Counterinsurgency = Impunity

September 25, 2007

THE WAR AGAINST SENDERO LUMINOSO HAS become synonymous with the systematic violation of
human rights. About half of the nearly 18,000 killed since
1980 (the majority of them civilians) died at the hands of the
security forces. Another three thousand were "disappeared."
And over two-thirds of the national territory is under virtual
military rule. President Alberto Fujimori refused this year's
offer of $36 million in U.S. military aid, ostensibly for the
"war on drugs." However, it seems likely that he will accept
a similar and larger proposal in 1991, to help the military carry
forth its dirty war against subversion.
President Fernando Beladnde Terry (1980-1985) was
slow to react to Sendero. By late 1982, however, he had
declared a "state of emergency" in the Andean departments
of Ayacucho, Apurimac, and Huancavelica, granting admin-
istrative control to the armed forces, and unleashing a brutal
war of repression against the guerrillas and the civilian
population alleged to support them. In the words of army Gen.
Luis Cisneros, "In order for the security forces to be success-
Jo-Marie Burt is a doctoral candidate at Columbia Uni-
versity, who specializes in Peru .
ful, they will have to begin to kill Senderistas and non-
Senderistas alike....They will kill 60 people and at best three
will be Senderistas, but they will say that all 60 were
Senderistas." The result was unprecedented in modern
Peruvian history: Thousands-mostly peasants-were ar-
bitrarily detained, massacred, and "disappeared"; torture
became commonplace. The civilian authority structure,
particularly the judicial system, was completely sidelined.
Alan Garcfa (1985-1990) came to power promising to
respect human rights. In August 1985, witnesses reported an
army massacre of some 70 campesinos, including women
and children, in Accomarca, Ayacucho. Garcifa quickly
ordered an investigation-which found the army respon-
sible-and several military heads rolled. In response, the
security forces refused to engage in operations in the
Ayacucho region for nearly nine months, giving Sendero an
opportunity to re-enter an area from which it had been
virtually expelled. Within a year, the military had quietly
made its point, and no such attempt to establish civilian
control over the military has been made since.
Garcia then fell back on the same strategy as his prede-
cessor: granting the military a carte blanche to combat sub-
version, and ensuring it immunity from responsibility for
whatever crimes it committed. This was most graphically
demonstrated in June 1986, when nearly 300 political pris-
oners were summarily executed after simultaneous upris-
ings in three Lima prisons. Garcia himself ordered the use of
force. A state of emergency was declared at the prison sites;
congressmen, journalists and the president's own peace
commission were denied access; and the bodies of those
killed were secretly removed and buried in clandestine
graves. In the wake of widespread protests, Garcifa promised
to prosecute those responsible, but not one military officer
has faced charges to date; only one police colonel was tried
for ordering the killing of at least 124 inmates in Lurigancho
prison. No one has been convicted for the killings in El
Front6n prison.
Prosecuting the military has proven an impossible task,
and impunity remains a central part of the counterinsurgency
strategy. The Garcia administration increasingly became an
accomplice, seeking to cover up massacres and undermine
attempts to establish accountability. This was most clearly
revealed in the government's treatment of the May 1989
Cayara massacre, in which some 30 campesinos were killed
in retaliation for a Sendero ambush in which an army captain
and three soldiers had been killed. Eyewitness accounts
reported that the victims were beaten and hacked apart with
machetes. The bodies were then secretly removed from mass
graves before civilian investigators arrived.
Public prosecutor Carlos Escobar was initially denied
access to the area, and he later received numerous death
threats. A Senate commission, dominated by members of the
ruling APRA party, sought to cover up evidence implicating
army involvement, and to discredit Escobar's investigation
by denying that a massacre had occurred at all. Escobar was
removed from the case, and eventually had to seek political
asylum in the United States. The military then systematically
killed or "disappeared"' the nine eyewitnesses,
B Y 1989,THE MILITARY HAD WON NEAR-TOTAL
autonomy in carrying out the war. Anti-terrorist laws
were strengthened; journalists were restricted from areas
under "emergency" status; relief agencies such as the Red
Cross were expelled; and human rights activists were har-
assed, detained, and insome cases "'disappeared." The only
source of information became military reports, which fre-
quently cited only the number of "subversives" killed in
"confrontations." In 1989 the armed forces killed 1, 116
"presumed subversives" and "disappeared" 450. During
the same period, the army claims to have taken only 56
prisoners, and wounded only three.
Meanwhile, paramilitary groups emerged in various parts
of the country, the most notorious being the Comando Ro-
drigo Franco, believed responsible for several assassinations
and death threats. A Senate commission, whose report was
scuttled by the ruling APRA party, found that members of the
security forces as well as APRA were involved.
In 1989, the government began arming campesinos to
confront Sendero, a tactic employed briefly under Belatinde.
On December 8, 1989, Garcia presided over a ceremony in
La Mar, Ayacucho, in which arms were distributed to local
civil defense committees. Several defense committees had
formed spontaneously, but these were eventually subsumed
under military control; most were created by the military.
The militarization of campesino communities has reignited
local rivalries and invited abuses from which the military can
more easily escape recape responsibility.
In the last few months, the role of peasant militias has
emerged as a central part of the counterin surgency strategy
ofthe si x-month-old Fujimori administration. They continue
to be implicated in extrajudicial executions of Senderistas
and non-Senderistas alike, often at the instigation of the
military. For example, on August 22, at least 16 campesinos
of the Iquicha community, including women and children,
were reported killed by members of civil defense groups
accompanied by soldiers. This apparently came in response
to the Iquicha leaders' refusal to cooperate in pursuing a
Senderista column active in the area, maintaining that they
were being used as human shields.
Despite the fact that Senderois now active in 21 of Peru',s
24 departments, it seems unlikely that there will be many
changes in the prevailing counterinsurgency strategy, in fact,
Fujimori's appointment of an actiNe army general at the head
of the interior ministry and the police forces, indicates that
the military has won even more autonomy. Moreover, Peru-
vian public opinion, tired of the violence and yearning for
some semblance of order, has begun to see human rights
abuses committed by the security forces as a necessary evil
if the insurgent groups are to be defeated. In the meantime,
with each new extrajudicial execution democracy's grave is
dug deeper.

Tags: Peru, Shining Path, Counterinsurgency, Violence, Military


Like this article? Support our work. Donate now.