Peru as the next domino in Chavez’s oily socialist plot: How the Wall Street Journal blew the story

By Rick Vecchio ~

The decision last week by the European Parliament to reject inclusion of Peru’s Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement on its list of known terrorist groups has reverberated through Peru with hardly any notice taken by English language news media — with one very notable exception: The Wall Street Journal. And boy, did they botch it.

The column titled “Friends of Terror” by WSJ America’s columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady was at best misinformed, if for nothing else, because the very first sentence in her lead was erroneous. The European Parliament did not remove the MRTA from its terrorist list. The MRTA wasn’t on the list.

The EU Parliament voted 275-271, with 16 abstentions, against a motion by one of its conservative Spanish legislators to add MRTA to its terrorist list. The outcome was due, in part, to a letter sent by Aprodeh, one of Peru’s most reputable human rights organizations.

The human rights group, led since 1983 by Francisco Soberon, argued that MRTA’s significance should not be overblown, given it has been inactive for at least eight years. A terrorist designation by the EU at this point could be used as a pretext to “persecute social activists and political opponents, accusing them unjustly of crimes of terrorism,” the letter concluded.

To understand the significance of Aprodeh’s concern requires a bit of investigation of Peru’s modern history, its political players and at least a cursory glance at news coverage in Peru’s newspapers. O’Grady, instead, chose to rely on a single source and to parrot a retro-Cold War analysis, depicting Peru as the next domino to fall in Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s petro-dollar imbued socialist revolution.

She also did a hatchet job on Aprodeh, and by extension on all of Peru’s human rights NGOs, many of which are now under threat of a congressional witch hunt and legislative emasculation by lawmakers, whose own political agendas warrant scrutiny.

“They had an NGO that lobbied on behalf of the guerrillas” ahead of the EU Parliamentary vote, O’Grady said in an on-line interview on the WSJ Web site, referring to Aprodeh. She noted that Aprodeh receives funding from George Soros’ Open Society Institute, Oxfam, and the Embassy of The Netherlands, among others. “It’s interesting to see that rich countries are funding organizations that support terrorism,” she said.

O’Grady hung her column on an interview with Peruvian Congressman Rolando Sousa, who described a reemerging “terrorist element” funded and orchestrated by Chavez.

That Sousa might characterize Aprodeh as a friend of terrorists or a wanton dupe in a Bolivarian conspiracy to overthrow Peruvian democracy is understandable. Sousa is a leading lawmaker in ex-President Alberto Fujimori’s congressional bloc. He also is the law partner of attorney César Nakazaki in the firm that is defending Fujimori against human rights abuse and corruption charges. Aprodeh was a leading player in achieving Fujimori’s extradition from Chile.

Throughout Fujimori’s 1990-2000 authoritarian rule, his government always characterized Peru’s human rights advocates as pawns and sympathizers of Maoist Shining Path and, to a lesser extent, MRTA terrorists. The fact remains that Peruvian state security forces were responsible for thousands of murdered campesinos, many of whose remains are still being dug up from mass graves in Peru’s Andes.

Peru’s counter-insurgency response through the 1980s and 1990s was overreaching and brutally indiscriminate. And the post-script legal battle still rages over efforts by groups like Aprodeh to bring those responsible to justice.

During the insurgency, the Cuban-inspired MRTA waged a campaign of assassinations, kidnappings and bombings, but was dwarfed in the shadow of the far more violent and deadly Maoist Shining Path.

According to Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the MRTA was responsible for less than 2 percent of the estimated 70,000 deaths caused by political violence between 1980 and 2000. The group is best known for its December 1996 raid on a VIP party in the Japanese Ambassador’s residence in Lima, and an ensuing four-month standoff, which ended with a daring commando raid that killed all 14 of the rebels, and saved all but one of 72 hostages.

Aprodeh was harshly criticized by several of its peers in Peru’s human rights community for its letter to the EU Parliament as an insensitive, stupid blunder. But those rebukes paled in comparison to the onslaught let loose by Peru’s government.

