Valget i Peru

A politicized massacre in Peru. The neglected testimonies

Two weeks before Peru’s presidential elections 16 people were massacred in the country’s rural area. The blame was rapidly laid on a remnant of the Shining Path, allegedly linked to the party of one of the presidential candidates. But the affair seems to be far more complicated than suggested.

Tekst og foto Anna Milena Kohte

Presidentvalg i Peru
De to kandidatene Keiko Fujimori og Pedro Castillo, lå svært nær hverandre i valgopptellingen som ble ferdig torsdag 10. juni. Keiko Fujimori tilhører høyre-partiet Fuerza popular, er datter av tidligere president Alberto Fujimori, med besteforeldre som innvandret til Peru fra Japan på 1930-tallet. Hennes far sitter nå i fengsel for korrupsjon og brudd på menneskerettighetene gjennom bruk av dødsskvadroner i bekjempelsen av venstreside-geriljaer i landet. Pedro Castillo er lærer og fagforeningsleder og stiller for sosialistpartiet Perú Libre.

23. mai i år ble 16 mennesker drept i to barer på landsbygda i Peru. Hendelsen har blitt brukt i valgkampen.

Anna Milena Kohte er menneskerettighets-jurist, tilknyttet Europa-Institut, Saarbrücken. Hun har tidligere publisert artikkel om ashaninkaene i Peru i Torggata Blad nr. 1, 2021, https://torggatablad.no/?p=104726.
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Late in the night of May 23 this year, 16 people were killed in two bars in Vizcatán del Ene. Among them were a four-year-old girl and a toddler, who were killed alongside their mothers.(1)

Lately in Torggata Blad, I have written about the different threats persons are facing in Peru’s most important coca-growing region referred to as ‘VRAEM’ (the Valley of the rivers Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro).(2) The recent attacks bring to the fore issues raised in my previous article.

The attack took place in a politically delicate moment, just two weeks before the country’s presidential elections. What had happened? And what does the attack have to do with the presidential elections, if anything?

What the witnesses saw

Most of the national and international media reports have been based upon the Army’s version of the affair.(3) Only a few reports have given the voice to the victims and local population. To date there are essentially two field reports, which have been published by two independent Peruvian journals, Ojo Publico and Hildebrandt en sus trece.

According to surviving witnesses three attackers in civilian clothes entered the bars and opened fire on the civilians inside.(4) As one of the four survivors narrated to Ojo Publico, «[t]here was no exchange of words, not even that they spare our lives. Nothing, nothing. The children, everyone was shot. Those who were outside, everyone, the girls. There was a girl who pretended to be dead and saved herself.”(5)

According to testimonies, the attackers fled with motorcycles, apparently into the direction of a military base,(6) after having taken money and mobile phones.(7) The reports also state that 20 people had been together in the two bars. One of the bars was owned by three sisters who also offered sex to their clients.(8) In the near village San Miguel del Ene people live mostly of the cultivation of coca, which is sold to narcotraffickers.(9) They had come to enjoy their free time in the bars.

As I have written previously(10) the communities of the VRAEM essentially protect themselves through self-defence committees. But where were these local self-defence units that night? Hugo Torres, a lieutenant of the local self-defence committee, is recorded as stating that he had heard the gunshots but could not react and contact others from the villages nearby, as electricity and telephone signals were shut down that night.(11) According to him, this happens “when there is an operation by [Peru’s] Armed Forces. They cut the lines so that people can’t block the operation”.(12) He decided therefore to wait until the next morning to go and find the dead bodies, some of which were heavily burnt.(13)

Was there political ideology behind the massacre?

Shortly afterwards, less than 24 hours after the attack, Peru’s Armed Forces published an official press statement claiming that the ‘Terrorist Organization Shining Path’ had hit and murdered 14 persons in ‘a genocidal act’.(14) The statement explicitly referred to Victor Quispe Palomino as the leader of the organization and continued by highlighting that ‘pamphlets were found in the place, which urged the population not to participate in the 2021 electoral process’ and that this type of action was called ‘social cleansing’ by the ‘Terrorist Organization’.(15) Indeed, a pamphlet, dated of 10 May 2021, appeared and was shared on social media, reading that ‘whoever votes in favour of Keiko Fujimori is a traitor, a murderer of the VRAEM, a murderer of Peru’ while showing the characteristic hammer and sickle on the top of the page.(16)

Does this mean that the massacre was committed by the Shining Path remnant with the purpose of influencing the elections? For most locals, apparently this version does not make much sense.

