Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Peru: Remember the APRODEH furore?

Some people may remember, back in April/May, that there was controversy about the EU's decision not to class the MRTA as a currently active terrorism organisation (I blogged about it here, here and here).

At the time, one of my regular emails from the Peru Support Group promised an editorial on the subject, and I checked their website regularly for an update, and then pretty much decided it must have fallen by the wayside. But now - better late than never! - the editorial is there, and it is very good. It doesn't seem to have a unique URL, so I'm going to take the liberty of reproducing it here in full. I trust if this is an issue someone from the PSG will let me know and I'll take it right down.

Storm in a Teacup, or Something more Sinister?

European Union (EU) officials in Brussels and Strasbourg were reportedly bemused by the row created in Lima over an e-mail they received from the human rights group, the Asociacion pro-Derechos Humanos (Aprodeh), giving its opinion as to whether the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (MRTA) should be included in the EU's blacklist of terror organisations. After all, the MRTA has not been heard of for at least ten years or more, its last known 'operation' being the 1997 occupation of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima.

But their missive to the EU sent shockwaves in Lima. President Alan Garcia accused Francisco Soberon, one of Aprodeh's directors and a veteran human rights campaigner, of being a traitor to the country. The government called for an immediate and full investigation of the organisation's activities. It also declared, via government decree, that 64 NGOs will no longer enjoy their observer status in the national council (CNDH), which advises the government on human rights matters. The reason given for this change in legislation was to protect classified government information.

Human rights organisations have been left in no doubt as to how they are judged and perceived at the highest levels of government. In 2006, the Instituto de Defensa Legal (IDL), a well-respected organisation with a long track record of defending human rights was accused by a parliamentary commission of 'interfering' in justice (Update 117). Like Aprodeh, IDL has campaigned against the impunity of human rights crimes committed during Peru's 20-year fight against Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).

A leading government official said to be behind the recent clampdown of human rights organisations is Luis Giampetri, Peru's first vice-president. Giampetri is a retired admiral, allegedly among those responsible for the slaughter of Shining Path captives in 1986 at the island prison of El Fronton.

The row over Aprodeh also coincides with the trial of Alberto Fujimori, currently being held on human rights and corruption charges. Fujimori is accused of masterminding the activities of a death squad which led to the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta killings in 1991 and 1992 respectively. According to the testimony of the titular head of the National Intelligence Service, himself recently convicted, Fujimori was closely involved in all 'anti-subversive' operations.

The role of Alan Garcia during his first Presidential term (1985 to 1990) has been repeatedly questioned with respect to how much he knew about notorious killings, such as the Accomarca (1985) and Cayara (1988) massacres, and the decision to kill the Sendero inmates who rioted at El Fronton and two other Lima prisons in 1986. Moreover, the murder of trade unionist Cantoral Huamani in 1989 by state agents - the Rodrigo Franco Group - was the subject of a ruling against the Peruvian state by the Inter American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) last year. The court has called upon the state, once again under Garcia's watch, to provide reparations. If Fujimori is eventually convicted on human rights grounds, who will be next?

The immediate context of the brou-ha-ha over Aprodeh has taken place while Garcia plays host to the fifth EU-Latin American summit. It is perhaps understandable that Garcia would be more than a little jumpy at the prospect of having large numbers of European and Latin American visiting dignitaries in Lima. In 1986, while the killings in the Lima jails took place, he was hosting a top-level meeting of the Socialist International involving heads of state which included Venezuela's Carlos Andres Perez. The riots and the subsequent slaughter were a deep embarrassment for Garcia at the time.

However, human rights considerations aside, the offensive against Aprodeh appears to go a little deeper. In supposedly acting as apologists for the MRTA, Aprodeh has become an important link in enabling the government to target other sources of 'anti-patriotic' support including:

NGOs supporting communities in their protests about the activities of mining companies. Government officials have repeatedly sought to connect these with the activities of supposed terrorists, especially in the case of the Rio Blanco project on Peru's northern frontier with Ecuador. In a now notorious newspaper article, Garcia likened those opposed to mining investments as standing in the way of national economic progress. Amongst those Garcia was keen to impress at the recent EU-Latin American summit were European mining companies.

Opposition leader Ollanta Humala, whose links to Venezuela - and to President Hugo Chavez in particular - have long provided a useful stick with which to beat the opposition as a whole. The Garcia government has made much of the attempts to set up the so-called 'Casas de ALBA' in Peru, offices involved in propagating the Venezuelan-inspired 'Bolivarian alternative' for Latin America. Some people believe MRTA sympathisers to be in cahoots with Humala and (by extension) with Chavez.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The presence of the FARC on Peruvian soil has always been more anecdotal than proven, particularly beyond the immediate frontier between the two countries along the Putumayo River. Here once again, the ghost of the MRTA emerges, at least in the minds of some, as its project is seen to bear striking similarities to those of FARC in Colombia. Identifying who FARC's international allies are is a top priority for both Colombian and US intelligence. Garcia, who poses as a stalwart supporter of both Uribe and the Bush administration, is keen to oblige. Ironically, FARC's biggest Peruvian supporters may have been Fujimori and Vladimiro Montesinos, both accused of orchestrating a massive deal to supply arms to the FARC in the 1990s.

In the increasingly intolerant atmosphere of present-day Peruvian politics, it is unsurprising that organisations like Aprodeh provide useful targets for the campaign against an ill-defined 'enemy within'. It may be that, with the European summit out of the way, this campaign will now die down. However, the degree of political polarisation both within Peru itself and within Latin America more broadly, suggests that such optimism may be misplaced.

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