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Peru's global hostages.

For millions of impoverished Peruvians, Japan has become a symbol of the draconian economic squeeze and social stress that define their daily existence. So it was symbolically fitting that, just as Mexico's Zapatistas chose the day NAFTA went into effect to launch their uprising, the Peruvian Tupac Amaru (M.R.T.A.) guerrillas staged their mass seizure of hostages on the birthday of Japanese Emperor Akihito. While the U.S. press focused on the guerrillas, demands to free political prisoners, the M.R.T.A. drama, still unfolding at press time, also entailed calls for an end to the neoliberal economic nostrums prescribed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Japan has used the carrot of increased private investment and some $600 million in loans and aid to Peru to entice President Alberto Fujimori into strict compliance with those policies. As inflation-along with wages and living standards-plummeted after Fujimori's economic shock treatment, almost two dozen Japanese corporations, from Mitsubishi to Matsushita, set up shop in Lima.

In a rough parallel with the U.S. relationship with Mexico, the Japanese closed their eyes to Fujimori's secretive and repressive rule and to the social consequences of his economic policies. Peru was being groomed for membership in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum by its sponsor in Tokyo. A signal difference is that the Mexican economy imploded a year after NAFTA, requiring a $50 billion bailout, while Peru is left staring into the abyss before it formally sips into APEC.

But in this post-cold war world, the State Department and the media chorus seem unwilling to think in sociopolitical terms. While it is important to condemn deeds like hostage-taking, it is also paramount to understand that acts of desperation often arise from a cycle of injustice, resistance and repression; of violence begetting violence, of protest becoming extreme when the channels of open communication are blocked by tanks and armored personnel carriers. Instead, we are too often told that events like the standoff in Lima can only be the fearsome face of International Terrorism making one of its noisy periodic appearances.

In its first report on the Peru hostage crisis, for example, Nightline made a half-dozen references to the M.R.T.A. guerrillas as terrorists, but not a single mention was made of the state terrorism that has helped run up Peru's political death toll over the last decade to more than 30,000. ABC correspondent Juan Quinonez did describe Peru's military-run prisons as hellholes where cold and hungry prisoners are kept in hoods twenty-four hours a day, anchored with a ball and chain, but only to add quickly that "you could well argue that their crimes merit that kind of harsh treatment." Omitted on Nightline, as in much of the coverage elsewhere, was any discussion of President Fujimori's "auto-coup" of 1992 that shut down Congress; nor was there reference to his Decrees 25475 and 25659, which abolished due process, handed extraordinary power to the military, created faceless courts with hooded judges and allowed them to dispatch hundreds to those medieval-style prisons on the mere suspicion of, yes, "terrorism."

As we went to press, there were reports of F.B.I. anti-terror teams and Delta Forces being rushed to Lima, Fujimori was maintaining a strict silence and the Japanese were urging restraint. The desperate gamble by the M.R.T.A. could end in a bloodbath or not, but no proximate act will resolve the imbalances that helped provoke the incident-and others like it. As William Greider suggests elsewhere in this issue, there are concrete corrective measures that can begin to offset the inequalities already created by globalization. But until the courage to make that sort of turn manifests itself, it seems that flak jackets and fatuous TV analysis will remain the order of the day.
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Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 13, 1997
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