|This article originally appeared in
|Peru's hostage crisis is history
A year later, Peruvians get on with life; plans for site put on hold
|By ERIC J. LYMAN
Special to the Chronicle
|LIMA, Peru -- The Japanese ambassador's residence where 72 hostages were held for four months by leftist rebels was leveled
six months ago, and officials originally planned to construct a park dedicated to peace on the site.
But those plans have since been put on hold, and there is no solid future in line for the walled-in property that held the world's attention
for 126 days starting a year ago next Wednesday.
"For a while, there was a lot of talk about a park or a monument, but then it just stopped," said Carlos Seko, an official with the
Japanese Embassy, which still owns the property. "I guess the plans were just forgotten."
The same can be said about the hostage crisis itself in Peru. Though the upcoming one-year anniversary of the daring takeover of the
huge residence has resulted in increased media attention on details of the crisis, most analysts believe the country is essentially
unchanged as a result of the attack.
"If you ask what the changes are in Peru as a result of the crisis, you would have a hard time coming up with an answer," said Manuel
Tovar, director of the polling firm La Opinion. "Things have ended up pretty much where they started. People have turned their backs on
That's an unlikely end to a story that dramatically started when 14 rebels from the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement raided the
residence dressed as waiters during a party celebrating the Japanese emperor's birthday. The guerrillas took hundreds of hostages,
including the mother and brother of President Alberto Fujimori of Peru, three government ministers, 12 members of Peru's congress,
14 foreign ambassadors and scores of business leaders.
They held 72 of the most important hostages during four months of negotiations that resembled a deadlocked chess match. The
rebels demanded the release of jailed comrades in exchange for the hostages.
Last week, Fujimori disclosed that he had been using the negotiations as a stalling tactic while a special group of commandos
constructed a life-size replica of the residence for purposes of training under the supervision of U.S. and British experts.
The training paid off. Some experts say the April 22 raid on the residence will be studied for its efficiency for decades. All 14 rebels
were killed, along with two commandos. One hostage died on the way to the hospital, but the rest were rescued unharmed.
"Right after the end of the crisis, you would have guessed that the country would feel the ripple effects of the raid forever," Tovar said.
But the effects were short-lived. Support at home for Fujimori swelled after the long hostage crisis, with his popularity ratings shooting
as high as 67 percent from the low 30s during the crisis. But since then, his approval is back to the 30 percent level.
After the crisis, the army vowed to hunt down the remaining leaders of the rebels, but none has been caught.
Fears that the crisis might damage normally strong relations between Peru and Japan were proved wrong. In fact, Japan has
strengthened ties with Peru in recent months with a series of developmental loans and grants worth $600 million.
Even Japanese television crews who have returned to Lima to work on stories about the attack's anniversary report few changes in the
wake of the crisis.
"Japanese viewers are savvy after seeing this story as the lead part of the news every day for four months, and we are having a hard
time finding something new to report," said Kathleen Namura, a Lima television producer working with some of the visiting crews.
"What can you say? That it is like it never happened?"
In a way, that's the truth. One frequent visitor to diplomatic functions said even the increased security at cocktail parties that followed
the attack is already a memory.
"During the crisis, if you went to a ... function, you had to run the gantlet of metal detectors and security," said the source, who asked not
to be named. "Now, if you're dressed right, they let you right in."
Since the Tupac Amaru rebels and those from the Shining Path, Peru's other leftist guerrilla group, took up arms against the
government in 1980, more than 30,000 people have been killed.
The government's list of the 12 most-wanted subversives in Peru includes four members of the Tupac Amaru, implying that the
government still takes the group's threat seriously. Former Foreign Minister Francisco Tudela, the best known of the 72 hostages, has
reportedly taken a trip to the United States out of concern of a possible attack against him during the anniversary.
Most Peruvians seem glad to see the four-month crisis fade into the history books.
"Personally, I'm glad people aren't still making a big deal about what happened," said Miguel Hernandez, an official with Lima's district
of San Isidro, where the crisis took place. "There is more to Peru than a small group of terrorists. We would rather have people look at
other aspects (of the country)."
La Opinion's Tovar said that attitude has been instilled in Peruvians after years of guerrilla violence.
"The strength of Peruvians to continue in the face of violence is obvious," he said. "The best hope is that the government will use that to
focus on Peru's terrible problem of poverty.
"Until that happens, the rebels will always have a base for their actions, and they could be back."
Eric J. Lyman is a free-lance journalist based in Lima, Peru.
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|December 13, 1997