Peru: Repression in the Name of Democracy

By Sergio Reyes, Latinos for Social Change

Published in The Reporter On Latin America and the Caribbean
December 1998

When Alberto Fujimori was elected in 1990, one of his many promises was to stop the dirty war by previous administrations against the people's movement and Leftist guerrillas. However, he sided with the rich and powerful who elected him instead. Following in the steps of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Fujimori set out to establish a neo-liberal economic model in Peru, backed by the Peruvian military.

On April 5,1992 Fujimori dissolved Congress, suspended the Constitution and declared martial law. On December 31,1993, he imposed his own constitution just like Pinochet did in Chile in 1986. In 1995, Fujimori got himself re-elected" and now aspires to run again in 2000.

While Fujimori has improved the climate for businesses, the situation for the majority of the workers has deteriorated. The neo-liberal economic model has been imposed with horrific consequences in the areas of Human Rights violations and the impoverishment of the workers.

Nearly 6,000 political prisoners are held in the most inhumane conditions in prisons throughout the country. An Amnesty International report of October 10, 1997 states that "Since 1992, at least 5,000 prisoners have been convicted under Peru's anti-terrorism laws, having been denied a fair trial. Human Rights groups in Peru have determined that over 1,400 presos inocentes (innocent prisoners) have been falsely accused of terrorism over the past five years. Of these, some 600 still languish in jail. It wasn't until October of 1997 that the government 'ended its faceless-judge system, succumbing to heavy pressure from Human Rights groups worldwide.

There are at least four categories of political prisoners in Peru: (1) members and supporters of the Communist Party in Peru, known as Shining Path; (2) members and supporters of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement; (3) people with Leftist beliefs and labor organizers not affiliated with either of the first two groups; and (4) people not involved with any political or labor organizing activity, but who are suspected of supporting Leftist organizations or activities. Human Rights organizations such as Amnesty International only defend cases that fall into the last two categories.

However, Human Rights violations in Peru do not discriminate, regardless of the category. People are rounded up by the government and sent to a high security prison such as the one at the Callao Naval Base in Lima, built in 1993. Its main objective is the physical, psychological and moral destruction of its prisoners. It serves as an example of what can happen to anyone who dares to question the Fujimori regime.

This prison was built 8 meters underground, with cement and reinforced steel bars and has very narrow cells. It is equipped with microphones to listen to the prisoners, motion detectors and alarm systems controlled from an electronic surveillance center. The cells have no lights; there is only a small opening, which lets in some daylight. Prisoners are kept in isolation during the first year and are not allowed to leave their cells or to have visitors.

Another infamous prison is the maximum-security prison of Yanamayo, located in Puro Province, in southern Peru, 3,800 meters above sea level. Prisoners share a 3 x 3 meter cell. As in Callao, prisoners have no right to visitation the first year. In the women's section of the prison, there are at least two foreigners: Maria Con-cepcion Pincheira from Chile and Lori Berenson from the US. Both have been accused of "treason" even though neither is a Peruvian citizen.

There are many other prisons in Peru that are equally terrifying- all part of the repressive system created by Fujimori.

The Fujimori regime has learned a great deal from the Chilean dictatorship. Just like Pinochet, Fujimori passed an amnesty law, under which all members of the armed forces who have committed crimes of genocide, torture, assassination and rape are absolved. The IMF and the World Bank are happy with the phony democracy of Fujimori, while the US supports the military under the guise of fighting drug trafficking.

In a report before the House National Security Committee in 1995, General Barry R. McCaffrey, commander in chief of the US Southern Command said, "SOUTHCOM believes that we can be more successful by focusing our support in Peru, the source of 80% of the cocaine that ends up on America's streets. President Fujimori and his armed forces have successfully checked the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and have jump-started the Peruvian economy... In the last year, they made significant progress in law enforcement operations against drug traffickers. SOUTHCOM will continue to work closely with them"

Four years later, the flow of drugs continues, while Peruvian jails continue to be filled with people who have nothing to do with drugs but rather are working to change the social and economic conditions of injustice and inequality.

It is time for all of us to take action against Human Rights violations, injustice, abuse, repression and inhumanity in Peru. We must demand the release of all political prisoners and the closing down of all maximum security prisons.

We must support the popular movement to confront the system that generates all of these conditions: a capitalist system designed to serve a few and exploits its workers.

Thousands of political prisoners, unemployed, impoverished people-people living in fear daily- this is the price paid to satisfy the IMF, the World Bank, the Peruvian business sector and US interests in Peru. Enough is enough!