The Consortium

Peru Update: Raid Bolsters Fujimori's Polls

By Sam Parry

Buoyed by the commando-style raid that freed 71 hostages and killed all 14 Tupac Amaru rebels, Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori is enjoying a resurgence in his poll numbers. But Fujimori's post-assault bounce -- up 30 points from a pre-attack low of 38 percent -- comes amid growing concerns in Peru and Washington that the South American country's already sorry human rights record might get worse.

The April 22 raid ended a four-month siege of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, after the Tupac Amaru rebels were persuaded to release more than 80 percent of their original captives. The rebels then held back from executing the remaining hostages, but the army commandos showed no mercy, even after some rebels surrendered. All the rebels were shot to death, some apparently in execution style. They were buried in secret mass graves with their families barred from viewing the bodies.

The U.S. State Department has continued to endorse Fujimori's hard-line reaction to the embassy seizure, but there is growing speculation that the attack may presage more repression in a Peruvian society already strained by poverty, political violence and widespread drug trafficking that implicates the government as well as guerrilla forces.

Asked about the government's record of human rights abuses, Tom Casey, State Department spokesman for Peruvian affairs, stated only that the United States maintains an "on-going dialogue with the Peruvian government" to address human-rights questions.

The latest State Department human rights report, however, was uncharacteristically blunt about the brutality in Peru. The report cited dozens of human rights infractions, including "extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, and beatings." Fujimori's government also was shaken this spring by reports of sadistic torture and grisly murders committed by Peru's intelligence services to cover up their role in "death squad" operations.

In a May 12, opinion article in the Los Angeles Times, Michael Shifter from the Inter-American Dialogue argued that "Fujimori's luck and daring have, for the moment, partly cleared the air of these troubling elements. But his triumphalism may be deceptive, ephemeral, even perilous."

Shifter noted that Peru's human rights picture has been "deteriorating" and the raid "may serve to fortify hard-liners in the military who wanted to use force from the outset." In Shifter's view, the danger is that peaceful approaches to solving Peru's complex problems of poverty and political violence "may now be given less attention."

But in the meantime, Fujimori and his political advisers are happy with his popularity turn-around. ~

(c) Copyright 1997

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