Peru - "Dirty War" in Ayacucho

September 25, 2007

"Terrorists! Tonight we will enter your homes, we'll eat your guts, drink your blood, cut off your heads and gouge out your eyes!" -Chanted by Sinchis in the streets of Ayacucho There is another civil war in La- tin America--one that has barely come to the attention of the media. In the remote hills of Peru's An- dean department (state) of Aya- cucho, the Army and specially trained counterinsurgency police known as Sinchis are battling an enigmatic Maoist guerrilla group, Sendero Luminoso (SL). Since the Army took control of seven Andean provinces (counties), the peasant population has become polarized. The battle is for the allegiance of the Quechua-speaking Indians who are the target of coercion and threats from both sides. When peasants hacked eight journalists to death in the commu- nity of Uchuraccay in late January, the world glimpsed the dimensions of the Army's counterinsurgency plans. The brutal murders point to the military's use of peasant com- munities as active forces in its war against SL. It has also become clear that the military has strategi- cally sealed Ayacucho off from the press, and thereby the world. Confused versions of bloody mas- sacres are reported in military communiques, yet the press is not able to enter the zone of con- Carol Barton visited Peru in March. She is a former staff-person of Peru Solidarity, now the Ecumenical Com- mittee on the Andes. She lived in Peru from 1976 to 1980. A village in Ayacucho province. flict. Because the Uchuraccay vic- tims were journalists trying to check out military reports, other reporters have been effectively discouraged from continuing their work. The news from Ayacucho, in fact, is that there is no news, and no answers to probing ques- tions about the incident. According to Jorge Torres of Gente magazine, the press is con- stantly harassed, film is confis- cated and a number of journalists have been jailed. One reporter, Luis Morales of El Diario, a leftist daily, was jailed for four days after filing exclusive testimony from peasants in Uchuraccay. In a re- cent article, Torres pointed out the unreliability of military com- muniqu6s, and mentioned one re- lease declaring that Sinchis had killed five Senderistas in an armed encounter. On inspection journal- ists documented that innocent peasants had been murdered. 36 Today, there is no possibility of corroborating such reports. The journalists entered the re- gion to investigate reports that peasants of Huaychau had killed seven Senderistas the week be- fore. Employed by various publica- tions-pro-government and non- they were denied the military es- cort into the area by helicopter that had been extended to other jour- nalists. Later, colleagues learned that Sinchis had regularly visited the zone, telling horror stories about SL. One peasant revealed that Sinchis "told us to kill any stranger that appeared," and backed up the order by threatening that the uncooperative would be labeled terrorists. Opposition press in Lima, left and center, has pointed a finger at the military command of Aya- cucho for direct, if unwitting re- sponsibility in the murders. In re- sponse, the Army has unsuccess- NACLA Reportupdate update update update May Day: Campesinos rally to protest government policies. fully called for the closure of cer- tain dailies. The government has begun a whitewash of the event and there is evidence of a cover- up. Shaky Interpretation The decision to appoint world- renowned novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, a writer sympathetic to the governing Popular Action Party, to lead the investigation team was largely seen as an effort to bolster the shaky government interpreta- tion of events. The 200-page re- port, which has been called im- passioned and eloquent, builds on the testimonies of linguists, anthropologists and social scien- tists. Adopting a condescending "they know not what they do" at- titude, the document places guilt with all Peruvians for not having incorporated Indians into modern society. The government accepts no May/June 1983 special responsibility for the mur- ders, nor names any wrongdoing on Sinchis' part. Further evidence of the alleged cover-up are the disappearances of key suspects and rolls of film. The journalists' guide has also disappeared, mak- ing it impossible to determine whether he died along with his charges, and, if so, how. Battle Lines Are Drawn After two years of guerrilla ac- tions in Ayacucho and throughout Peru, which had grown in scale and audacity, Peruvian President Fernando Belaunde imposed mar- tial law in seven provinces around Ayacucho last December. The Army entered the central region of Ayacucho department, an area controlled by SL. Despite fears of a blood bath, in villages where SL is weakest, the Army has focused on a more subtle psychological "anti-subversion" war, offering food, propaganda and protection. Complementing the Army, the Sinchi patrols are sent into pro- SL towns to terrorize the peasants. They enter after curfew, shooting automatic rifles in the air, pulling people out of bed and beating them. The uncooperative are ar- rested or summarily shot. They ransack homes taking valuables and leaving destruction. The cam- paign has come to be known as Belaunde's "dirty war." Thousands of young men have been arrested, hundreds of civilians have been killed. According to resentful reg- ular soldiers, the Sinchi patrols receive a special combat bonus to do their dirty work. In many com- munities, all males between 15 and 45 years of age have disap- peared. Some leave to avoid be- coming new victims of one or both of the warring factions, but others have taken up arms with SL. SL has done its share of terror- 37 ru .E J =Iupdate update update update : Peru-caught between a repressive state and the ominous Sendero Luminoso. izing as well. According to Rail GonzAlez of DESCO, a left-liberal research institute in Lima, in the early stages of its war SL enjoyed broad popular sympathy, but there is evidence that support is waning in the Ayacucho region, due to the Army's presence and to some key