Traces Of The MRTA
By Dialogo July 01, 2012
Eerily familiar letters and symbols appeared on walls throughout Peru’s coastal
towns in 2011. Universities, schools, government buildings and sidewalks were marred with
yellow paint and white, black or red brush strokes that spelled out the once-feared acronym,
MRTA. Symbols associated with the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, such as a club, rifle
and the image of the Inca leader Túpac Amaru, were stenciled on walls. A video message of
masked, armed men who claim to be a militia of the MRTA also surfaced in October 2011.
Despite the group’s self-admitted disintegration in the late 1990s, many of its
members are completing their prison terms and re-entering society. The question of who is
responsible for the propaganda as well as instigation at protest rallies is causing concern
among Peruvians who suffered from the terror once caused by the group.
An armed wing that hides behind the MRTA’s symbols is also on the radar of Peruvian
security officials. “Like all terrorist groups, or a group that has an ideology, we cannot
think that it has been completely deactivated or that it has disappeared,” said retired Army
Major General José Williams Zapata, one of the commanding generals of Chavín de Huántar, a
military operation that in 1997 rescued hostages taken by the MRTA at the Japanese Embassy.
Following the success of Chavín de Huántar, government authorities viewed the MRTA
as essentially defeated. Earlier that decade, the MRTA had already been severely weakened,
with many members disbanding and surrendering their arms. In 1991, many ex-militia members
even created a formal political party called Patria Libre that denounced violence.
In recent months, mining and water protests in Peru’s provinces have used the
MRTA’s symbols to rally protesters, and ex-MRTA members are turning up in the crowds. The
2011 video, coupled with reports of recruiting and unearthing hidden weapons leads security
analysts to believe that a faction of the MRTA is actively forming an armed militia.
The MRTA’s bloody past peaked in the 1980s. The armed militants, with organized
fronts throughout Peru, had close to 1,000 men, according to retired Brigadier General
Eduardo Fournier Coronado. They focused their violent attacks in the capital city of Lima,
but had the strongest presence in the northwest Amazonian departments and the Andean
departments of Pasco, Junín, Cusco and Puno. The MRTA’s tactics included attacks on law
enforcement authorities, kidnappings, bank robberies and car bombs.
One of MRTA’s most damaging schemes was the use of propaganda to recruit and rouse
the public. Marches and programs on television and radio were used to foment chaos and
encourage anti-government sentiment. Media reports indicate that the same tactics are
reappearing in the mining and water protests across Peru. Such protests, while largely
peaceful, sometimes turn into violent altercations requiring police intervention.
Major General Leonardo José Longa López, former commandant-general of the 31st
Infantry Brigade in charge of the Apurpímac and Ene Rivers Valley (VRAE), a known coca
growing and terrorist hotbed, told Diálogo that instigating at protest rallies is a common
practice by terrorists. Their goal is to accentuate sociopolitical divides and foster anger
against the State. “This is a way in which they create vacuums, increasing contradictions,”
said Maj. Gen. Longa López. “It is normal to see these figures trying to find political
inclusion, so that later they can convert it to social inclusion and eventually armed social
inclusion.” He explained that the State’s responsibility is educating the population about
its role, confirming State stability and reducing social contradictions.
Peruvian government officials and security analysts agree that the MRTA is not the
imminent threat that it once was. “The Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement was destroyed in
2000,” said Maj. Gen. Longa López. “This does not mean that there aren’t sympathizers or
people among society, but not as an armed group.” He classified the MRTA threat as
“passive,” but one that should not be ignored at a strategic intelligence level.
As most MRTA members were brought to justice, the group’s figureheads reportedly
laid down arms and formed a legal political party. Among them is Victor Polay, former MRTA
head who is serving a 32-year sentence for terrorism charges. He is active in the party
through Web statements and interviews, granted from prison. Patria Libre condemns the use of
arms, but keeps the narratives that are symbolic of many subversive movements in Latin
America, such as “Without battles ... there are no victories” and “We will triumph.” The
party does not have any representatives in the Peruvian congress.
The MRTA’s current presence has diminished to a few websites whose goal is to
maintain financial support from sympathizers, said Peruvian National Police Colonel Herbert
Raúl Rosas Bejarano, director of the Counter-Terrorism Division. “The MRTA is practically
inactive, in terms of terrorist actions,” he said.
A New Armed Group
These Internet actions are not going unnoticed, and experts believe a new faction
of the terrorist group is emerging. Jaime Antezana, a Peruvian sociologist and defense
analyst, told Diálogo that no one can claim a direct affiliation to the MRTA as it was known
in the 1980s, but he warns about a group that split off.
This group calls itself the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Tupacamarist Popular Army
of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (FAR EPT of MRTA, for its Spanish acronym). Police
became aware of a video from the group posted on the Internet in September 2011. “They are a
group of the MRTA that survived,” said Antezana. He said MRTA members are dispersed in many
Latin American countries, including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Central American countries, but
the FAR EPT of the MRTA is establishing militias within the northwest Amazon region of Peru.
“There are hints of their presence. They have dug up the weapons and are refurbishing them,”
said Antezana of MRTA weapons that were hidden in the jungle when the group disbanded.
MRTA militants would bury their weapons and blend in with the local community as a
common tactic to avoid detection and capture. Many of the buried arms are still functional
because they were covered with grease, wrapped in plastic and paper, according to terrorism
and narcotrafficking analyst Pedro Yaranga Quispe, editor for online news source
www.cronicaviva.com.pe. Reports that the group is recruiting and training youth in remote
jungle areas are also a concern. “These are people that belonged to the MRTA, and they are
recruiting young men,” said Antezana.
Military commanders in Peru acknowledge that not all of MRTA’s arms were recovered,
and the potential risks associated with their unearthing remains. However, a power vacuum by
the State would have to emerge first. “Buried arms can be seen and if the moment arrives
when there is a vacuum left by the State, [MRTA] will want to fill that vacuum, recover
their arms and reform,” said Maj. Gen. Longa López.
The unearthing of weapons and alleged recruitment are taking place far from the
locations of the wall markings. Authorities in the cities where the markings appeared report
that some do not follow the typical patterns of the MRTA. For example, the markings are in
yellow paint instead of red, and some are on sidewalks instead of walls, and they do not
fall within the typical MRTA’s propaganda methods. Still, authorities continue to
investigate these acts as the MRTA symbols fuel an old ideology. Peruvian authorities remain
watchful over these developments. “We are always paying attention, vigilant to any action
that they could attempt — including those of propaganda,” said Col. Rosas Bejarano.
The propaganda efforts that the MRTA deployed during its intense presence continue
to haunt Peru. Although these markings have appeared off and on for years without violent
actions, the MRTA symbols continue to represent a violent ideology associated with
overthrowing the state. The real threat behind these markings may not be that the MRTA once
known to Peruvians would re-emerge, but that sympathizers will keep alive their ideology and
distrust for the state.
Sources: Caretas, El Comercio, http://patrialibre21.blogspot.com, www.cedema.org,
www.congreso.gob.pe, www.cronicaviva.com.pe, www.elmundo.es, www.losandes.com.pe
CAN YOU HELP ME TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE APRA AND MRTA