Against the Current, No. 38, May/June 1992
NOTE: The presidential-military coup in Peru occurred shortly before ATC went to press. We have been informed that Hugo Blanco was able to evade arrest and is now in Mexico. Early indications are that–just as Blanco anticipated in this talk–the main targets of the crackdown will be the popular movement and the left.
RECENT HAPPENINGS IN Russia and in Eastern Europe are very important to the things going on in our part of the world. We are very happy for the overthrow of dictatorships in Eastern Europe, but the immediate effects are contradictory.
We can see that the end of the East-West Cold War is a significant moment for the “hot” war between the North and South. And the United States is the country that is attacking the South and particularly Latin America. Because of the threat coming from Japan and Germany, the United States wants to take care of its own “backyard.”
The essence of the attack by the North on the South is the foreign debt and the neoliberal model, which complement each other. We can expose two particular cases in Latin America. One is the pending Free Trade treaty between Canada, Mexico and the United States. This undoubtedly will weaken the Mexican economy; underdeveloped countries need protection so that their economies can develop.
This treaty will try to accommodate Mexico’s economy to the interests of the U.S. multinational corporations. It’s also going to adversely affect the working class in the United States. The “cooperation” will take advantage of the cheap labor in South America and Mexico, therefore creating a worse situation for U.S. workers–there will be fewer jobs, and those remaining will pay less.
We have heard that the United States is coming up with a plan for a similar treaty, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. That is the future for all the workers of Latin America. The characteristics of this phenomenon have become an avalanche in Latin America for some time now, even though there hasn’t been a formal treaty yet.
Another very important development is the so-called drug war especially affecting Colombia and Peru. This isn’t a war against drugs, but against the people of these countries. The problem is that the Bush administration doesn’t have the excuse of saying it’s a “war against Communism,” because we all know about the “Vietnam syndrome” and people not swallowing that type of excuse. Such a war would have no popular support in this country.
But definitely, when you call it a “war against drugs” you might have popular support. I guess that everybody here is against drugs. So let me mention a few points regarding this so-called war against drugs.
Ninety percent of the profits coming from the drug racket stay right here in the United States. What does the government do against this? What does it do against money-laundering? What does it do against the big drug traffickers from the United States and South America that never get to prison?
On the contrary, we have heard that the relationship is very different from that, between the government and the traffickers. We know that the best friends of the U.S. administration are the rightists–whose basic industry is drug trafficking.
We know that the U.S. administration supported Panamanian President Manuel Noriega, that the rupture in their relationship had nothing to do with drugs. It came because Noriega refused to become the bridge for the invasion of Nicaragua, and because he would defend the treaty for the return of the Panama Canal.
That’s why they created this big war against Noriega, where they in fact killed large numbers of people in Panama supposedly to get one drug trafficker.
Conversion? What Conversion?
Recently I have spoken with campesinos in the coca-growing zone in Peru. They told me about a new program for them to farm rice and corn instead of coca, and for the government to buy those crops. They borrow money from the banks for this purpose–and now the government isn’t willing to buy the crops. And there’s no transportation system for what they have to sell.
So what else can they do–if they aim to survive, they must continue farming the coca leaf.
It was precisely when the pact between Peru and the United States against drugs was being signed that they were speaking about this substitution of crops for coca. When I came out of that zone, and media people asked how it was going with the substitution–a U.S. official told them it was going very well, that coca isn’t there any more and they are growing rice and corn. That is the tragedy of the Peruvian campesino.
As I said, 90% of the drug profits stay right in the United States. Then 9% stays in the hands of Peruvian drug traffickers, and maybe 1% arrives in the hands of the campesinos.
To produce cocaine it isn’t only necessary to produce the coca leaf, you also need the chemicals, which are exported to Peru by Shell and Mobil. To fault the campesino for the production and trafficking of the drug would be like faulting the worker at Shell and Mobil for the production of cocaine.
There isn’t help available for the government to buy the peasants’ food crops. But there is help for the government to go in and kill campesinos. That is why we are so sure that this is definitely not a war on drugs. The military bases that the United States has in Peru have no experts in the war against drugs; they do have experts in warfare against people’s struggles in other parts of the world.
I hope to make you aware that it’s coming very close to full-scale war against the Peruvian people. There are already military bases there, U.S. military personnel are already fighting against the people. It’s a lie to say they are fighting against Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path)–it’s against the popular movement of all Peruvians.
There is definitely economic crisis in Peru. Wages are low and keep getting lower every day. Every day more workplaces are being closed down. And every day there is more hunger. And more people are disappearing in recent times. We are confronting in Peru not the crisis of communism, but the crisis of capitalism. And unfortunately the situation is very similar in all countries of Latin America. That is our participation in the New World Order.
