[Documents menu]documents menu
Message-Id: <199612211830.MAA43848@piglet.cc.uic.edu>
Date: Fri, 20 Dec 96 14:40:36 CST>
From: Arm The Spirit <ats@locust.cic.net>
Subject: A Challenge From Peru's Robin Hood

A Challenge From Peru's Robin Hood

By Chihiro Ito, Special to Asahi Evening News
20 December 1996

The storming of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima by leftist guerrillas is more than simply a violent act by terrorists.

At the heart of this incident lies a Western-structured neo-liberalist economy that threatens to swamp not only Latin America but other nations, such as Japan.

This incident should be viewed as an attempt by the guerrillas to speak on behalf of the poorest segments of society, the people who are often the victims of this neo-liberalist economy.

The Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) was formed in 1983 with the declared aim of setting up a government that had the interests of the poor at heart.

Among the poor and needy, the group is fondly known as the Robin Hood of Peru.

The group has a huge popular following among the impoverished segments of Peruvian society because the money it steals from companies or received as ransom in kidnapping of rich people is always passed on to the poor.

Since the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, the country has had a social structure in which a small number of rich, white people dominate the rest of society: poor, native Peruvians.

Much of the support for the MRTA lies in the fact that there are a lot of people who sympathize with the group's statements of promising to undo such societal injustice and create a government for the poor.

In the latter half of the 1980s, the MRTA had close to 1,000 members. But the membership has declined steeply to only about 200 at present. In 1992, the leader of the MRTA was arrested. His top lieutenant was captured in 1995, leaving the group on the verge of total collapse.

The key reason for this was the 1990 election of Alberto Fujimori, a Peruvian of Japanese descent, to the office of president.

Fujimori's rival was backed by the rich, white class. So he campaigned and gained the overwhelming support of the poorer segments of society by promising to bring about a government that would represent them. He championed policies like providing electricity and water supply to poor residential districts and building new schools at the rate of five a day.

Fujimori also succeeded in turning around the national treasury which was on the brink of bankruptcy. Inflation was at 7,600 percent when he first took office, and he brought it down to the 10 percent level that it is today.

In 1994 the Peruvian economy grew at a robust rate of 12 percent. Repayment of foreign loans, which at one time were considered uncollectible, is also close to being settled.

These are some of the reasons Fujimori was able to maintain popular support rating of around 65 percent ever since he took office.

For many Peruvians, especially the poor, Fujimori was a savior.

As a result, guerrilla supporters quickly switched their allegiance to Fujimori. Even within guerrilla organizations, there were those who converted in favor of the Fujimori line and gave up armed struggle.

For those hard-line guerrillas who were calling for an armed revolution, Fujimori was their No. 1 enemy.

A potential major barrier to Fujimori's economic course to development is the encroaching neo-liberalist economy, which brought in the trend of dismantling trade barriers under the banner of free competition. An example of this is the start in 1994 of the North American Free Trade Agreement linking the United States with Canada and Mexico.

These developments allowed major companies and multinational corporations with their vast resources to greatly increase their market share. At the same time, small business was sacrificed to the competition.

Privatization of public corporations coupled with moves toward administrative reform also began to bite. Many civil servants in Peru were laid off and rates for public utilities were hiked. Bankrupt firms were left to fend for themselves.

As a result, the daily lives of the poor segments of society once again became severe.

It was amid such circumstances that the guerrilla groups saw their best chance for turning around their flagging fortunes.

Now that their number is small, they dreamed up a strategy aimed at achieving a maximum effect with minimal effort and succeeded.

By taking a large number of diplomats hostage, the guerrillas not only publicized their existence to the people of Peru, but succeeded in capturing the attention of the entire world.

It was no coincidence that Japan was targeted as a victim.

Japan is the second largest provider of economic assistance to Peru behind only the United States. The strategy employed by the guerrillas appears to have poked fun at Fujimori's insistence on emphasizing his close ties to Japan.

The occupation of a government facility is not unusual in Latin America.

In 1978 armed guerrillas in Nicaragua took control of the national parliament building and held 200 legislators hostage. These guerrillas demanded the release of all imprisoned guerrilla members and payment of $10 million (1.1 billion yen) ransom. After a two-day standoff, an agreement was reached to release 60 guerrillas and pay the terrorists $500,000.

The situation in Peru reflects the entire Latin American region. In neighboring Colombia as well as Mexico, guerrilla activities have become more frequent during the past two years.

In all cases the target has been neo-liberalism.

As long as the situation of ever increasing differences between the rich and poor continues to be left unattended, similar incidents will again occur in not only Latin America, but anywhere in the world.

(The author is Asahi Shimbun's former correspondent in South America.)
(Source: Asahi Evening News, http://www.asahi.com)

Arm The Spirit is an autonomist/anti-imperialist information collective based in Toronto, Canada.

Arm The Spirit
P.O. Box 6326, Stn. A
Toronto, Ontario
M5W 1P7 Canada

E-mail: ats@etext.org
WWW: http://burn.ucsd.edu/~ats
FTP: ftp.etext.org --> /pub/Politics/Arm.The.Spirit
ATS-L Archives: http://burn.ucsd.edu/~archive/ats-l

[World History Archives] [Gateway to World History] [Images from World History] [Hartford Web Publishing]