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Peru: Criminals jail criminal

Peru: Criminals jail criminal

13 April 2009. A World to Win News Service. Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was convicted of murder and kidnapping and sentenced to 25 years in prison on 7 April. But despite the feel-good congratulations from certain human rights organizations, justice has not been done. In fact, very little of the coverage has mentioned far more important issues than Fujimori's own undeniable personal guilt. First: Does one man really bear all the responsibility for the atrocities committed during the decade he was president? And second: Who – what interests and what social system – was he serving?

This university rector won a surprise victory in the 1990 elections. He presented himself as a political outsider, a representative of the common man, in contrast to Peru's squabbling politicians who had discredited themselves among the middle classes and at the same time proved incapable of defeating the rising tide of a ten-year-old revolutionary war. Hundreds of thousands of people joined and millions had come to support that armed revolutionary upsurge. It was based among the country's most downtrodden, those usually excluded from political life although they make up the vast majority, the peasants and urban slum dwellers, and people from all social classes who hated the country's humiliation and stagnation under a social system economically and politically dominated by the interests of American capital. Fujimori's job was to reunite the ruling classes, bring the middle classes more thoroughly back under their wing and smash the revolution led by the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) at any cost.

In this, he enjoyed the full support and collaboration of the U.S. from the very beginning of his term in office – if not before.

The day Fujimori was sentenced, the National Security Archives, a progressive project based at George Washington University in the U.S. capital, posted six previously secret U.S. Embassy and State Department cables dated from 23 August 1990 to 8 June 1993, the period when Fujimori committed the acts he has now been convicted for. These documents reveal that from the start the American government was aware of their details, extent and aims. Nevertheless, during that time the U.S. covered them up while providing the Peruvian government with more economic and military backing than ever before, a steadily increasing amount that by 1993 made it South America's number one recipient of U.S. government money.

Here is the Archives' summary of the first secret cable from the U.S. embassy in Lima to Washington: "Only weeks after Fujimori's election, an intelligence officer working with the SIN (the National Intelligence Service) reported to U.S. embassy officials on a covert plan, purportedly 'the brainchild of presidential advisor Vladimiro Montesinos', to conduct extra-judicial assassinations of suspected terrorists. The training of these new 'assassination teams' is already underway, the source reported. He also stated that the plan had 'the tacit approval of President Fujimori.'"

Montesinos, who was to run Fujimori's dirty war, was well known to American intelligence agencies. He had been a CIA "asset" for years. During the 1970s he was kicked out of the Peruvian army and imprisoned for holding unauthorized, secret meetings in Washington, where he reported to the CIA on Soviet influence in the Peruvian armed forces. Then he began working as a lawyer and confident for drug traffickers. After he and Fujimori partnered, his trips to Washington resumed, this time to meet with American generals instead of spooks. Continuing U.S. support for him is best proved by the "dog that didn't bark": although the U.S. knew about his ties to Peru's drug barons before and during his years as Fujimori's man in charge of dirty work, nothing was said about it until he had outlived his usefulness and fallen from Washington's grace. American officials declared that putting down the revolutionary war was more important than stopping the drug trade.

The name of these death squads was to become known to the world soon enough: La Colina, organized by the SIN under Montesino's command, and operating, according to testimony and documents presented during Fujimori's 15-month trial, with the president's full knowledge and approval. The first of the three crimes Fujimori was charged with in this trial took place in November 1991, when a death squad raided a Lima neighbourhood chicken barbecue said to be a fundraiser for a pro-PCP newspaper. Fourteen adults and an eight-year-old were machine-gunned to death in a slum apartment building courtyard in the Barrios Altos district.

This massacre was not meant to be a secret – it was meant to terrify active and potential supporters of the people's war. Fujimori never meant the claim that he didn't know who did it to be taken seriously. Two December 1991 U.S. Embassy cables posted by the NSA make it clear that the American government knew exactly what was going on. One of these cables indicates that the U.S. ambassador warned Fujimori about the danger of the army becoming "discredited by allegations of paramilitary involvement in the Barrios Altos killing." At Fujimori's trial, this was used as evidence that he knew about La Colina. But no one seems to have argued, in court or in the mainstream media, that it also indicates that the U.S. knew all about it as well and chose to keep it secret, least Fujimori himself and the armed forces be "discredited".

In April 1992, seeking to put an end to the in-fighting among Peru's ruling class politicians and focus all efforts on reversing the revolutionary high tide, Fujimori sent tanks to close down Congress and instituted his own personal rule backed by the military. Why were no charges brought against him for that highly illegal action? Because at the time the U.S. recognized his "self-coup" government as legitimate, after an initial public expression of dismay, and indisputably stepped up its backing for Fujimori. So did the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, in a sharp reversal of the relationship with previous Peruvian governments. The Organization of American States' condemnation of the coup and Amnesty International's judgement that the Fujimori regime had "the world's worst human rights record" were ignored.

The American ambassador, Anthony Quainton, had been previously stationed in Nicaragua when the U.S. waged a covert war against the Sandinista government there. U.S. Army general George Jowland was sent to Peru. Richard Meadows, who served in U.S. clandestine operations in Vietnam and Iran, was now posing as director of security on a palm oil plantation in a crucial combat zone, where he directed a "private" mercenary force. The U.S. began providing helicopters, pilots, mechanics and troops to work with the Peruvian armed forces. They even set up military bases, including one in Santa Lucia, near Meadows' plantation, the biggest U.S. base south of Panama at that time. How could they not hide the crimes of the Peruvian armed forces with whom they worked so closely?