The report of the newspaper Hildebrandt en sus trece concludes that the way the attack was carried out does not resemble Quispe Palomino’s group.(17) On the contrary, according to the newspaper, the testimonies point to a silent cooperation between the local population who produce coca-leaves for their living and the narcotraffickers.(18) While it is indeed widely acknowledged that Victor Quispe Palomino’s group, called the ‘Militarized Communist Party of Peru’, operates in the region, he is also known for having split from the former Maoist Shining Path insurgent movement(19) and for being mainly engaged with cocaine trafficking.(20) It has therefore been stressed that his group should not be equated to the Shining Path of the 80s and 90s and that no crimes of such a scale has taken place against civilians in this region since the 90s.(21)

The district’s mayor, Alejandro Atao, also told Hildebrandt en sus trece that he did not believe the army’s version either.(22) The district’s mayor and prefect are both cited as stating that the owners of the bars had never informed neither of them of any threats.(23) It is also suspicious to them that the attackers fled by motorcycles, which are not usually used by the narcoterrorists.(24)

At the time of writing, no person has been apprehended in relation to the attack. With a view to the divergent accounts presented by investigative journalists on the one side and the military on the other, many questions about the origin and purpose of the attack remain open. It is hoped that swift and independent investigations are taking place and provide answers to both the victims and the larger population of the country rather sooner than later.

A politicized massacre

Though much remains unclear, what is clear, is that the massacre was rapidly politicized. Indeed, an important part of the presidential campaign of the right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori focused on discrediting her opponent Pedro Castillo as far-left extremist and presenting her election as crucial in combatting and preventing ‘communism’ and ‘terrorism’. In this sense, Vladimir Cerrón, founder of Castillo’s party ‘Perú Libre’ was accused of having links to Quispe Palomino(25) and Pedro Castillo himself has been linked to Movadef, a party seeking amnesty for imprisoned Shining Path leaders.(26) It may therefore not surprise that Rospigliosi, the security expert from Keiko Fujimori’s campaign team, was the first person in allocating responsibility for the massacre to the Shining Path, even before any official police statement was made.(27) Rospigliosi also declared in the aftermath of the attack that they had the clear proposal of exterminating ‘these terrorists’ within six months, if elected.(28) Beyond this vast politization of the attack, however, there are many deeper issues, which are not that easily addressed as suggested. People in the region have been asking for more protection and investment for years. One crucial factor which has been tirelessly highlighted by Ángel Pedro Valerio, indigenous leader of the Asháninka people living on the Ene river, is the support of other, sustainable, means of subsistence than coca (see my previous post on ‘cocoa against coca’(29)). Similarly, Hugo Torres, the lieutenant of the self-defense committee, also stresses the felt total abandonment by the state and asks where the alternative development is about which they have talked so much.(30)

Notes

1) Óscar Castilla C. and Ralph Zapata, ‘Voces desde la masacre: Vizcatán del Ene vive en duelo, abandonado y acechado por el narcotráfico’, Ojo Público, 26 May 2021 (accessible here: https://ojo-publico.com/2741/vizcatan-del-ene-en-duelo-y-acechado-por-el-narcotrafico); Óscar Castilla C. and Ralph Zapata, ‘Violencia en el valle de la droga grupo narcoterrorista de “José” es acusado de acribillar a 16 personas’, Ojo Público, 24 May 2021 (accessible here: https://ojo-publico.com/2731/narcoterroristas-de-jose-acusados-de-matar-16-personas?fbclid=IwAR3z4vNdy37UzOnbxTnEbiloR5dqwYww3LMszGL-2blvxcJW3Tsp8TG6GFU).

2) See Anna Kohte, ‘Kakao mot koka – ashaninkaenes motstandshistorie i Peru‘, Torggata Blad, 10 May 2021 (accessible here: https://torggatablad.no/?p=104726).

3) See, for example, ‘Vraem: al menos 14 personas fueron asesinadas por miembros de Sendero Luminoso‘, El Comercio, 24 May 2021 (accessible here: https://elcomercio.pe/peru/junin/vraem-18-personas-fueron-asesinadas-por-miembros-de-sendero-luminoso-en-poblado-de-vizcatan-del-ene-noticia/); Dan Collyns, ‘Peru: Shining Path splinter group kills 14 in pre-election jungle massacre’, The Guardian, 24 May 2021 (accessible here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/24/peru-shining-path-jungle-massacre); Anatoly Kurmanaev and Mitra Taj, ‘Peru Massacre Revives Trauma of Maoist Violence Ahead of Polarized Vote’, The New York Times, 24 May 2021 (accessible here: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/24/world/americas/peru-massacre.html).

4) Ricardo Velazco, ‘Montaje en torno a una tragedia’, Hildebrandt en sus trece, Edition 541, Year 12 (accesible here: https://www.hildebrandtensustrece.com/reportaje/articulo/572); Óscar Castilla C. and Ralph Zapata, ‘Violencia en el valle de la droga grupo narcoterrorista de “José” es acusado de acribillar a 16 personas’, Ojo Público, 24 May 2021.

