Terror lives on in Peru Embassy standoff: Fujimori's success in quashing rebels put at risk.


TUPAC AMARU, the last Inca, rebelled against his Spanish captors and was beheaded in 1572. Two centuries later, an Indian who ignited rebellion in the Andes took the name Tupac Amaru II, before his own execution. Two centuries later, in 1984, middle-class Peruvian Marxists inspired by Fidel Castro in Cuba formed the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). The name connoted undying rebellion and lost causes.

No one noticed. A larger, more murderous, mad Maoist movement called Shining Path was destroying the country. Tupac Amaru had differences with Shining Path that no one else cared about. The two fought over turf.

Peru was in shambles when an obscure technocrat of Japanese ancestry, Alberto Fujimori, won the presidential election of 1990. He suspended the constitution, sent the army after the guerrillas and restored the constitution. The founder of Tupac Amaru was caught in 1992 and the founder of Shining Path the next year. Mr. Fujimori claimed victory and relaxed security. He won re-election in 1995, reduced the deficit, fought cocaine traffic, brought law and order and attracted foreign investment. But he has not ended poverty.

Tupac Amaru's second-in-command, Nestore Cerpa Cartolini alias "Comandante Evaristo," remained on the run. Police nearly nabbed him in January, raiding his safe house and finding instead Lori Berenson, an American young woman who had gone to Peru to help the poor and joined Tupac Amaru. She was condemned to life imprisonment after a secret trial.

Cerpa is the rare South American revolutionary who sprang from the poor he champions. He has killed, robbed, kidnapped and bombed. At first, Peruvian authorities believed he had carefully rehearsed the attack on the Japanese embassy Dec. 17 and controlled it by cellular telephone. Then they realized he was inside.

Mr. Fujimori did not get where he is by backing down. Japan sent its foreign minister to talk him into the Japanese way of making concessions, but that worthy went home empty-handed. Cerpa is a desperate terrorist who, with 20 armed men, took nearly 500 dignitaries hostages, hoping to exchange them for 300 Tupac Amaru members in Peruvian prisons. He still holds 140 hostages in the embassy.

The world has contradictory interests in this dreadful stand-off. The first is that no harm come to the captives. The second is that terrorism not succeed, lest it inspire more. Tremendous patience is needed, along with steely judgment. In the end it is a battle of wills between Cerpa and Mr. Fujimori.

Pub Date: 12/24/96

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad