All (MacCarthyite) hell breaks loose in Peru as the country prepares to choose new President

Huge billboards across Lima’s main avenues read like cheap Cold War propaganda: “Peru says no to communism”, “Socialism leads to communism”, and “Think about your children’s future”, are just three of the many panic-inducing slogans. Nobody knows who’s paying for the expensive advertisement and nobody cares, including the government agencies created to stop this kind of abuse.

The country’s oldest and leading newspaper, El Comercio –owner of another half a dozen smaller newspapers and a few television channels– is consciously throwing away the little credibility it has left in order to compel the masses to vote for their candidate: Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, who ruled Peru for 10 years (1990-2000) in one of the most corrupt governments in the country’s history, installing the long lasting neoliberal political-economic regime still in place.

Keiko Fujimori is also facing a potential 30 years sentence for her own corruption, mainly for receiving illegal campaign money from some of the most powerful local business tycoons, including top bankers. Winning the presidency would stall the criminal process against her for another five years. Along her political career, she’s been credibly connected to cocaine trafficking and corruption networks deep into different branches of the country’s government, among them the notorious “Cuellos Blancos” inside the Judiciary.

That’s the candidate being fiercely pushed by the elites throughout the traditional media landscape, as panic ensues among a citizenry subjected to a relentless propaganda blitz aimed to saw irrational fear toward anything that smells like leftwing politics. It doesn’t matter that neoliberalism lies on its deathbed and change is completely inevitable –as Chile constituent Assembly marches on and Colombia endures the riots and social upheaval that led to the former’s political shift in course–, the elites just won’t give up in their systematical and obtuse block of any meaningful change.

The result is a toxic wave of crude McCarthyism, extreme political polarization and hate among Peruvians. Meanwhile, Fujimori’s contender, the leftist Pedro Castillo –a modest and politically naive school teacher from the Andes–, isn’t proposing communism, but a political change in the guise of Evo Morales’ Bolivia.

But who cares about such a petty detail when you can seize on decades of anticommunism propaganda systematically imported from the most powerful country on Earth, and disseminated by the local media eco-chamber, in order to intimidate voters into abiding to the status quo.

And that’s hardly the lowest point of these elections.

A useful massacre

Peruvian military is deeply conservative thanks to its traditional subordination to the U.S. government in exchange of money, arms and technology, a sponsorship that includes both the army and the local police forces. They also train them and give them grants to study at notorious U.S. military academies like the School of the Americas, which changed its name –but not its spirit– back in 2001. But American patronage comes at a cost: they have to embrace anticommunism and the “national security state” doctrine; that means turning their attention away from defending the country from external threats to face the “domestic enemy”.

On May 23, as one of the last presidential debates was taking place in Lima, a massacre was being carried out in the VRAEM locality, deep inside the Peruvian liberated zones where cocaine production and trafficking thrives. Sixteen were killed with extreme cruelty, among them two little girls whose bodies were then burned beyond recognition.

The news about the massacre didn’t come from the media or even the police, but from a couple of Fujimori’s political aides and cabinet candidates, who posted pictures of the killing in social media. The message was clear from the very beginning: the culprit was Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), the Maoist terrorist group responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of Peruvians. Its leader, Abimael Guzman, was captured by the government of Keiko Fujimori’s father in 1992, virtually ending the bloodshed.

A few hours after the news arrived to Lima and the rest of the country, on May 24, high ranking members of the three branches of the military confirmed the message given by the fujimoristas: remnants from the Shining Path, now under a different name and wholly dedicated to cocaine trafficking, were responsible for the brutal murders. The only evidence: flyers left behind by the supposed killers as they fled the scene, a very well-known practice among terrorist groups. Among many other things, the flyers read:

“Those who vote for Keiko Fujimori are traitors…”

As many other authorities spoke out only to confirm the news, nobody addressed some of the serious inconsistencies. First of all, the few witnesses and most of the locals from Vizcatan del Ene, where the massacre took place, know the narco-terrorists and their methods very well, and are in complete disbelief regarding the official version. The latter haven’t engaged in politically motivated attacks for many years, and the victims were part of the labor force used in the coca fields they look after. Everyone living in the towns around the place of the atrocities are convinced that the culprits were outsiders.

The style of the brutal attack was also at odds with what the locals –and most experts– know about this long separated branch of the Shining Path, which took the name “Militarizado Partido Comunista del Peru” more than a decade ago, and don’t identify themselves as SP, who they despise as traitors for surrendering back in the nineties to engage in national politics.

The group of four to five killers approached their victims using motorcycles, which the narco-terrorists never use because they are impractical in the jungle terrain where they would’ve come from. They didn’t shout their usual harangues and they didn’t even talk to the victims to tell them what they did to deserve their horrible fate, which is something the narco-terrorists usually do.

One of the survivors said they were dressed like “normal people”, without any kind of clothing that would give out their identity as either terrorists, police officers or military personnel. Let’s be clear: the narco-terrorist who control the zone don’t usually hide their identities: they kill openly to give a message to everybody else, and they kill for business –police informants, suspicious outsiders and the armed forces who fight them at enormous risk– but not for politics. Finally, an electrical black out preceded the attack and, according to locals in Vizcatan del Ene, that usually happens before military raids.

Back in Lima, the massacre was swiftly seized by the Fujimori campaign and the conservative Armed Forces to revive the trauma of terrorism. A couple of days after the news shocked the country, the candidate preferred by the elites and the establishment started to climb up in the polls when all seemed already lost in favor of the leftist candidate.

Pedro Castillo, a syndicalist, is politically connected to members of MOVADEF, the political party created by sympathizers of the terrorists who were beaten and jailed back in the nineties, in order to enter the political arena and plead for amnesty. The tie that binds the leftist candidate and the mentioned party –a huge liability in Castillo’s campaign– lies in their common participation in the country’s biggest teachers syndicate, SUTEP.

Next Sunday June 6, Peruvians will go to the polls to choose between “the daughter of the dictator” and a leftist candidate that never dreamed to reach this far into the elections –and sadly, has proven not to be up to par– as extreme political polarization has bitterly divided the country between “patriots” and “communists”.

If we can talk about any kind of silver lining to this dark episode in the history of Peru, it would be that the El Comercio Group, the oligarchic newspaper and media empire, has completely lost the little credibility it had left, by showing itself as a mouthpiece for the Fujimori campaign and the most exaggerated and irrational Red Scare madness in decades. After whatever happens next June 6, nobody will ever believe in its alleged impartiality ever again.

Regarding what (really) happened in the cocaine infested jungle of Peru, and considering that the military establishment and the economic elite are fine with the evidence-free and politically convenient official version of the massacre, the possibility that the truth will ever be revealed seems remote.

Daniel Espinosa is a Peruvian writer and journalist. He is a columnist for Hildebrandt en sus trece, an independent Peruvian news weekly, and is the author of Propaganda Pura y Dura, his first book (in Spanish). You can follow him at: Read other articles by Daniel.