The second accusation against Fujimori was responsibility for the death-squad murders at the university known as La Cantuta in July 1992. As part of his attempt to stop the revolutionary ferment, he sent the military to occupy the main universities in Lima and a few other cities. Students beat back the army's initial attempt to take over La Cantuta, a teaching and technical college, whose youth had staged demonstrations in poor neighbourhoods in support of the people's war. In a second assault, troops emptied the housing units and arrested some 500 students. Nine students and a professor were taken away and never seen again. Several universities remained under military control for many months.

Again, what happened was no secret. A high-ranking army officer publicly denounced it, and was driven into exile. In April of the following year, leaked documents gave details of the operation and a few months later the bodies were found in clandestine graves. Yet for most of the 1990s, it was mainly the determination of the families of the victims, speaking out courageously and organizing public protests despite the danger when most of the mainstream political forces were keeping silent, that kept these cases from being buried and forgotten.

Two other events in 1992 that did not figure in Fujimori's trial reveal even more than the evidence that was presented.

In May of that year, again shortly after his "self-coup", Fujimori sent the army into Lima's Canto Grande prison where some 500 political prisoners were held. After subduing the prisoners, who fought to defend themselves, they selected out and murdered about 40 men and women suspected of being PCP leaders. The U.S. said nothing, as far as is known, nor did this massacre figure in Fujimori's trial. For some people, killing captured revolutionaries is not controversial.

Then in September, came Fujimori's biggest triumph: His police – with what U.S. help may never be known – captured PCP Chairman Gonzalo (Abimael Guzman) and other top party leaders. In a secret military court proceeding lasting little longer than the reading of the accusations, hooded officers sentenced Gonzalo to a lifetime in isolation for the made-up crime of "treason to the fatherland". Fujimori publicly proclaimed that Gonzalo might not live long. Asked to comment on this blatant travesty of justice, a U.S. State Department spokesman told the press, "Mr Guzman is the leader of the most vicious terrorist movement in the Western hemisphere... We have no comment on the judicial proceedings by which he was tried. " (A World to Win magazine, no. 18, 1992)

A year after Gonzalo's capture, Fujimori announced to the UN and the world that Gonzalo and the other party leaders had issued a call for peace negotiations to end the people's war. From out of the prisons there appeared a major party document – in Gonzalo's name – arguing that the war could not continue without his leadership and that therefore the party had to dissolve its army, end the war and find a "political solution". The party cadre outside of the prisons who wanted to continue the revolutionary war claimed that his change of line was a "hoax" perpetuated by Fujimori and Montesinos. In the following years the interaction between Gonzalo's apparent call to end the people's war and the ideological and political confusion among those who rejected it hurt the revolution even more than Fujimori had been able to. In the last decade occasional armed actions have continued in different pockets of the country waged by groups with conflicting views on the call for peace accords.

As the revolution lost its vitality and its revolutionary bearings through the course of the 1990s, Fujimori began to lose his shine for the U.S. as well, although this process didn't move in a straight line or in a one-to-one relationship with the decline in the people's war. His one-man rule proved unstable and increasingly unnecessary, and the corruption that drenched his government a factor for disunity among the ruling classes, alienation among the classes that usually look to electoral politics, and general inefficiency. (The third and final of the accusations against Fujimori at his recent trial, ordering the 1992 temporary kidnapping of an opposition journalist and a businessman, relates to infighting within the Peruvian  "political class", and stands in contrast to the other two massacres with which it is equated since no one was even hurt.) He managed to win a third term in the 2000 elections, but faced a reborn mainstream opposition and no longer enjoyed U.S. support. A leaked video showing Montesinos bribing a leading Congressional opponent uncorked a scandal that forced the president to flee to Japan and send in his resignation by fax.

 An ill-considered return to Chile, hoping to barge back into electoral politics, instead led to his extradition and two trials in Peru. The first, in 2007, was for having ordered the burglary of the home of Montesino's wife in a desperate search to grab up incriminating videos before someone else found them. These puniest of possible charges show an initial reluctance to deal with Fujimori's more serious crimes in the light of day. The next year saw the trial that just ended.

Fujimori had driven the current Peruvian president, Alan Garcia, into exile after his self-coup, and the cycle of revenge is not hard to understand. But beyond that, the U.S. seems to have concluded that Fujimori's day is done. Letting him be politically active would only disrupt the good order of exploitation and oppression, while a more political trial would bolster the claim that today's electoral and legal system has made revolution unnecessary.

This kind of alternation between bourgeois dictatorships and bourgeois democracy has been seen before, especially in the countries dominated by the imperialist economic and political system. A hated dictator is in prison, but even he found elections to his advantage, and while the form of his rule was often individual and not parliamentary, he was backed by the same army, much of the same ruling class and the same superpower as President Garcia before him (1985-1990) and after him (starting in 2006). The capitalist economic system that grew out of Peru's feudal soil and imperialist domination still prevails and the old ruling classes that represent that system still rule, exercising their dictatorship in the form of electoral democracy. 

As for the U.S.? It used Fujimori when it needed him and then discarded him when he turned into a liability.

Today's President Garcia has no less blood on his hands from his first five years in office, from the slaughter of 69 peasants (including 21 children under five) in the village of Accomarca by an army patrol in 1985 and the murder of hundreds of political prisoners in 1986 to the 1988 massacre in the village of Cayara and the subsequent murder of at least nine witnesses to cover it up. Under his first presidency thousands of people "disappeared" at the hands of the military and his own death squads.

There's no better indication of what the trial of Fujimori does and does not mean than the fact that it is under Garcia's government that Fujimori has been convicted for doing exactly the same kinds of things Garcia did, while the U.S. looks on, still smiling.      
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