Bodies of the victims of the massacre of Uchuraccay, Peru. Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel prizewinner, failed presidential candidate, and all-around pompous twit, didn’t kill them, but he has a lot to answer for. After all, it is he who helped to sweep the truth about their deaths under a very large rug:
On January 26, 1983, eight journalists and an Andean guide were brutally massacred. This crime was perpetrated in the community of Uchuraccay (Ayacucho), by campesinos directed by the Peruvian Navy. With this crime, the government and the Armed Forces gave evidence of the use of peasant bands in the couterinsurgency war against the Maoist guerrillas of the Shining Path. With this crime, the government inaugurated the “strategic villages” against subversion. It all took place during the reign of Fernando Belaúnde Terry (1980-85) of the right-wing Popular Action party (AP), which collaborated during the 1990s with the government of Alberto Fujimori.
The journalists had arrived in the area to investigate the killings of several presumed members of the Communist Party of Peru, among them some minors, by members of the neighboring community of Huaychao. The armed forces had begun to use the tactic of organizing peasant communities against the guerrillas, much like the United States in Vietnam, and later in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Colombia.
The journalists were bludgeoned to death with sticks, stones and hatchets. After the massacre, an investigative commission was created, with (now) Nobel prize-winning writer Mario Vargas Llosa presiding. The investigative commission determined that the locals of Uchuraccay had believed the journalists to be members of the Shining Path, confusing their cameras with rifles. The commission concluded that the massacre was a product of the existence of “cultural differences between the Quechua-speaking peasants and the urban journalists”, and that “the Armed Forces had no responsibility in the incident”.
“We are all culpable,” said Vargas Llosa in his final conclusion.
These conclusions contradict all the evidence. During that time, the Armed Forces held military control of the region. Uchuraccay was controlled by the Navy. The militaries attempted to organize peasant communities against the Shining Path, and were in direct contact with the peasants, controlling them and organizing them for anti-guerrilla warfare. The official version said that the peasants of Uchuraccay had confused the journalists’ photographic cameras with weapons. But it was known that many local peasants had done obligatory military service, and could not have confused a rifle with a camera.
In this way, Vargas Llosa’s commission absolved the politicians of the systematic violation of human rights as a pillar of the Peruvian state’s counterinsurgency strategy, and exculpated military murderers, covered up a massacre, and, in this way, many others, and legitimized the militarization of the Peruvian countryside.
In exculpating the military, Vargas Llosa became an accomplice in the massacre of Uchuraccay.
To cover up the crime, the Peruvian author tried to give the massacre a literary tone. In an interview later on, Vargas Llosa claimed that the massacre had been a product of the existence of “two Perus”, one composed of those who lived in the twentieth century, and another, such as the people of Uchuraccay, who lived in the nineteenth or even the eighteenth century.
The facts later confirmed suspicions as to the responsibility of the Armed Forces. 135 of the villagers of Uchuraccay died in the years after that, most of them “disappeared” by soldiers who intended to dispose of all vestiges of responsibility in the massacre of the journalists. The families of the victims had repeatedly complained that they had been threatened and pressured not to make any denunciations toward clearing up the massacre.
In spite of this, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, created to investigate crimes committed during the civil war between 1980 and 2000, upheld the thesis of the Vargas Llosa commission, and exculpated the Armed Forces. It is one of the clearest cases of how the Truth Commission has served to write an Official History of the civil war, absolving the military, police or paramilitaries, or to minimize their responsibility in the murders, massacres, disappearances and tortures of Peruvian citizens.
Later investigations shed new lights and demonstrated the co-responsibility of the Armed Forces in the massacre. Fernando Fuchs Valdez investigated the case and revealed details of the military’s part. According to his investigations, the military not only encouraged the massacre, but also set the trap for the journalists and their guide. The region was full of intelligence agents who informed the peasants of Uchuraccay of the arrival of the journalists and gave them the orders to kill them. Those responsible for the massacre were President Fernando Belaúnde as commander in chief of the Armed Forces; General Clemente Noel, chief of the Military Command of Huamanga, capital of Ayacucho; naval officer Duffo, military commander of the province of Huanta, and his lieutenant, Artaza Adrianzén. The Vargas Llosa commission and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are responsible for covering up the massacre.
In 2010, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, with head office in San José, Costa Rica, declared admissible the suit filed by the families of the massacre victims. This so that the Peruvian government would finally act to correct the irregularities in the judicial investigations into the massacre at Uchuraccay.
It has now been 30 years of lies and systematic terrorization of the victims’ families in an effort to conceal those truly responsible, and selective assassination of witnesses. This infamous history began with the report of the Vargas Llosa commission, which distorts and conceals information, silences the families, exonerates the military, and absolves the Belaúnde government of all blame. On January 26, the anniversary of the massacre of Uchuraccay, there remain bloodstains on the biography of Mario Vargas Llosa, whose pen and fame have served to cover up for the military assassins.
