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.