junta in 1968, which installed General Juan Velasco Alvarado as the president of a revolutionary government. But his promises of democratisation remained unfulfilled and a dissatisfied General Francisco Morales Bermúdez initiated a new junta in 1975.
Democracy was finally restored in 1980. Austerity programmes were imposed to revive the failing economy, and riots and strikes followed. Responsible for much of the unrest was the Maoist guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the Cuban-inspired Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (MRTA). The ensuing struggles killed 28,000 people and forced more than 700,000 to flee.
In 1990, former university rector Alberto Fujimori defeated Mario Vargas Llosa for the presidency. Fujimori passed free-market reforms and, in 1992, struck a blow against the guerrillas by arresting the leader of Shining Path. However, progress in these areas was at the cost of democracy: Fujimori closed the Congress and suspended the judiciary.
Fujimori was victorious in the 2000 elections, but suspicions of fraud and manipulation were confirmed when evidence came to light proving that his security chief had been bribing television stations. Fujimori resigned and fled to Japan. Democratic elections in 2001 brought the economist Alejandro Toledo to power. In the same year almost half the population were living below the national poverty line.