DECEMBER 19, 1996
In a stunning attack, a band of Peruvian rebels called Tupac Amaru stormed the Japanese embassy in Lima Tuesday night. The attack occurred during a party celebrating the Japanese emperor's birthday attended by diplomats, Peruvian government officials and business leaders. The rebels continue to hold almost 490 hostages and threaten to begin executions if their demands are not met. After an update, Charles Krause discusses the crisis situation and the Tupac Amaru with a former U.S. ambassador to Peru and a Georgetown professor.
GABY RADO, Independent Television News: Whatever the show of force outside the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, the odds were still very much in favor of the Tupac Amaru guerrillas inside. Hundreds of dignitaries as bargaining counters deployed in widely dispersed areas around the large compound, making any possible assault very hard, indeed. The Peruvian security forces will soon be supplemented by a more discreet presence of so-called special advisers from both Britain and the U.S.A. It's thought that as well as foreign diplomats, hostages include the head of the Peruvian Supreme Court and even the chief of Peru's anti-terrorist police.
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JOHN ILLMAN, British Ambassador, Peru: One has to admit that the positions at the moment of the two sides are wide apart, and clearly, some very delicate negotiating discussions will have to take place before that bridge could be gapped.
GABY RADO: It's been revealed that Peru's president, Alberto Fujimori, was almost certainly to have been among the hostages, as he usually attends the party at which the guerrillas struck. Mr. Fujimori, who's of Japanese descent, has sworn never to negotiate with terrorists, the threat from whom he'd assumed he'd crushed with tough policies during his six years in power. And so are the Japanese, for whom this is almost as serious a crisis as it is for Peru. The Japanese foreign minister on setting out from Tokyo for Lima made it plain his country would rather lives were saved through a deal than force be used, as that carried the risk of a blood bath. It's ironic, however, that it was because of President Fujimori's hard-line action in the past that Japan invested $280 million last year in Peru, leading to the Tupac Amaru's resentment of Japanese influence on their country. The MRTA is an apparently well armed and well organized group, one of whose main demands is the release of its leader, Victor Polay. He's been in solitary confinement for the past four years. His wife is living in exile in France.
ROSE POLAY CAMPOS, Wife of Guerrilla Leader: (speaking through interpreter) My husband is still in prison in terrible conditions. I'm very worried about him. That's the reason why I'm active in various organizations that deal with human rights.
GABY RADO: As President Fujimori has, himself, witnessed, hundreds of MRTA prisoners are being held in badly overcrowded conditions, and their plight is one of the guerrilla's main complaints.
JIM LEHRER: Charles Krause has more on the story.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Joining us now are Alvin Adams, the American ambassador in Peru from 1993 until August of this year, who's now president of the U.S. Association for the United Nations in New York, and Marc Chernick, director of the Amazonian Studies Project at Georgetown University. Professor Churnec has written extensively on Andian politics and guerrilla insurgencies in Latin America.
Gentlemen, thank you for joining us. Mr. Ambassador, there have been reports of two shots having been fired from inside the embassy compound late this afternoon, but no indication that anyone's been hurt. If that remains the case, there has been 24 hours of relative peace, does that indicate to you that there may be some sign that there's the possibility of a negotiated settlement?
ALVIN ADAMS, Former Ambassador to Peru: Well, I think these kinds of situations can endure for a good number of days. And I think you have to be patient, and, of course, the crisis managers have to be very level-headed. I do suspect that the two sides are in contact, and that's a very normal and very professional step to take in situations such as this. They could be talking about a wide variety of things, not necessarily the ultimate demands, or the ultimate solution, but they could be talking about logistical matters just as well.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Professor, how would you assess this situation?
MARC CHERNICK, Georgetown University: Well, I think it is beginning to stabilize. We shouldn't have our expectations held very high that it will be resolved quickly. A similar situation in Colombia, 1980, when guerrillas took over the embassy at the Dominican Republic, took two months to settle. And, frankly, it's in the guerrillas' advantage to keep the world opinion held hostage for as long as they can. So I think they would not look for a quick deal. But they will want to try to stabilize it to a stalemate, open negotiations, have the sides come together, and look for a way where they can claim victory even if they don't get their original demands. They can claim victory over just having the world focus on issues which they believe are very real.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Now, would you agree that the guerrillas chose the Japanese embassy because it--Japan--has become "the" major investor and perhaps most important ally of President Fujimori?
PROF. MARC CHERNICK: Well, it obviously was a strategic decision, and it is quite curious that now it is the Japanese embassy which is at the center of attention. Ten years ago, it would have been the U.S. embassy. Japan's role in Latin America has changed. Japan's role in Peru has changed. But for the Peruvian guerrillas what they really want is to hold world opinion and national opinion in Peru hostage, and they have succeeded very well. And what they wanted, more than anything, is an international audience. The Japanese are a particularly good one.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Ambassador, do you agree that that's what they're after, international attention?
