THE DAY AFTER
APRIL 23, 1997
The NewsHour analyzes the mission of Peruvian army commandos the day after they raided the Japanese embassy in Lima. The force brought out alive 71 of 72 hostages held since December. A background report is followed by a panel discussion.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Latin America's longest hostage crisis ended violently yesterday afternoon when a 150-man Peruvian strike team stormed the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima. Amid gunfire and explosions, all but one of the seventy-two hostages were rescued. All of the 14 Tupac Amaru rebels died in the assault. Two soldiers also died, and one hostage, a Supreme Court justice who suffered a fatal heart attack. It all began on the evening of December 17th, when the guerrillas burst into a party celebrating the Japanese emperor's birthday.
A RealAudio version of tonight's backgrounder is available.
A RealAudio version of tonight's interview with the U.S. Ambassador to Peru is available.
A RealAudio version of tonight's discussion with a panel of experts is available.
April 23, 1997:
A panel discusses the tactics used to re-take the Japanese Ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru.
February 3, 1997:
A newsmaker interview with Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori.
January 27, 1997:
Charlayne Hunter-Gault gets an update on the hostage situation from NPR reporter Jonathan Miller.
January 2, 1997:
Jim Lehrer speaks with journalist Jonathan Miller, reporting live from Peru.
December 23, 1996:
Marxist rebels released 225 hostages from the Japanese ambassador's residence in a "good will" Christmas gesture.
December 19, 1996:
In a stunning attack, a band of Peruvian rebels stormed the Japanese embassy in Lima holding 490 hostage.
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They took 452 guests hostage. Among those held were President Alberto Fujimori's brother, the foreign minister, the agriculture minister, and the Japanese ambassador, plus eighteen Japanese businessmen and embassy staffers. The rebels demanded the release of some 400 guerrillas held in Peruvian prisons. And they asked that the prisoners, the rebels in the embassy, and the hostages be transported to a jungle hideout where the hostages would then be released. The Peruvian government refused to give in to the terrorist demands. The Tupac Amaru is one of several leftist guerrilla groups that President Fujimori has been waging war against.
Tupac Amaru was named for fighters who resisted Spanish colonialism. It started as an urban guerrilla group in 1984, and grew to more than 3,000 members at its peak a decade ago. Since Fujimori was elected seven years ago, he has severely weakened the Tupac Amaru, capturing its leaders and jailing thousands of its members and sympathizers. Within hours of the hostage taking in December 80 people were released, including President Fujimori's mother and sister. The next day the rebels threatened to kill a hostage if their demands weren't meant, but the deadline passed with no concessions from either side. And that same day four more hostages, all diplomats, were set free. In the next few weeks 287 more people were allowed to leave, including seven Americans who had attended the party.
Early on, the International Red Cross was designated as the official mediator between the rebels and the government. Throughout the crisis the Red Cross delivered food and water and other supplies to the hostages. Catholic Archbishop Juan Luis Cipriani became an informal mediator of the standoff, appearing at the embassy on a regular basis, urging a peaceful end to the crisis. In January, nine more people were released, and the rebels invited the press corps camping out in front of the residence to come inside. President Fujimori traveled to Canada and the United States in early February, looking for support for his hard-line stance against the rebels' demands. In an interview with NewsHour Correspondent Elizabeth Farnsworth, President Fujimori said that he hoped for a peaceful solution but was still unwilling to give in to the guerrillas.
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: Be sure that there's not much room in this conversation for delinquency. There's not much concession. That must be very clear. Let me say this in English.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: No concessions to delinquents, is that what you're saying?
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: Not much in this case.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Official talks began February 11th. When Tupac Commander Cerpa took part in the negotiations on the site for the first time at the end of February, observers thought it was a sign the talks were proceeding well. But inside the embassy the Red Cross reported the captives were suffering from medical ailments and stress. The talks broke off abruptly on March 12th. At the time, reports surfaced, saying the Peruvian government was digging tunnels outside the embassy, sparking rumors that a raid might be imminent.
Police had blared Creole music and staged noisy tank maneuvers outside the residence, which some people speculated was covering the clamor of the tunnel construction. Still, Archbishop Cipriani continued back-channel negotiations. Hostage families gathered at the embassy, hoping for an Easter release. Several hostages inside the residence reportedly got a few minutes' warning of yesterday's attack. The strike team came from three directions, blasting the front door with explosives, attacking the back side, and climbing onto the roof to shepherd out the hostages.
According to one hostage eight of the rebels, including the Tupac leader, were attacked while they played indoor soccer. Within an hour it was over, and President Fujimori, in a bulletproof vest, made a victorious entry to the compound. The President, the soldiers, and some of the hostages joined in singing the Peruvian national anthem. The freed hostages hugged and kissed each other, and shook the President's hand as they boarded buses for a nearby hospital. Today, one of the hostages, the Bolivian ambassador, said he was convinced that they would eventually be saved.
JORGE GUMUCIO GRANIER, Bolivian Ambassador to Peru: We were ready. We expected to be saved, but we knew that they went through some risk, and we knew that it was impossible zero victim solution.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The mother of one of the rebels condemned the government attack.
FELICITA CARTOLINI, Mother of Rebel Leader Cerpa: (speaking through interpreter) I blame the regime of President Fujimori for mocking, lying, and deceiving the international public and the guarantor countries. I can assure you that, knowing my son, he preferred to face death before killing a prisoner, keeping his word. His courage and generosity will become an example to his country and the world. History will be the judge of what has happened.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The end of the crisis brought both jubilation and grief in Peru. Archbishop Cipriani broke down in tears at a press conference.
ARCHBISHOP JUAN LUIS CIPRIANI: (speaking through interpreter) The death of Dr. Giusti and the death of the members of the MRTA as human beings makes me feel a great pain. I pray to God for their souls and their families.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Foreign governments, including the Japanese, were not notified of the impending raid. President Fujimori said he did not tell Japanese Prime Minister Hashimoto because that would have jeopardized the successful operation.
PRESIDENT ALBERTO FUJIMORI: (speaking through interpreter) I did not tell him because in a rescue operation of this type surprise is essential.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Today soldiers continued to surround the embassy compound.