This is a personal response to the op-ed article published yesterday by Los Angeles Times, written by Luis Giampietri who is the Vice President of Peru and who has been accused of violation of human rights, during the first government of current Peruvian president Alan Garcia and the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori.
Luis Giampietri. Photo: El Comercio
This response is not any kind of political propaganda, nor I'm trying to defend any guerrilla or terrorist groups. This is the opinion of a concerned Peruvian who left Peru during those years of violence, and because I care about the unchallenged reality of injustice and corruption that still governs in my first country, the same kind of reality that pushed wrongly-minded rebels to use violence as a way to change it.
My father was killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, a member of the Peruvian Navy who was never prosecuted, because there is not real justice in Peru, when the victims are poor or don't belong to special interests groups. Maybe because I know of the pain that abuse and injustice can cause, is why I relate to others who have faced similar situations. That is why I find Mr. Giampietri's article to be a fake speech full of false statements. Here is what I have to say to Mr. Giampietri:
Out of Peru's darkness
By Luis Giampietri,TEN YEARS AGO, on April 22, 1997, Peruvian commandos rescued 72 men being held hostage by terrorists in the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima. I was one of those hostages.
We had been captives for 126 days. The conditions pushed us to the brink of mental and physical collapse. The terrorists — there were 14 of them — seldom let us sleep, putting us through unceasing drills to perfect how they would kill us if security forces attacked. When we did sleep, we were awakened by the cold feet of rats scampering across our faces.
The first few weeks, there were close to 400 hostages, all captured during a party at the ambassador's house. Conditions then were especially abysmal. Food was scarce; the government shut off electricity and water; toilets backed up and the overwhelming stench permeated the elegant mansion modeled on Tara of "Gone With the Wind." The irony was lost on us in our misery.
While I do feel sorry that you and the other hostages had to go through those inhuman life conditions, and I condemn terrorism as well, from any rebel group and from any kind of government, I have to tell you this. What you lived in those 126 days Mr. Giampietri, is the daily reality of over 14 million Peruvians who suffer of extreme poverty every day of their lives, most of them young people who are also awakened "by the cold feel of rats" in hundreds of shanty towns and little pueblos of the Andean cost, mountains and rain forests.
Poverty and racism in Peru are the worst heritage we received from the colonial times, and there isn't any reasonable excuse to understand why Peruvians are so poor, when that country is the world's top producer of silver, tin and fish meal, it is also the 4th. producer of copper, 5th. top producer of gold, and one of the top producers of fishing, natural gas, agriculture exports, oil and minerals. Still, 54% of Peruvians live under poverty and 10% of richest Peruvians receive an income 50 times equal as that of the 10% poorest population.
Since Alberto Fujimori's government and dictatorship started neo liberal policies (government you were part of), 1.6 million of Peruvians have left their country while the 24% growing rate of the economy has benefited mostly a small elite of rich Peruvians and its foreign business partners.
The terrorists from the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement demanded that Peru's president, Alberto Fujimori, release 400 of their imprisoned comrades in exchange for our freedom.
As former Peruvian Presidente Alejandro Toledo stated back then, the MRTA demand was that those 400 MRTA imprisoned members could rejoin civil society with all their civil rights restored. Their intentions were pacific.
Fujimori refused. Negot iations began, and most of the hostages were released in the first two weeks. But the talks faltered and then collapsed. Mediators struggled to reach a peaceful solution, but the Tupac Amaru leaders would always balk.
Canadian Embassador in Peru Anthony Vincent, who was one of the negotiators and a freed hostage, has said that the negotiators were "very close" to reach a peaceful agreement with the MRTA members, when the military rescue operation occurred.
The 72 of us left did not kn ow from one day to the next if we would live or die. The terrorists shared this uncertainty and became increasingly brutal — except for the younger terrorists, some of whom were mere teenagers.
According to former Peruvian Congressman Javier Diez Canseco, who was another hostage freed earlier, most of the MRTA members were young Peruvians between 18-21 years old.
These armed adolescents looked over us during long days and sleepless nights locked in the upstair s bedrooms, or as we played board games on a landing at the top of the staircase. We ate Red Cross meals together. To exercise, we paced the hallway, and the guards came with us. There was little to do but talk to one another and to the guards.
I was shocked at how marginalized these young men and women were from society. They knew little if anything of the world beyond their impoverished jungle and mountain villages. For them, violence seemed the only realistic path to change.
But Mr. Giampietri you weren't shocked about the young men and women who were killed in the prison of El Fronton, in June8, 1986, as a result of the military operations where you participated and that was ordered by then President Alan Garcia. Actually, you have said that you aren't sorry about your participation in those assassinations.
El Fronton (La Republica)
As time passed, these youngsters railed against their leaders, whom they accused of misleading them into believing the siege would be over in a matter of days or weeks rather than months. The leaders punished them with slaps, punches and rifle-butt strokes to tender parts of the body. Meanwhile, the other hostages and I gathered intelligence and sent it to the outside by way of transmitters planted in Bibles and inside my guitar.
