Garcia’s Peru

Edited by Peter Browne


[…] What has become known as the “Moqueguazo” began in March 2008 when it was revealed how much commerce tax the neighbouring regions of Tacna and Moquegua would receive from the companies exploiting their natural resources. For Tacna the tax meant an extra 711 million nuevos soles (about A$290 million), but for Moquegua the additional funds only amounted to 244 million nuevos soles, despite the fact that the latter produces more copper than its neighbour. Defenders of Moquegua’s interests announced that there would be a forty-eight-hour strike on 4 and 5 June, at which time Premier Jorge del Castillo acknowledged that their complaint was justified. But on 9 June, del Castillo retracted his earlier statement and declared that nothing could be done. Hours later, a strike of indefinite duration began, paralysing the region for ten days.

Protesters were mainly concentrated at the principal bridge of Moquegua, which they had blocked in order to immobilise the city. When the confrontation began to escalate, the chief of police, General Alberto Jordán, faced with two options, chose the peaceful one: he ordered his men to leave behind their weapons, saying that they would try to remedy the situation that had arisen when other police at the bridge had started using teargas without orders to do so. Once there, Jordán found the protesters furious, and convinced them to take him as a hostage, rather than his men.

Once Jordán was released, García acted. Instead of applauding Jordán’s diffusion of the situation, he called him a coward. And then, to the shock of the general populace, he relieved Jordán of his charge. García’s response revealed that the country’s internal conflict of the 1980s and 1990s was far from dormant.

In her article “La tentación del olvido: guerra, nacionalismo e historia en el Perú” (“The Temptation of Forgetting: War, Nationalism and History in Peru”), published in 2000 in Diálogos en historia, Cecilia Méndez G. wrote that a worrying consequence of Peru’s internal conflict was the extreme anti-terrorist attitude that prevailed among her compatriots at the time of her writing. She wondered why, and in what moment, the Shining Path, a Peruvian phenomenon, had been denationalised and branded un-Peruvian. She mentioned the general populace’s exuberant celebrations when fourteen hostage-takers were executed by the government at the residence of the Japanese ambassador to Peru in 1997 – some of them after their hostages had been successfully freed. Méndez G. interpreted these events as demonstrating that patriotism at all costs had created a predisposition for excusing violent acts of the government. She believed that fear of further internal conflict had made many willing to accept violent governmental reprisals against anyone who expressed discontent with the government.

Yet this predisposition of the general populace that so concerned Méndez G. has not been evident in recent years. The shocked reaction of Peruvians to Jordán’s dismissal shows that they neither expected nor desired a violent government reaction. When sacking Jordán, García expected that his people would excuse violent authoritarianism in their determination never again to be in the thrall of an internal conflict. And the Moqueguazo was the first incident in which García demonstrated that violent actions were all he would accept from his officials, that anything less would result in a sacking. It was the first time, in other words, that García demonstrated his inclination to implement violence against anyone he could construe as “terrorist,” in a misguided attempt to curry favour with his constituents.

Read the complete article at Inside Story.


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