Uprising breaks calm in Peru
In political terms, most of Latin America has been fairly tranquil in recent months, hence the low degree of attention to that region lately on this blog. Even in the more violent regions such as Colombia, the level of tension has remained steady for the most part.
One exception, which has been overlooked by the mainstream media, is Peru. Last week a retired army Major, Antauro Humala, led an uprising, taking control of the police commissariat and the downtown area of a provincial city, demanding the resignation of President Alejandro Toledo. Four people had been killed in the initial takeover. This was in the highland city of Andahuaylas, located between Ayacucho (homeland of the Shining Path terrorist movement) and Cuzco (where Jacqueline and I visited last year). About 125 rebels were holding 17 hostages for four days before Humala finally surrendered. Toledo's popularity remains in the abysmal 9-to-10 percent range, and many Peruvians wonder if he can survive in office for the last 17 months of his term. Even though Toledo did not resign, Humala made his point, and will probably be a key player in future political struggles in Peru. He and his brother Ollanta led an uprising in October 2000, as Alberto Fujimori was losing control of the country. His movement seeks to establish a new regime in Peru that would be modeled on the ancient Incan Empire. It sounds Quixotic, but that is a common theme among many radical groups in the Andean region, and there is no question that indigenous people are gaining political strength, as shown by Bolivia and Ecuador.
Bus massacre in Honduras
It must have been like living in Baghdad or Mosul: Just before Christmas, a group of gang members armed with assault rifles stopped a bus in the northern city of San Pedro Sula (where I visited in 1989), and murdered 23 people in cold blood. This was apparently an act of intimidation intended to thwart President Ricardo Maduro's crackdown on the rising crime wave that is attributed to gangs. The most prominent of those gangs is "Mara Salvatrucha," founded by Salvadorans who live in U.S. cities.
By the way, that group is responsible for vicious crimes in the Washington, D.C. area, and some victims have had their fingers hacked off. The gang has even begun to gain influence in the Harrisonburg area of the Shenandoah Valley, where many Hispanics work in poultry processing plants. One former member who helped police investigators, Brenda Paz, was murdered in this region a couple years ago.
Nightclub inferno in Argentina
One hundred seventy five people were killed in a Buenos Aires musical club after a fire broke out, but most of the victims died from smoke inhalation or being trampled. Another 700+ people were injured, out of the estimated 4,000 patrons, three times the capacity. Fire code regulations are often ignored in Latin America, as indeed most government regulations are ignored, and similar tragedies have occurred in Peru and Brazil in recent years. It even happened in Rhode Island, U.S.A. two years ago, when 100 people died at a Great White rock show due to a pyrotechnic malfunction.
Pinochet under house arrest
After a judge ruled that the former Chilean dictator was fit to stand trial for murder and human rights abuses, Augusto Pinochet was indicted last week, and has since been put under house arrest. Many Chileans still regard him as a hero, and it would be hard to deny the economic benefits Chile enjoys compared to the rest of the region. Those accomplishments may end up being voided, however, if he does not answer for the crimes committed under his rule. If he is as patriotic as he has always claimed to be, and not just another egomaniacal despot, he will apologize for the abuses. It won't undo the evil, but it will begin to heal some of the terrible wounds.