This article originally appeared in
Peru savors a much-needed victory
Hostage rescue gives oft-defeated nation rare chance to celebrate
Special to the Chronicle
LIMA, Peru -- This week's dramatic end to the hostage crisis that captured the world's attention for the last four months gave
Peruvians what many consider to be their greatest victory ever.

In a country that's traditionally been on the short end of the stick in confrontations, the 1992 capture of the leaders of the Shining Path
and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement was an enormous victory. But when the Tupac Amaru stormed the Japanese
ambassador's residence during a reception on Dec. 17, the rejoicing disappeared.

"After the attack, people said to themselves, `Oh no, not again,' " said Jorge Gomes, a former Cabinet minister. "These movements
ravaged the country for 15 years. The last thing people wanted was for that to come back again."

Tuesday's victorious attack against the rebels was a rare chance for the country as a whole to celebrate something.

In most arenas -- the military, politics and even sports -- Peru usually gives the other side reason to celebrate.

Aside from its war against terrorism, the nation has had limited success on the battlefield.

In its 1995 war against Ecuador, Peru was soundly defeated by a country with 40 percent of its population and a military thought to be
more than a decade behind Peru's.

"If you look around town, the military monuments are usually to generals who lost, but lost gloriously," said Lima-based historian
Michael Tollerton.

In fact, the last time Peru won a clear-cut victory at war was in the 1820s, when it gained independence from Spain. But even that effort
was led by foreigners: the Argentine liberator Jose de San Martin, and the Venezuelan general Simon Bolivar.

In politics, the losses have been equally striking.

Peru's most recent international political move, its dropping out of the Andean Community two weeks ago, looked at first to be a move
that would cripple the organization and leave the country in a strong position.

Instead, the Andean Community has made moves to join the Mercosur free-trade group, which would potentially leave Peru out in the
cold. Now, Peru is reportedly rethinking its departure from the Andean Community.

The same lesson is evident on the sports field. Peru is one of the most soccer-crazy countries in Latin America but last qualified for the
World Cup, the planet's biggest sporting event, in 1978. However, two South America teams, Brazil and Argentina, won the title since
then, and three others made it as far as the Round of Four.

In the qualifying rounds for the 1998 World Cup, Peru is a weak seventh of nine teams in the South American regional that will send
only four teams to the event, and the team has just two wins in seven games.

Set to face tournament-leading Paraguay in its next match, Peru is expected to be mathematically eliminated from the possibility of
qualifying with one more game still left to play.

But that gloom is gone, at least for now, thanks to Tuesday.

When the group of soldiers who liberated the hostages let out a cheer after an attack that some said exceeded even their own
expectations, they didn't just cheer the long-awaited end to a crisis that weighed on their minds for a third of a year.

They also cheered for all the times the country had no reason to.

Eric J. Lyman is a free-lance journalist based in Lima, Peru.
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April 23, 1997