U.S. Military Presence
The United States has a military base in the Peruvian jungle. There are several experts there from the Vietnam war, in charge of destroying villages. Recently a plane was shot down–there’s still some doubt about where it came from, whether it was the U.S. or Peruvian air force, but it was shot down.
A few months ago the anti-drug treaty was signed between Peruvian President Alberto Fujimora and U.S. President George Bush. The actual content of the treaty isn’t very well-specified, but there’s a military addendum where the specifics are spelled out.
The example that I gave, of how the campesinos would supposedly change to production of rice and corn–but then couldn’t do anything with the crops–proves that they money going down to Peru isn’t for that conversion of production. It proves that the majority of those funds are going into the area for military purposes and nothing else.
Besides, that military base in Santa Lucia is a threat to the ecology of the Peruvian jungle. They are using the chemical Spike to clear the vegetation. They also use Agent Orange, the results of which we know from Vietnam–miscarriages, deformed babies and so on.
They’re also introducing certain biological warfare, used in some forests, that also destroy the cover. The problem is that these chemical and biological agents don’t kill only the coca leaf, but all the vegetation that gets in their way.
Oppresion and Solidarity
It’s a very brief time to be able to talk about 500 years of suffering and 500 years of torture. I want to speak about the way we feel today. These 500 years serve to let us look in the mirror and recognize ourselves: that we don’t have to feel less because of the languages we speak, nor the food that we like, nor about the music that we like.
We don’t feel bad about anything that’s ours. We are proud of everything that we are. And we come to the struggles that are now on. Already the Peruvians have met with our brothers in Colombia and Bolivia and other parts of the hemisphere. We’ve met in Bogota and Lima and Quito, and next we will meet in Guatemala.
We’ve been to Spain and seen that the Spanish people are also with us, and also the people in other countries in Europe. And also we see that you here are with us. And talking among us we learn a lot of things about how to struggle around the 500 years.
For example, we’ve met the mayor of Cadiz, the city in Spain where Columbus’ expedition began, who is going to erect a monument to the 500 years of our suffering. This monument will be where Columbus started his second trip. How, then, could we not be activists?
Here we find brothers and sisters of ours, struggling for the same things we are. And we ask them to please put themselves in contact with people all over the world, who are struggling for the same things. We are learning that we suffer the same things we did 500 years ago. And therefore this “celebration” of the 500 years is not only a powerful protest about the past, it is a demonstration of promise for the future.
When they came here they forced us into the mines to dig out gold. Now they drain our blood with the debt. They killed us in the past in vast numbers. Today they continue to martyr whole communities in Peru. They made us know what it was to have hunger and misery, and today we continue to learn and see what it is to have hunger and misery.
They destroyed our communal way of living, and continue today to destroy that way of life. Therefore we see the past repeat itself, and in the same way we struggled in the past we will continue to struggle in the present and the future.
We have also come to understand another thing: At the beginning it was the Native Americans who were the first victims of that Conquest. But then other misdeeds came upon us. We were the first to be slaves, but because our forefathers hadn’t been their slaves (the masters) didn’t care whether we died in the mines. Then they destroyed our brothers in Africa, drove them here to exploit them in this hemisphere. With that they committed worse crimes than against us.
They not only put them into slavery. The worst thing was to try to take all their roots out of them. We can imagine how we would feel if we were so far away from the bones and skeletons of our forefathers, so far away from the lands of our mountains and jungles, far away from the plants that we eat or use. That is what they did to our African brothers. [Applause]
But that isn’t the only thing they did. Just as bad, they had mixed them all together and forced them to forget their mother tongues. And in this way the Africans hadn’t been able to maintain all of their culture. What would we have done if they had mixed the Qechua with Incas and all the other tribes? We would have suffered the same.
Among so many miseries, we can at least say that our native nations have stayed together. That is, I can still speak Qechua. We still keep certain things that our forefathers had. That’s why I know where I come from.
They didn’t do this only to our African brothers, but also with the Asian people. To exploit the mines of my country, they also brought the Asian people to Peru. Half of them died on the way over, and were thrown overboard. Now, the ranks of the oppressed have also been joined by mestizos and whites.
Therefore, it is not only the indigenous people who have to remember these 500 years. We all have to remember these 500 years of struggle–Africans, Native Americans, Asians, whites, all of us must remember what has transpired, in the same way that the Roman Empire united the slaves in the struggle.
That’s why the comrades who started this work came from different nations. That’s the lesson we must learn today. Suffering must unite us, and the struggle must also unite us. In all of this struggle, we continue to remember what we were and used to be. Of course, we cannot go back to the past; the wheel of history isn’t going to stop.
