PERU: Police occupation heralds new unrest

January 19, 2005

Luisa Ara

In the early hours of the morning of January 1, in Andahuaylas, one of Peru's poorest cities, approximately 150 ex-military rebels, members of the Peruvian Nationalist Movement (MNP) headed by Antauro Humala, stormed the city headquarters of the Peruvian National Police (PNP).

Unarmed when they broke in, they took weapons from 17 police officers they took as hostages. Their demands were the resignation of the president, Alejandro Toledo, who they accused of corruption and his replacement with the vice-president, and the calling for a National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), which would involve ex-army officers, coca farmers, retired workers, construction unions, un-employed unions, farmer federations, and other workers unions).

This sparked support from other parts of the city and other neighbouring cities by students and peasant movements. This has further plunged Peru in crisis, with the interior minister forced to resign over his handling of the situation.

The Humala brothers appeared on the Peruvian political scene in October 2000. Lieutenant-Colonel Ollanta Humala and General Antauro Humala marched out of their headquarters with their followers, organised ex-military soldiers, to demand an end to the presidency of Albert Fujimori. When Fujimori fell a month after the uprising, they handed themselves into the authorities.

Since then, they have been considered heroes by the anti-Fujimori movement. They didn't last two days in prison before being freed, reinstated in the military and Ollanta was sent to France and then Korea; last December he was discharged.

Antauro took over leadership of their "ethnocacarista" movement. Apparently this movement has 1000 members in the country, mainly ex-military soldiers.

Antauro edited the widely circulated newspaper Ollanta, which was distributed by the members of MNP in military uniform.

Their ideology is somewhat confusing. The "ethno" in ethnocacerismo refers to Peru's majority indigenous population. The cacerismo relates to Andres Avelino Caceres, who used to be a member of the military who, in the 1879 civil war, resisted the Chilean invasion of the south of Peru after Lima had given up. He organised an indigenous guerilla movement for the resistance, which is what the Humala brothers praise. But he is also known to have turned against the indigenous movement when it tried to organise against repressive Peruvian landowners. When he later became president of Peru, he continued to support the existence of the peasant-exploiting land owners.

However, the Humala brothers support the indigenous community attempts to fight the neoliberal policies of the government and propose the return of the "values of the Inca Empire", before the Spanish invasion of South America. They support Venezuela's left-wing President Hugo Chavez and admire the Cuban Revolution.

The ethnocacerismos' hardcore nationalism is much criticised by other sectors of the left. The Humalas see Chile as an enemy country, probably, because of the amount of Chilean capital in Peru and the history of civil wars between both countries.

A January 11 article by Raul Zibechi for <>, explains that after reaching 30% of electoral representation, the left in Peru was literally wiped off the socio-political map in the 1990s. Caught between the indefensible murderous actions of the Pol-Pot-like Maoist rebel group Shining Path and the human-rights violations of Fujimori regime, left activists have been mostly silent for the last decade.

After Fujimori was overthrown, Alejandro Toledo was elected president, with great expectations becaise of his indigenous background. Toledo, however, leads a pro-imperialist government and his support has mostly dissapated. By early 2005, his approval rating was a dismal 1.6%. According to Cesar Zelada, writing at <>, on January 12, Peru "needs 8000 million nuevos soles (US$2450 million), approximately, to fix its social demands. Nevertheless, its pro-imperialist government privileges its compromise with the international Monetary Fund [to pay off] external debt, the privatisation of their electrical plants, and the forced eradication of the coca leaf."

Despite the failure of left-wing groups to speak against these policies, indigenous people organised massive protests against these neoliberal policies.

The MNP calls for assassinations of corrupt "government agents". This is opposed by many on the left, including long-term peasant leader Hugo Blanco. Blanco explained where this sentiment comes from, however, in an Argenpress interview, in which he said there was "an inflaming rage against corruption within the Peruvian population".

This rage has been expressed in numerous occasions during the last year: when the people of the city of Ilave kicked their mayor to death, when the people from Azangaro, sick of the corruption of judicial and police authorities who were paid by thieves, killed a thief by burning him alive, or when the cocaleros (coca-growing peasants) marched in thousands towards Lima, demanding Toledo stop his plans of eradication of the coca fields. Similar uprisings happened in most southern cities of Peru: Tambogrande, Cajamarca, Cuzco, Cerro de Pasco, Puno and Arequipa.

From September to October, university students occupied three major universities in Peru. In two, the action forced the resignation of the university chancellor and other officials. These occupations, in which one student died, were protesting the attacks on tertiary education that started under the Fujimori government, and calling for an NCA. This university counter-reform is based around three new laws, laws 739, 700 and 726, which not only permit armed forces access to campuses and give the government the power to condition the syllabus and curriculum, but also establish the right of the universities to charge fees, and limit student involvement in campus government.

On July 14, about 60% of Peru's workers went on strike. The strike was widely supported by the Peruvian population. According to the Institute of Investigation of Economic Science (IDICE), 65.6% of the population approved of the strike, 89.7% believed that the reasons for the strike were legitimate and 92.2% recognised the right to organise against Toledo.

On January 2, Antauro Humala was detained while he was meeting with mediators to discuss his demands. Even though he had already agreed to give himself up on January 3 under certain conditions, the armed forces seized him, arguing that his demands were unreasonable. The rebels who were still at the headquarters at the moment of his capture agreed to abandon the police headquarters by noon of that day, but changed plans when they saw the armed forces had advanced too close to the headquarters. Antauro is being held in the anti-terrorist police department in Lima.

The ethnocacerista movement has a base on the military sector, but its not yet a mass movement. They have started a military rebellion, separate from organisations and other movements of the struggle in Peru. But their popularity is rising, and it seems to have inspired other sectors of the movement to keep mobilising. According to's Luis Arce Borja, even though the Humala brothers opposed the parliamentary system of Peru, they have asked their followers to collect 390,000 signatures for their registration to run in elections.

According to Ricardo Napuri, a veteran Peruvian socialist, the MNP is a movement that is responding to the same concerns that that are igniting the whole of Latin America. If the ethnocaceristas decide to follow the electoral route, it will be interesting to see if they can represent a real alternative, in the same way that has emerged elsewhere.

From Green Left Weekly, January 19, 2005.
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