AMB. ALVIN ADAMS: Yes. Absolutely. I think that is their principal objective. And I think they've attained that. Their other objective, clearly given the nature of the demands, is the release of large numbers, some four to five hundred of their cadre in prison in Peruvian jails. A third objective would be to get out of that situation intact. But not an awful of them are TA cadre in Peru. They suffered quite a bit in the past several years, and I think it's instructive that they made such a point about the release of their personnel in Peruvian prisons. And that is because they need them to continue their work.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Now, as we saw in our report, the Japanese foreign minister is en route to Lima. Would you interpret that as meaning that Japan will, in fact, be calling the shots once he gets there?
AMB. ALVIN ADAMS: No. Certainly, there's a Japanese sovereign territory, the embassy, itself, but the ultimate decision maker and the one responsible for the welfare really of those hostages, as well as the welfare of his own citizens, is President Fujimori. I think President Fujimori will welcome counsel, but he also will have to take his own counsel and be instructed mostly and primarily by the interest of the country at large.
CHARLES KRAUSE: There have also been reports the Japanese might be more likely to want to perhaps free some of the prisoners in exchange for a peaceful solution. Do you think--you know President Fujimori. Is he likely to agree to that kind of solution?
ALVIN ADAMS: I think that would be unlikely. Very clearly, whatever negotiation is going to be defined by the particular context. The numbers of people they're talking about, you can go through a whole series of mini-negotiations, if you will, before a final conclusion is reached in the situation. I think the professor is quite right. This could take a good number of days, if not weeks.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Professor, from what you know of this group, the Tupac Amaru, well, first of all, what does that refer to? What does that mean?
PROF. MARC CHERNICK: Tupac Amaru was an indigenous leader who withstood the Spanish conquest, early in the 16th century, and then a second indigenous leader in the 18th century took on the name of Tupac Amaru, and so, once again, this name of indigenous rebellion against oppression has been raised in the name of this group, Tupac Amaru revolutionary movement.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And this group was founded in the 80s, I believe?
PROF. MARC CHERNICK: It was founded in the 80s, but it was founded in the tradition of many guerrilla groups in Latin America since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, that is, to foment revolution in the style of the Cuban revolution to overcome social injustice and inequality.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Now, from what you know of them, do you think that, without having gone this far, they would be willing to negotiate say passage out of the country or some other solution without getting their people out of jail?
PROF. MARC CHERNICK: I think so. I think they have achieved a lot already. They--what they really need to do is they need to resurrect themselves politically. They would feel defeated militarily. They're not a military band. But now the battle is for public opinion and in Peru, as well as outside. If they can get the world to focus on certain issues which they think are very important, such as the condition of their prisoners in jail, in Peru, then that is a success, because, in fact, that is the weakest part of the Peruvian government. There are major questions about the way the terrorists have been tried by military tribunals, with faceless judges. Those are issues which go well beyond their demands. If they can focus world attention on that and find that others have similar concerns as they, then they have achieved a lot, and then their major concern is getting safe passage back to the jungle. Now a similar situation again happened in Colombia, the guerrillas asked for the release of their top leadership. They may not get it, but they did get world attention on the conditions of political prisoners. And that's a very important achievement.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Mr. Ambassador, from what you know, from what the United States knows, where did these guerrillas get their money and how much support do they have?
AMB. ALVIN ADAMS: Well, they get their money in good measure from the trading in narcotics, in what's called coca basic, a basic coca paste, which is processed in the Upper Yuaga Valley. They also get it from seizing wealthy Peruvians, or they used to, there has not been much of that in the past several years, and bank heists. And that's how they're financed.
CHARLES KRAUSE: What kind of military capability do they have now?
AMB. ALVIN ADAMS: Well, I do believe it's much less than what they used to have. They've been relatively quiet and not much heard of in the past several years. It is interesting, however, that about the same period of time last year a plan to seize the Peruvian Congress, much the same way as the Japanese embassy, was foiled. And the centerpiece of that plan again was the theme of the release of their personnel in jail. As for the kind of public support they have in Peru, I think it is minimal to non-existent. I think if you ask most Peruvians, just about any I could think of, they would express abhorrence, if not hatred, of the kind of activity that they've engaged in today. Certainly, Peruvians who care about the development of the country, care about the kind of atmosphere that's conducive to investment, to job creating, and about the conditions, which this government, I think, sincerely is trying to do something seriously about.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Professor, would you agree that the guerrillas have virtually no support?
PROF. MARC CHERNICK: I would agree. They have a very small base of support in their coca growing region. But that's precisely why we're doing these actions at this time. They're a defeated group which has lost their place at the political table. They are using this action to regain their seat in the seat of public opinion and in the arena of politics, and it's not unprecedented. If they can get out of this successfully, they can begin to come back as a player politically. Right now, they don't have supporters. They're marginalized Most people think they're defeated. This way they're saying we're here, and we're on the side of the poor, and we're on the side of those against oppression. And others agree with us.
AMB. ALVIN ADAMS: I'd only say, if I could interject, that I think you're quite right, that the principal audience is a foreign public. I don't think they can get an awful lot of mileage over this at home. If they're interested in--in--truly in the welfare of the little Peruvian, why carry out an operation which will--could risk compromise with the country's image and its investments prospects, precisely those kinds of activities which lead to investment and lead to revenues, and job creation.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Gentlemen, we've run out of time. I thank you both very much.
AMB. ALVIN ADAMS: You bet. Thank you.
PROF. MARC CHERNICK: Thank you.