5) Óscar Castilla C. and Ralph Zapata, ‘Violencia en el valle de la droga grupo narcoterrorista de “José” es acusado de acribillar a 16 personas’, Ojo Público, 24 May 2021.

6) Ricardo Velazco, ‘Montaje en torno a una tragedia’, Hildebrandt en sus trece, Edition 541, Year 12.

7) Óscar Castilla C. and Ralph Zapata, ‘Violencia en el valle de la droga grupo narcoterrorista de “José” es acusado de acribillar a 16 personas’, Ojo Público, 24 May 2021.

8) Ricardo Velazco, ‘Montaje en torno a una tragedia’, Hildebrandt en sus trece, Edition 541, Year 12.

9) Ibid.

10) Anna Kohte, ‘Kakao mot koka – ashaninkaenes motstandshistorie i Peru‘, Torggata Blad, 10 May 2021.

11) Óscar Castilla C. and Ralph Zapata, ‘Voces desde la masacre: Vizcatán del Ene vive en duelo, abandonado y acechado por el narcotráfico’, Ojo Público, 26 May 2021; Óscar Castilla C. and Ralph Zapata, ‘Violencia en el valle de la droga grupo narcoterrorista de “José” es acusado de acribillar a 16 personas’, Ojo Público, 24 May 2021.

12) Ricardo Velazco, ‘Montaje en torno a una tragedia’, Hildebrandt en sus trece, Edition 541, Year 12.

13) Óscar Castilla C. and Ralph Zapata, ‘Violencia en el valle de la droga grupo narcoterrorista de “José” es acusado de acribillar a 16 personas’, Ojo Público, 24 May 2021.

14) Comando Conjunto de las Fuerzas Armas del Perú, ‘Comunicado N 005-2021-CCFFAA Organización Terrorista Sendero Luminoso Asesina A 14 Personas en el Vraem’, 24 May 2021 (accessible here: https://www.ccffaa.mil.pe/comunicado-n-005-2021-ccffaa-organizacion-terrorista-sendero-luminoso-asesina-a-14-personas-en-el-vraem/).

15) Ibid.

16) The pamphlet was circulated first by Fernando Rospigliosi, member of Keiko Fujimoris campaign team on 24 May 2021 (accessible here: https://twitter.com/Frospigliosi/status/1396869326016323587/photo/1).

17) Ricardo Velazco, ‘Montaje en torno a una tragedia’, Hildebrandt en sus trece, Edition 541, Year 12.

18) Idem.

19) La República, ‘Terrorista “José” amenaza con más ataques a las fuerzas del orden’, 9 June 2018 (accessible here: https://larepublica.pe/politica/1258375-terrorista-jose-amenaza-ataques-fuerzas-orden/).

20) See, for example, US Department of State, https://www.state.gov/victor-quispe-palomino/ and https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-57242718; Jo-Marie Burt, ‘Peru’s military say Shining Path insurgents killed 16 civilians. Others are not so sure’, The Washington Post, 5 June 2021 (accessible here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/06/05/perus-military-say-shining-path-insurgents-killed-16-civilians-others-are-not-so-sure/).

21) Óscar Castilla C. and Ralph Zapata, ‘Violencia en el valle de la droga grupo narcoterrorista de “José” es acusado de acribillar a 16 personas’, Ojo Público, 24 May 2021; Ricardo Velazco, ‘Montaje en torno a una tragedia’, Hildebrandt en sus trece, Edition 541, Year 12.

22) Ibid.

23) Ibid.

24) Ibid.

25) See, for example, an article by Fernando Rospigliosi ‘Cerrón y el Vraem’, Expreso, 24 May 2021 (accessible here https://www.expreso.com.pe/opinion/cerron-y-el-vraem/).

26) Juan Manuel Robles, ‘Pedro Castillo, la difícil esperanza en Perú’, Público, 30 May 2021 (accessible here: https://www.publico.es/internacional/elecciones-peru-pedro-castillo-dificil-esperanzaperu.html).

27) Ricardo Velazco, ‘Montaje en torno a una tragedia’, Hildebrandt en sus trece, Edition 541, Year 12.

28) Exitosa Perú, ‘Rospigliosi sobre atentado en el VRAEM’, 25 May 2021 (accessible here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExpVLpldSGU&feature=youtu.be, aprox. min 2:35).

29) Anna Kohte, ‘Kakao mot koka – ashaninkaenes motstandshistorie i Peru‘, Torggata Blad, 10 May 2021.

30) Óscar Castilla C. and Ralph Zapata, ‘Voces desde la masacre: Vizcatán del Ene vive en duelo, abandonado y acechado por el narcotráfico’, Ojo Público, 26 May 2021.

Valget i Peru

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