A Gentleman’s Insurrection

In the remote Peruvian mountain town of Andahuaylas, not far from where I write a strange media revolution has taken place. Don’t get me wrong! This was a real attempt at a coup d’Etat complete with guns, death and violence but the media access to this enigmatic group is strange to say the least. The whole thing just goes to show that sometimes indeed truth is stranger than fiction.

Let’s begin from the beginning. In 2001 there was a presidential election in Peru necessitated by the vacuum left when the infamous Japanese-born president of Peru, Mr. Alberto Fujimori decided not to complete his term and absconded to Japan. Shortly before he fled to Japan, thereby avoiding pending corruption charges, he had turned on his own intelligence chief, the much feared Vladimiro Montesinos. Mr. Montesinos too fled the country when footage of him paying a large bribe to a member of congress was shown on Peruvian television. Unfortunately for Montesinos his notoriety preceded him, and his request for asylum in Panama was rejected. He eventually returned to Peru and Fujimori made quite a spectacle of the hunt and subsequent arrest of this most feared of secret policemen. Montesinos continues to face trial in Peru.

These shenanigans prompted a presidential election in 2001. The two prime candidates were Javier Pérez De Cuéllar (of UN fame) and Mr. Alejandro Toledo, the latter was defeated by Fujimori in the previous, most likely fraudulent, election. As luck would have it, Toledo won and he has since watched his approval ratings collapse to pitiful levels (close to 10%). Toledo has faced many challenges to his handling of the economy which brings us back to the fracas in Andahuaylas…

This minimalist insurrection is lead by an enigmatic and quite handsome ex-military gentleman called Antauro Humala. Artauro is the military leader of a group variously called the ‘Etnocaceristas’ (named after a resistance group who fought the Spaniards in the 19th century). Also known as the Nationalist Movement of Peru, the Etnocaceristas claims 1000 militants and even has its own newspaper named after Antauro’s brother Ollanta. The numbers are small but are to be found marching daily in the main streets of various cities mostly in the south of Peru including Arequipa where I write this. Even though there have been some injuries and deaths in the police forces at the hands of Antauro in Andahuaylas the police refrained from taking out their anger on the Arequipa demonstrators until the 4th. when Artauro surrendered. Then, predictably, out came the batons and the water canon.

Antauro comes from a family of overachievers including his father Isaac and his brother Ollanta (later President of Perú) who in 1989 founded the Ethno-nationalist movement and who launched his own insurrection in 2000 against Fujimori. Ollanta has since emigrated to South Korea where he is a professional soldier and makes pronouncements on the current situation from Seoul that his mother dutifully passes on to the press. The eldest brother is a postgraduate student in the Sorbonne, another brother Pachacútec studies geology in Moscow and yet another, Ivoska lives in Switzerland. Then there is the feminine side of Artauro’s siblings: Ima Semuc who follows in her father’s footsteps as a lawyer, (she will no doubt be an asset to the family in the not too distant future), and Katia, who an Ethno-botanist specializing in the native Peruvian edible plant ‘Maca’.
Yesterday, January 4th, a truce was negotiated and Artauro surrendered. Negotiations were headed up in true Peruvian style by a priest; father José Paniza of the PNP (Peruvian National Police Force). This ended a military stand-off between the ‘Etnocaceristas’ and the PNP which had resulted in less than ten deaths.

The debate continues over whether Artauro’s brief insurrection will lead to Toledo’s premature presidential demise but it seems unlikely so long as handling of the judicial process is both delicate and drawn out — at least for two years till the end of Toledo’s term. Somewhat predictably Toledo in his speech to the nation on the 4th. called the ‘etnocaceristas’ narcotrafficers and terrorists (á la Jorge ‘W’ Arbusto).

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