And the whites brought us certain things that are good. But they are good only at the level where we learn to use them correctly. This is what we learned from our forefathers in the United States and Argentina: The whites brought the horse here, and when the indigenous people learned how to get on that horse, they learned how to use it a lot better than the whites did!
They could ride a horse using only their feet, not even needing to use their hands. We can do that very same thing with what we learn from the whites. But all that must be done within the parameters of our Indian philosophy–within collectivism, because we have always been collective-thinking people.
Nor must anyone buy and sell land, because Mother Earth belongs to everyone. No one must ever own jungle, because the jungle also belongs to everyone. We all live together with the earth and with the jungle. Our communities were communities of people, yes, but also of nature.
That’s why our agricultural technology, which obtained very great levels of development, was an agricultural technology that respected nature. That’s why they developed terraces on the mountains, to avoid collapse from erosion. That’s why we don’t see parasites on the corn as enemies, because they are eating the same things we do.
Of course, we try to make it so that they don’t multiply too much. There are a lot of special techniques: for example, the rotation of the crops where what we plant here today we will plant someplace else next year, so those critters won’t know exactly where to be. And another thing we do is to intermix the plants<197>a little corn, a little potatoes and something else.
The civilization that attacked us, however, acts in an entirely different manner. It just created vast expanses of monoculture, and planted the same things year in and year out on the same land. Then the parasites multiply tremendously, because there’s all the food they need.
That’s when civilization begins to war–to kill the parasites, and then the agricultural worker dies together with the parasite. Sometimes also the consumer will die because of that same chemical. And even if they didn’t go that far, they are actually killing the earth, and years from now our children will have nothing to eat. That is the philosophy of warfare. [Applause]
That is the same war that is going on against the jungle. The whites call it the Great Hell and make war on it. Sometimes the jungle triumphs and the white dies; sometimes the white wins and the jungle dies. With the native that problem does not exist. He is with his mother when he is in that jungle; and he knows that if his mother lives so will he, if his mother dies he will die.
That is also another parameter of the way we will act, when we become able to rescue the land, to extend the community we have with people to community with the land. [Applause]
Sendero: Mythology and Reality
The press writes a lot of falsehoods about Peru, so that all most people know is that there are coca leaves and Shining Path. The Shining Path is grateful for that type of publicity. That publicity is also very beneficial to the administration here in the United States.
Most people know that the Shining Path is basically a terrorist group like the Pol Pot group in Cambodia. Then, since the press always seems to infer that Shining Path is the only enemy of the government, people will prefer to support the government. This way, whenever the government kills anyone it can say that Shining Path did it. All the people that disappear, the government can say Shining Path took them.
Last year I had the opportunity to see a videotape made by a progressive group in Canada. In that video I could see the leader of the organization I belong to speaking to a host of campesinos. Then it said on the video, “These are the people that support the Shining Path.” If that is what the progressives say, what are other people going to say?!
Shining Path doesn’t have the strength that most people here seem to think. While I was in San Francisco, an organization that supports Shining Path gave me a piece of paper to read. According to that paper Shining Path controls 33% of the Peruvian nation–this is completely false.
The problem is that when the campesino movement goes on strike, blockades roads and stops traffic, nothing of that is ever published in the media. But then Shining Path, all it has to do is kill one police officer and that will be in papers all over the world.
The principal voices opposing the government are by no means the Shining Path. In fact the opposition is no one party or organization; it is the organized movement of the masses of people of Peru: for example, the Peruvian Confederation of Campesinos; the Association of University Teachers, the teachers’ union that has been on strike for three months, the workers in hospitals who have also been on a long strike.
Then we see, following the same example, the small communities, the barrios, workers of all types in mining, industry, factory workers, are all tied to the mass organizations and all have their own agendas and their own developing movements.
Recently there was news that the government was going to sign a lease agreement for drilling the oil in the jungle. A host of people from organizations in that area started a movement to oppose the drilling. That mass organizing is the principal opposition to the government.
Shining Path is against the mass movement. It doesn’t only kill policemen, people in positions of authority or the rich. It also kills those who have been elected by the people. It kills leaders of the campesino communities, even a leader of the land rescue movement. Recently they have killed a very important labor leader–that’s what the Shining Path is all about.
But it doesn’t have the capacity that the media make people think. Therefore, the real repression isn’t against the Shining Path but against the popular movement. That’s why when the campesino movement calls for a strike, the government will declare a state of siege where the campesino movement is strong, but because it’s convenient the government will declare that’s where Shining Path is.
I think it’s perfectly natural for you to express that curiosity, because I am very aware of how the international media distort what is really happening.
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May-June 1992, ATC 38