Strong-Arm Tactics Win Big
Peru hostages rescued, raid may mark new era of using force against terror.
WASHINGTON AND LIMA, PERU
The world's long war against terrorist hostage-taking has produced few obvious triumphs. But now there's another success arguably equal to Israel's famous 1976 rescue at Entebbe, Uganda, of hijacked air travelers: Lima, Peru.Skip to next paragraph
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Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori's stunning April 22 raid on Lima's besieged Japanese ambassador's residence freed more than 70 hostages held by Marxist guerrillas and may well stand as a textbook example of how to conduct such operations. Even Japan is displaying unmistakable satisfaction with the operation - despite Tokyo's months of cautioning against just such an armed strike.
Right or not, the raid - with its minimal bloodshed - could strengthen the hand of nations such as the United States, which publicly call for no dealing with terrorists. If nothing else, it may turn Mr. Fujimori into a legend in his own country and one of the few Latin American leaders of the late 20th century with international fame.
Long criticized for his authoritarian ways, Fujimori's task now will be to head off further guerrilla attacks. He must also clean up Peru's image at a time when its economy is struggling and the country has embarked on a major drive to attract foreign investment.
"We have to make Peru more democratic, demilitarize the country and be more self-critical," says ex-opposition congressman and leading lawyer Javier Valle-Riestra. "At all costs, we must avoid triumphalism."
Avoiding triumphalism is not the same thing as denying success, however. The relatively low cost of the raid is unusual when measured against many similar rescue attempts.
One of the defining moments of modern terrorism, for instance, was the Palestinian raid on the Olympic village in Munich, Germany, in 1972. It ended badly: A shootout with West German authorities left all nine Israeli athlete hostages dead, as well as five Palestinian hostage-takers.
In 1980, leftist activists seized the Spanish embassy in Guatemala. An ensuing government attack led to much bloodshed. In 1985, leftist guerrillas seized the Justice Palace in Colombia. Casualties after an Army attack included 11 Colombian Supreme Court justices.
Nor is the US record in this area impressive. The 1980 attempt to rescue hostages held at the US embassy in Iran ended when a helicopter and a transport plane collided and burst into flame in the desert.
Israel's Entebbe raid, in which most of the 102 passengers from a hijacked Air France jetliner were rescued, still stands as a notable success. Fujimori's strike in Peru seems comparable, at least so far.
The full story of the operation has yet to be told, however, and all 14 Tpac Amaru rebels were killed in the attack.
The four-month siege, the longest-running hostage crisis in Latin America, kept Peru in world headlines longer than any other event in the country's history. Now, with the crisis behind them, Peruvians are beginning to draw conclusions from the experience.
Despite the violent end members of the Tpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) met at the hands of crack paratroopers, analysts are warning that the crisis may spur fresh guerrilla violence in Peru.
Isaac Velazco, the MRTA's spokesman in Europe, vowed the rebels would attack government interests in revenge, stating "the armed struggle will continue as long as there is injustice." Local TV reporters recently filmed another, heavily armed group of MRTA rebels in the central jungle. Meanwhile, Peru's other guerrilla movement, the Maoist Shining Path, this week bombed three government offices in the capital.