Wait, did these "terrorists" let you exercise together, play board games, read your Bible and play your guitar? they seem to be too nice to be terrorists then. Perhaps behind the useless violence they promoted, just perhaps, there were human beings with common dreams of a better life, just like you or me. Yes, they were wrong, but how many times do we need to see tragedies like these, before we prevent them to happen? Isn't true that poverty creates violence most of times?
At one point, it appeared Fujimori might offer the terrorists free passage to Cuba if they released us. A guard, a teenage girl, approached me with an AKM rifle dangling from her slender shoulder. The barrel almost touched the floor. The girl shyly asked: "Señor, could you please tell me how long it takes a bus to go from Lima to Cuba?" Several hostages who overheard the question laughed. I did not. I was dismayed by how our government had failed this girl and thousands like her.
I am shocked by your sensibility and warm heart. You actually seem to care about Indigenous Peruvian youth! but according to a Peruvian blogger, you spent only in 3 months, over $31,000 dollars of Peruvians taxpayers money on your personal employees salaries, something that is illegal under Peruvian law, because you aren't supposed to have employees at all. Worst of all, some of your personal employees are well-known supporters of human right violations. This, in a country where the minimum wage is almost $130 dollars a month.
I was a retired Navy admiral when I became a hostage. For 12 years before my retirement I had led navy, marine and army commandos in a vicious war against two terrorist gr oups intent on forcing a Marxist regime on Peru. The Shining Path was the largest and engaged in horrific atrocities — bombings, assassinations, massacres. The Tupac Amaru was smaller but just as ruthless. These terrorist groups ravaged our country in a 16-year rebellion that cost more than 25,000 lives and more than $25 billion in ruined infrastructure. They nearly brought our democratic nation to its knees.
According to Peru's Commission of Truth and Reconciliation, there were almost 70,000 Peruvians who were dead or disappeared since 1980 to 2000. While the SL and MRTA caused the majority of this casualties, but it's true also that Peruvian military and police caused almost 30% of them, and most of them were innocent civilians killed and/or incarcerated, even though they had nothing to do with terrorism.
But we prevailed — militarily. The Tupac Amaru hostage-taking at the Japanese ambassador's residence 10 years ago was the last significant terrorist action in Peru. Now we must prevail in the area of social change.
As a military officer, I had avoided politics; in fact, until the most recent election, members of the Peruvian armed forces could not even vote. But my experience as a hostage — especially my conversations with the young guards and the violence we all suffered at the hands of the terrorist leaders — compelled me to enter the arena.
Giampietri you are lying again, because you were involved in politics during Alberto Fujimori's dictatorship. You worked closely to Vladimiro Montesinos, the incarcerated leader of a mafia-style group of Peruvian right-wing politicians, military leaders and business men who ruled out Peru's Constitution of 1979 in order to enforce neo-liberal economic policies, who used violence, corruption and the death of more innocent Peruvian civilians, in order to achieve their selfish and elitist goals.
Photo: Giampietri and Montesinos (La Republica)
Today I am vice president of Peru, and our government, under the leadership of President Alan Garcia, has begun aggressive programs to build a better life for those in remote villages and urban slums. Terrorism still lurks, but we are sowing the seeds of hope there. I have looked into the faces of the impoverished and marginalized people of these areas and they are familiar, faces not so different from those of my guards 10 years ago. When the end came, all the guards we'd come to know so well perished, as did two commandos, during the fire and fury of the rescue. I continue to grieve for them all.
Do you grieve for them all? Why then, you don't help to investigate the death of so many Peruvians that ocurred during Garcia and Fujimori's rule, and those eight young Peruvian terrorists, who were assassinated after they surrounded themselves and while unarmed. Perhaps if you were really interested on building a better life "for those in remote villages and urban slums", you would be requesting US. mining companies working in Peru for actions to correct their abusive practices against the poor of Peru, and stop polluting the air and water in Yanacocha, La Oroya and Camisea, to mention a few. If you are trying to bring hope for Peru, why aren't you collaborating on bringing Alberto Fujimori to justice? Why don't you come clear about the accusations that show your relationship with fascist and extremist right-wing groups from Peru and Argentina?.
Vice-presidente Giampietri, I don't trust you at all, and I wish I did because you are currently a political leader in Peru.
President Alan Garcia requested your participation in the presidential bid of 2006, in order to seal a political alliance between the APRA (Garcia's political party), the Fujimoristas and the extreme right-wing politicians, most of whom are accused of human right violations, corruption and who are afraid of real social changes in Peru.
I truly believe that a brighter future is yet to come for Peru and for Peruvians, but that future is jeopardized when our political leaders, like you, lie and run away from justice, and when you and other members of Alan Garcia's administration, along with other Peruvian politicians keep promoting division, corruption and hate among Peruvians.
Peru will change for the better not only with economic policies that can bring foreign investments, but also when that county would promote equality and justice among all Peruvians. That is a task needed to be done by Peruvian authorities and I hope that you can be one of them, one day. But first, you must respond to justice and accept your accountability and mistakes, and show real leadership. That's a first step in order to find understanding and true reconciliation among Peruvians, and then we will be out of the "darkness" as you put it.