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Lessons from Peru.

As Peruvian soldiers burst into the Japanese Ambassador's residence on April 22, one of the members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) ran into the room where a number of the hostages were being held. He aimed his automatic rifle at them, stopped, stared, turned and walked back out of the room. Moments later he was gunned down trying to surrender.

I can think of no single incident that better illustrates why the world is dying -- or rather, being killed -- and why the most sincere, most heartfelt efforts of those of us struggling for justice and sanity so often end in betrayal, loss and sometimes bloodshed -- inevitably our own blood and the blood of those we are trying to protect.

While many of us enter into this struggle because we care about life and about living, those who are destroying life on this planet have shown themselves time and again to be willing to kill to increase their power.

Last December 17, members of the MRTA seized some 500 hostages. They released women and children immediately and all but 72 of the remaining hostages over the next several weeks. Their primary demand was that imprisoned MRTA members be freed from Peru's repressive jails.

In those four months before the Peruvian army's strike, the hostages seized by the MRTA played chess, gave and received cooking and music -- lessons, sang happy birthday to each other and compared their imprisonment to "a cocktail party without liquor." Most of the prisoners the MRTA voluntarily freed shook hands with MRTA commando Nestor Cerpa and wished him well. Some later expressed solidarity.

In those same four months, incarcerated MRTA members continued their existence in "prison tombs," as Alberto Fujimori has called them, where "they will rot and will only get out dead."

In those four months, prisoners at Callao Naval Base continued to be confined to their tiny cells 25 feet underground -- allowed to walk outside, hooded and alone, for just 30 minutes each day.

In those four months, prisoners in Yanamayo (at an altitude of 12,000 feet) and Chacapalca (at 15,000 feet and eight hours from the nearest village) suffered bitter cold in solitary confinement in rooms with paneless windows.

In those four months, those responsible for murdering thousands of Peruvians continued to lead comfortable lives, their anxiety eased by a general amnesty that Fujimori issued on June 16, 1995, thereby quashing all investigations into human rights violations occurring after May 1980.

In those four months, freed hostages expressing solidarity with the MRTA received death threats from Peru's secret police. At least one radio reporter who criticized the military was kidnapped and tortured.

In those four months, the Peruvian government continued to traffick cocaine. Last year, 169 kilos (373 pounds) of cocaine were found in the presidential plane; police found at least 120 kilos (264 pounds) on one Peruvian Navy ship and 57 kilos (126 pounds) on another; and Demetrio Chavez "Vatica-no," one of the most notorious drug kings in Latin America, testified that he had been paying Peru's drug czar, Vladimiro Monte-sinos (Fujimori's closest advisor and an ex-CIA informant long linked to drugs, death squads and the torture of civilians), $50,000 per month since 1991 in exchange for information on US Drug Enforcement Administration activities.

In those four months, reports the Mexican paper La Reforma, Fujimori's relatives (including his brother, Santiago, and his nephew, Isidro Kagami Fujimori) continued to traffick cocaine through a number of dummy corporations. Their profits have been used in the past to purchase black-market Russian-made helicopters for resale to the Peruvian army.

In those four months, the children of Peru continued to starve, the forests continued to fall, and the fisheries continued to be depleted as Fujimori continued his policy of committing genocide and ecocide to benefit transnational corporations.

In those four months, members of Peru's security forces -- trained in the US at taxpayer expense and wearing taxpayer-purchased flak jackets -- prepared for their assault. (One of their US instructors called the strike and subsequent massacre "money well spent.")

During and after the assault, many, if not all, of the MRTA members were summarily executed. Military microphones picked up the sounds of two 16-year-old girls begging soldiers not to shoot. They were murdered. Other rebels, including Nestor Cerpa, were shot at point-blank range in the forehead. At least one of the rebels was tortured before death. Their bodies were scattered in unmarked graves.

Those of us who care about stopping the genocide and ecocide that characterize our culture must learn to internalize the implications of one very important fact: We and they -- those who are destroying the world -- are operating under two entirely different and utterly incompatible value systems. We value fife and the living; they value control and power.

On the largest scale, it really is that simple. (On an individual scale it is more complex: Environmental organizations are rife with petty power struggles and I would imagine that even Fujimori cares for his family.) Time and again those who work to support the destructive ends of corporations over the needs of living beings show themselves willing to lie and kill to maintain control.

Throughout the siege, MRTA members treated their captives with humanity and grace. In response, they were lied to and betrayed. I know of no long-term activists who have not experienced this same Pattern of lies and betrayal, although for many of us in the more privileged sectors of the world, the full consequences of our opponents' behavior have yet to be brought home with such force and finality as normally is reserved for developing nations.

What are the implications? The first is that you cannot negotiate with someone who systematically lies to you. If you win your points during negotiation, the agreement simply will be broken. This is not to say we shouldn't negotiate, but to expect to be dealt with fairly is to participate in our own victimization.

The bitter truth that most of us are unwilling to face is that the lives of those our opponents kill simply do not exist in the minds of the killers. This is true for human and nonhuman victims alike. The US Forest Service and the timber industry speak of board feet rather than living forests; agribusiness corporations speak of 10,000 "units" in confinement instead of living hogs; and the corporate media reports that in Iraq, US warplanes caused "collatoral damage" -- the deaths of tens of thousands of men, women and children in apartments, buses and bomb shelters.

Thus, after the assault, Fujimori stated that he was "very sorry for the loss of three human lives," meaning the two soldiers and one hostage who died in the strike. The MRTA people killed in the raid were, evidently, not human.

Representatives of the transnational corporations extracting Peru's resources (including Japan's Mitsubishi Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.) did not state that they will change their policies, but only that they will begin to "educate their employees about terrorism" -- presumably neither the state-sponsored nor corporate kind.

We need to change our tactics. Those of us in the US, those of us who are at least somewhat privileged -- probably white perhaps male, possibly rich or at least not so hungry as the children of Peru -- must recognize that in a world of shrinking resources it is only a matter of time until the guns turn in our direction.

What amount of security are we willing to sacrifice to change the status quo? Each of us needs to question our own seriousness. What will you do to shut down the machine?

In those four months, 14 members of the MRTA held the attention of the world, and held back -- if only for a brief time, and if only in the so-very-tiny space of one house in one city in one country in South America -- the grinding of the life-destroying machine. What if there were 14 more, or 14 more than that, or 1,400 more than that?

What if we each began to organize, knowing full well the stakes and the potential consequences -- both good and bad? What if we each, at long last, said to those who run the country, those who run the companies, those who run the machine: "You will not pass. This is where I live, and this, if necessary, is where I will die. I will not go down easily." And what if we meant it?

Waging a one-sided and defensive war, we are losing. We must take the offensive, we must take the struggle -- never for a moment losing sight of the values in which we believe -- to their homes instead of ours. We must learn also that resistance is never futile, and that, armed or unarmed, we have no option but to strive -- as though our lives depend on it, which of course they do -- to shut down the machine and to live the way we each know we can.

Derrick Jensen is the author of Listening to the Land (Sierra Club Books, 1995) and (with George Draffan and John Osborn) Railroads and Clearcuts (Keokee Company Publishing, Inc., 1995).
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Title Annotation:unjustice of the Peruvian government
Author:Jensen, Derrick
Publication:Earth Island Journal
Date:Jun 22, 1997
Previous Article:Thoughts at 85.
Next Article:The media missed the mark in Peru.

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