If Peru’s three main congressional blocs share a common foe, it’s not Hugo Chavez. It’s the human rights organizations that pushed for Fujimori’s extradition, and still clamor for President Alan Garcia and opposition leader Ollanta Humala to face trial for their alleged roles in human rights abuses during Peru’s dirty war against the guerrillas.

If nothing else, Aprodeh committed a huge tactical error, walking face first into a perfect storm of McCarthy-like hysteria over the threat posed by Chavez’s Bolivarian Movement and his alleged conspiracy to foment terrorist violence and social unrest on Peruvian soil.

Riding a wave of public outrage, President García on Friday accused Aprodeh of “treason against the nation.” Then on Sunday his government published a Supreme Decree stripping nearly all of Peru’s human rights organizations of their legally constituted roles as watchdogs in the deliberations of the government’s National Human Rights Council.

Peru’s human rights community accused Garcia’s government of manipulating public sentiment over the MRTA issue to gain an authoritarian upper hand.

“The government is not going to persecute anyone,” García responded in a televised interview Monday night. He said that human rights groups that advocate for alleged victims against the Peruvian state in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, have no legitimate place at the strategy table when the government is formulating its legal defense. “That’s a little bit of what happened in this issue of the MRTA,” he added, without elaborating.

So who are the “anarchists, terrorists and the radical left” that O’Grady says Sousa rooted out?

Sousa’s commission is one of two such investigating bodies formed by Peru’s Congress, which, along with Peru’s Foreign Ministry, have tried to expose operatives and provocateurs who get their marching orders and paychecks from Caracas. Uncovering evidence of that financing, or any criminal wrongdoing, has proved elusive.

But that hasn’t stopped Peruvian police from arresting leftist social activists and political opponents of the government on terrorism charges.
Seven Peruvians were arrested Feb. 29 upon returning from the Bolivarian Continental Coordinator conference in Quito, Ecuador. They allegedly received instructions from Venezuelan agents and Colombian FARC guerrillas to destabilize Peru’s government and disrupt upcoming summits of Latin American, European and Caribbean heads of state next month, and the Asian Pacific Economic Conference in November. Again, no concrete evidence has been produced to back up the charge.

Peruvian Bolivarian delegation leader, Roque Gonzales La Rosa, served nine years in prison for being a member of MRTA guerrilla and was implicated in the kidnapping of a Bolivian businessman. The ransom was reportedly used to help finance the group’s 1996 raid on the Japanese ambassador’s residence. He maintains he had nothing to do with the kidnapping and argues that since his release in 2005, he has been a peaceful political activist, running a perfectly legal chapter of the Bolivarian Continental Coordinator.

“I no longer belong to the MRTA. I am a leftist politician, radical, but political and I act within the confines of democracy,” Gonzales La Rosa told daily La Republica in a jailhouse interview. “We have the right to be reinstated into society … I cannot be persecuted for my ideas.”

Other detainees facing possible 20-year sentences include 55-year-old social activist Carmen Azparrent and and 20-year-old Melissa Patiño. Azparrent is an unlikely insurgent, considering her father was assassinated by Maoist Shining Path guerrillas in 1989 when he was mayor of the southern highland city Ayacucho. Patiño, a university student and poet, denies holding any political affiliation. Besides attending the Bolivarian conference, she is accused of participating in an anti-Neoliberal protest march in Quito, with her face partially covered, and scribbling graffiti on a wall, proclaiming, “Alan Garcia Genocide.”

According to Peruvian news media, the lawyer for four of the detainees, Aníbal Apari, is also under police scrutiny. A paroled MRTA member, Apari is best known in Peru for being the husband of Lori Berenson, the American serving out a 20-year-sentence for collaborating with the Marxist guerrillas in a thwarted takeover of Peru’s Congress in 1995.

Upon his release from prison in 2003, Apari married the New York activist and returned to law school. He now works in an organization that provides legal aid to people accused of subversion.

“My family is terrified. They think something is going to happen to me at any moment,” Apari told Peruvian Times in a telephone interview. “I know that my conversations are being tapped and that I’m under surveillance, and for that very reason I am certain the police know I am not doing anything wrong.”

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