strategic mistakes on the guerril- las' part. SL closed down weekly markets in some communities in an attempt to impose subsistence farming and a return to pre-capi- talist forms of trade. This, and the vengeful assassinations of mem- bers of the peasant communities whom they believed to be "traitors and informants," have cost the guerrillas considerable support. Observers also note that SL proved unable to provide arms and pro- tection to communities who active- ly backed it. Nonetheless, some rural observ- ers warn that it is too early to pre- dict the demise of SL. While its Who Is "Sendero Luminoso'? The Communist Party of Peru Sendero Luminoso, the self-pro- claimed "vanguard of the world revolution,' is a strange mix of Gang of Four Maoism and deeply rooted Incan nationalism. Sender- istas consider their leader, former university professor Abimael Guz- mAn, the fourth in the line of great revolutionary thinkers, after Marx, Lenin and Mao. Splintered from the Moscow- aligned Peruvian Communist Party in the 1960s, SL has its roots in the University of Ayacucho. Over a decade ago the group sent its cadres into the peasant communi- ties of Ayacucho, one of Peru's most destitute departments. They learned the native Quechua lan- guage and nurtured the messianic tradition of Incan rebellion against the conquistadors and landowners. SL surfaced in 1980 to launch armed struggle in the Andes, just as a democratic regime was inau- gurated in Lima following 12 years of military rule. They have declared a classic strategy of "prolonged popular war encircling the cities from the countryside," in a nation that is no longer predominantly peasant. SL's rigid dogmatism has led it to attack Peru's Left as "parlia- mentary cretins" who would mis- lead the people. The Left, united in the "Left Unity" electoral coalition, participated in the 1980 general elections and holds parliamentary and municipal posts. For its part, Left Unity has tried hard to keep its distance from SL, hoping to avoid the government's repressive meas- ures. SL began its war by dynamiting public buildings and electrical tow- ers. Armed confrontations began in March 1982 when it freed over 200 prisoners in an attack on the Ayacucho jail. Raids on police posts and mines followed. The dynamit- ing of key power stations left Lima in darkness in August 1982. Later that month, the popular trials and executions began-policemen, lo- cal landowners and government officials, loan sharks, merchants and informants. The viciousness with which the Senderistas carried out these acts led some to com- pare them to Pol Pot SL claimed responsibility for over 3,000 actions by the end of 1982 But SL has won considerable sympathy and support from peas- ant communities. In September 1982, over 10,000 people crowded the streets of Ayacucho to mourn Edith Lagos, a young SL leader killed by the police. By late 1982, SL had gained control of some areas of central Ayacucho, but its version of government in "lib- erated zones" was apparently not to the peasants' liking and has cost them support. The arrival of the Army in December 1982 put SL on the defensive, yet the true strength of its support remains un- clear. C.B. NACLA Report 38update update update update following has visibly lessened in the areas under military control, it is apparently expanding grass- roots work in other parts of Peru where traditional left parties, pro- moting electoral politics, have been unable to offer concrete al- ternatives. Some reports suggest that the guerrillas are also mak- ing inroads into Lima's destitute shantytowns. Army Enlists Peasants Entire peasant communities in upper Huanta, the province of Ayacucho where the Uchuraccay incident took place, have been enlisted by Sinchis to hunt Sen- deristas. It is not always clear who is targeted. While there are reports of armed confrontations between peasants and SL, some Indians have used the opportunity to en- gage in bloody battles with tradi- tional rivals. In recent weeks they have raided neighboring villages, beating the inhabitants, stealing goods, destroying crops and round- ing up SL suspects. Apparently, the Sinchi recruits are guaranteed immunity and are even offered rewards for their ter- ror sprees. In one case the Presi- dent personally praised villagers responsible for a massacre. In keeping with the thrust of the Var- gas Llosa report, the government reinterprets the Indians' traditional system of justice, claiming they are not responsible for their ac- tions because of their ignorance. This becomes a useful source of immunity. Such legal immunity en- Washington Internships The Commission on U.S.-Central American Relations, in Washington, D.C., is accepting applications for summer interns. If interested, send your resume to the Commission, at 1826 18th Street, N.W., Washing- ton, D.C. 20009. May/June 1983 ables the military to use the peas- ants as pawns in their counterin- surgency campaign. The justice system is nonfunctional in Ayacu- cho, where the military makes all decisions. While villagers respon- sible for these massacres have not been arrested, others accused of terrorism are illegally held for weeks, often to be tortured in po- lice jails. Nonetheless, the Army's recruit- ment of peasants may backfire. According to some accounts, fol- lowing the massacre of Uchurac- cay the peasants openly acknowl- edged their participation as if wait- ing for reward. Instead they were besieged by the critical interroga- tions of the press, visitors and the official investigative committee. After several days they closed up and refused to talk. If communi- ties feel they can no longer trust the military, this could mark a seri- ous setback for government policy in the region. Ultimately, what hap- pens in Ayacucho depends to a great extent on SL's real strength and how long it can put up a fight. A continued free hand for the mili- tary to terrorize and incite violence will depend, in no small part, on the press' ability to break the news blackout and report accurate in- formation.

Tags: Peru, Shining Path, repression, Peasants

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