You may recall that Vargas Llosa, on numerous occasions, saw fit to bow and scrape to other fascist criminals than Fernando Belaúnde Terry. He’s also attempted to interfere in Venezuelan politics, repeatedly and hypocritically denouncing the supposed offences of Hugo Chávez against democracy. And for whom did he do this? A bunch of putrid old putschists with direct ties to the various governments of the Fourth Republic and their massacres, which look a lot like what happened in Peru at Uchuraccay.
Back in the 1960s, the Venezuelan government, nominally democratic but in fact a puppet régime controlled by the CIA and the foreign oil barons, was under siege by various bands of leftist hill-guerrillas. The guerrillas knew the real nature of the government, and they had considerable popular support. They were angry that the same two parties alongside whom they had fought for democracy had effectively marginalized and excluded them once the last official Venezuelan dictator, Marcos Pérez Jiménez, was out of the way. They were determined to do away with the false democracy of the pact of Punto Fijo and the Fourth Republic, and usher in a Fifth Republic, in which true democracy would hold sway, and the oil barons and the CIA would be sent packing.
The government of Hugo Chávez is the first of that Fifth Republic. In fact, it was born under the name of the “Fifth Republic Movement” (MVR, to use its Spanish acronym), a small progressive party that merged with several others to form the PSUV, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. It has been praised by no less than Jimmy Carter as a strong democracy with the cleanest and most transparent elections in the world.
But Chávez was not a guerrilla. In fact, he got HIS military start in the 1970s as commanding officer of an army outpost near the Colombian border, a region supposedly riddled with guerrillas who had spilled in from the civil war in the neighboring country. But the guerrilla insurgency he had been sent to combat, he soon learned, was nonexistent. In fact, the leftist guerrilla movements of the previous decade had been largely suppressed and disbanded years before. The victims of the military raids in the border region turned out to be nothing but Venezuelan peasants. The Venezuelan military was killing its own.
The realization that he was serving a corrupt, murderous government made an indelible impression on the young Chávez. But he was in no position to do anything about it yet. Instead of immediately launching an uprising, he started a Bolivarian movement with his fellow officers, adding like-minded soldiers as they came. In this way, he managed to gradually build up support for a rebellion even as he and his colleagues rose through the army ranks. By the time of the Caracazo, in late February and early March of 1989, the Bolivarian movement in the military had branched out to include civilians and ex-guerrillas as well, but still not enough of either.
The Caracazo took them all by surprise. It would have been a golden opportunity for Chávez and his confederates to step in and take a lead, but the spontaneous protests were too sudden and chaotic for that. Worse, the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez ordered the military to join the police in repressing the demonstrations. More than a thousand Venezuelans lost their lives and were hastily buried in mass graves. (The effort to identify these victims and tally the full death count is still ongoing.)
But the Caracazo served as a catalyst. The Bolivarian movement grew even more in its wake as disgruntled soldiers, hearing rumors of a group of officers plotting an overthrow, approached Chávez. Many of them were in tears over having had to fire on their own people, poor displaced ex-campesinos many of them, from the hillside barrios surrounding Caracas. By the time February 4, 1992 rolled around, there appeared to be enough support for Chávez to judge that it was time to make his move. The tanks began to roll in the wee hours of the morning; news footage from the time shows one of them driving up the steps of the government palace, Miraflores, banging its cannon on the doors like a battering-ram. The intention was clear: to get rid of CAP by any means necessary.
The rebellion failed to dislodge CAP; Chávez and company went to jail. The following year, CAP was impeached for embezzlement of government funds, and sent packing. By the time he got out of prison in 1994, Chávez had become a bona fide national hero. The Bolivarian movement had matured during his imprisonment.
The rest is democratic history. Venezuela is the great success story among South American nations seeking mass-movement democracy. In 1999, its very constitution was rewritten by popular mandate, and voted and ratified by the people. Moreover, the Chávez government has spearheaded the campaign to uncover the massacres of the Fourth Republic — not only the Caracazo, but Yumare and Cantaura, as well. You can’t get much more democratic than that.
Meanwhile, Peru is still struggling for its own democracy. The guerrilla wars from the 1960s to the present have borne no fruit there. A series of repressive, militarized governments have corrupted and co-opted the peasants so that they could never become part of a leftist movement. It appears that appeasing foreign corporations and their rapacious hunger for resources is more important to the Peruvian government than the well-being of its own people, regardless of who is elected president. Even Ollanta Humala, for a time the best hope of the left, has fallen victim to the syndrome.
And of course, there’s that failed former candidate, Mario Vargas Llosa…whose thwarted presidential bid irked him so much that he fucked off for Spain shortly after his defeat. Perhaps he considered his oh-so-poetic “we are all criminals” cover-up job a thankless task? If so, I’d say he got precisely the thanks he deserved. Peru’s democracy may be weak and shaky and all too prone to “market” forces, but the people were at least smart enough to vote against a slick weasel who, it turns out, elided a very dark and dirty chapter in their nation’s history. By the time the last chapter of Vargas Llosa’s life is written, he will go down not as an impeccable Nobel laureate so much as a clay-footed idol who crumbled hideously under pressure.
Now, the truth is finally coming out, but the popular rage has yet to come to a head. What future government will do for Peru what Chávez is doing for Venezuela?