Peru: protests as ‘terrorism denial’ law introduced

The administration of Peru’s President Ollanta Humala last week introduced a bill to the country’s congress that would criminalize “Denial of Terrorist Violence,” imposing a prison term of up to eight years for publicly “approving, justifying, denying or minimizing” acts committed by “terrorist organizations.” Interior Minister Wilfredo Pedraza said the “Law of Denialism” was necessary to “protect society,” citing the threat of  “nuevo senderismo”—meaning the recent resurgence of activity by surviving factions of the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, or SL) guerilla movement, with new civil front groups such as the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (MOVADEF) supposedly mobilizing in their support. He said the law would “avoid this process of justification of these behaviors, of this epoch of 20 years which was so hard for the country, which I reiterate has meant 70,000 deaths.” (Radio Programas del Peru, RPP, Aug. 28)

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), whose findings have never been accepted by the armed forces, issued a final report in 2003 on the toll of the 1980-2000 armed conflict in Peru. Annex 2, “How Many Peruvians Died?” (PDF), arrived a figure of 69,280 violent deaths during the period, of which 46% were attributed to the SL, 30% to “state agents,” and 24% to “other agents.” These included the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a rival guerilla group; rondas campesinas (peasant self-defense patrols); and paramilitary groups (mostly with some degree of direction from the official security forces).

Opposition congress members Javier Diez Canseco (AP-Frente Amplio) and Heriberto Benítez (Solidaridad Nacional) responded to the proposed “Law of Denialism” by asserting that the law should also cover the actions of “state terrorism.” They said in a statement: “There were grave problems with Sendero and the MRTA, but the report of the CVR recognizes that there was also state terror and that [state] elements committed crimes against humanity. This project is problematic…and seeks to have an official version of what happened.” (La Republica, Aug. 27)

Longtime social struggle leader Hugo Blanco, who led an armed campesino movement in Cuzco in the 1960s, issued an open letter in response to the proposed law, stating: “SL and MRTA, at least at the beginning, sought to overturn the situation of oppression in which our people live. The experience of 20 years of internal war has sufficiently demonstrated that thanks to their actions, our people were more crushed than ever, as the system punished with massacres any social protest, characterizing it as terrorist. The internal war produced no improvement for the oppressed people, producing 70,000 deaths, as well as disappearances, torture, imprisonment, displacement. For this reason we censure the terrorism of SL and MRTA. [But] if this proposed law is approved, it should also impose punishment for those who deny state terrorism, which was much more criminal that that of the SL and MRTA. If these groups both committed terrorism to overturn the situation of oppression of our people, the terrorism of the state was carried out to guarantee the continuance of the oppression of the Peruvian people…”  (Juan Esteban Yupanqui blog, Sept. 3)