Date: Fri, 20 Dec 96 14:40:36 CST>
From: Arm The Spirit <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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