Background Info On The MRTA

Arm The Spirit (
Sat, 21 Dec 1996 04:20:13 -0500 (EST)

Interview With An MRTA Leader (1991)

"The Light At The End Of The Tunnel"

The Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, founded officially in 1984, but
whose origins come out of the experience of different Peruvian leftists
forces during the 70's, is a political and military organization seeking
revolutionary change in Peruvian society.

According to one of its leaders, known as Comandante Andres, Peru - in
the context of Latin America - embodies the entire spectrum of possible
conflicts: economic, social, cultural, racial, political.

In this exclusive interview, granted by the MRTA leader to BI in Mexico,
its concept of the armed struggle, its differences with Sendero Luminoso
and the spectacular escape from the Canto Grande prison are discussed.

We developed as a political and military organization, not to follow a
specific ideology, but because the Peruvian people's historic conditions
have always been characterized by the ruling classes' use of violence.

We took the name Tupac Amaru because he symbolizes the Peruvian people's struggle against their oppressors. Tupac Amaru was drawn and quartered in the square in Cuzco after leading an anti-colonialist rebellion which almost shook off Spain's domination of a large part of South America.

The fact is that this history of violence used by the oppressors made us realize that the only way to achieve a radical change in Peruvian society was through the use of revolutionary violence. We formed ourselves into a political and military organization because our central policy is to develop armed struggle without devaluing any political action we might take.

Our first armed actions were in the cities, although politically we had almost national coverage. In 1987 we made the leap and became a rural guerrilla movement with the idea of building the Tupac Amaru Popular Army.

We think of the Peruvian revolution as a process having many facets, a political and military process. It's a process taking place in the countryside and the city, that is, a process incorporating all forms and possible aspects of revolutionary struggle.

Sometimes it's easy to analyze how wars start, but it's difficult to figure out how to end them. In Peru we think there's a pre-revolutionary condition with some of the traits of a revolutionary situation. We think the defeat, not of the government, but of the regime, of the imperial social and economic system, and the building of a new model through revolution, through armed struggle, is possible.

However, we've always said that it isn't the MRTA that's going to make a revolution in Peru, but the Peruvian people, through their numerous social and political organizations, within which the MRTA has an important role.

We aren't saying we're the vanguard, the only vanguard. We're part of that social vanguard which experience shows us is what achieved revolutionary triumphs in this stage of humankind's development.

What differences and what affinities are there between the MRTA and Sendero Luminoso?

There's more that separates us from than unites us with Sendero Luminoso. Sendero is a profoundly dogmatic, sectarian movement which believes that its leaders' ideas express a qualitative development, a fourth stage of Marxism-Leninism. We have conceptual and concrete differences in the practice of revolutionary struggle.

Sendero is characterized by its negative image. They don't seek to win hearts and minds, but impose their direction on the people, which is why they don't hesitate to kill to achieve their dominion. Sendero is also characterized by its cruelty, which is strongly repudiated. The Peruvian people understand the need for revolutionary struggle, but don't support that kind of struggle, that kind of inhumanity.

I would hesitate to describe Sendero as a revolutionary group because their Pol Pot concept of life and revolution is long way from what we think of as revolution. But at the same time, Sendero achieved a certain strength because of certain actions it took. In 1980, when almost all leftist groups became legal, Sendero began the armed struggle at a time when other organizations were saying it wasn't possible. At first it generated a lot of sympathy within diverse social sectors. Many people joined Sendero. The problem is that later, through its actions, it showed its true character and that objectively limited its growth.

How do you spread your ideology? How do you approach people?

We say that without the people there is no revolution. So, our aim is to approach and involve ourselves closely with the people. The kind of actions we carry out - aside from the political work done by the organizations at various opportunities - is armed propaganda, mainly in the cities.

We do things like expropriate food from the big supermarket chains and hand it out to the people. We support the people's struggles, a professional organization or a union carrying out some political-military actions which help and support that struggle. We're present in various urban and rural professional organizations and peasant unions, in a purely military aspect. For example, as both urban and rural guerrillas, we concretely strike at the enemy, the armed forces and the police, who are becoming more and more like occupation forces within their own country. They're forces who are always blood-stained, highly corrupt, extortionists of the people. We take concrete action against them in any way possible.

How do you define the MRTA ideologically?

We try to put Peruvian reality ahead of any pre-defined political ideology. We hope to build socialism because capitalism has not been, nor has the possibility of being the solution to the Peruvian people's problems. That's not to say that we're going to build a socialism styled and modeled after the eastern European countries, a model which failed in practice. We're proposing the building of a socialism appropriate to conditions in Peru.

We don't want state centralism or the bureaucratization of Peruvian society. Life has taught us that that is not the way. We should have a democratic, very participatory society; not an electoral democracy every five years, but a democracy where men and women get involved in their workplace, their community, their neighbourhood and decide their own destiny. We want it to be a participatory democracy with the people as the actors. It has to be that way.

You captured public attention with the escape from the prison known as Canto Grande. What can you say about that?

It's our policy to free companeros who fall into enemy hands. We know that a Tupacamarist fighter who falls into enemy hands is systematically tortured. That's always the case in Peru. One of the members' fundamental duties is to look for any means of escape, once they've been taken prisoner, and it's the organization's duty to look for a way to free them.

The rescue of the companeros who were in Canto Grande prison, which is Peru's maximum security prison, was conceived nearly three years ago. We saw the need to build a tunnel into the prison from the outside. When the rescue took place there were 47 companeros, including eight women and Comandante Rolando (Victor Polay), who is the organization's commander-and-chief.

We built a tunnel 330 meters long. Approximately 25 companeros took part in the excavation of that tunnel, under extremely difficult conditions. I think it's the longest escape tunnel of any Latin American prison, and maybe in the world.

An infinite number of problems had to be solved, like light, water, and ventilation, as well as coordinating the companeros' escape, since they had Comandante Rolando isolated in one cell-block, the men in another and the women in yet another. There had to be very precise and decisive coordination in order to achieve a successful escape.

We counted on a great deal of the people's ingenuity. Peru is a mining country and there are mine-workers who have experience with tunnels and are our companeros. Their participation was decisive above all in a building a tunnel that wouldn't collapse, ventilation problems etc.

Another problem was finding the right direction so we would come out at exactly the right spot inside the prison. We used all kinds of instruments for this, like a theodolite compass, and we tested our own ingenuity. In the end we rescued everyone.

No one was killed or captured?

All the companeros who left - there were 47, plus one common criminal who slipped in with us - are now at their posts. Some are with the guerrillas, others in the cities, but everyone is in the revolutionary struggle again.

Is there anything else you'd like to say?

I'd like to send greetings to our Sandinista companeros and tell them that despite the set-back they've had, the revolutionary struggle in Nicaragua has made a fundamental contribution in terms of creativity, imagination and courage and, in that sense, we're sure that the Revolution, despite the difficult moments, will always prevail in Nicaragua.

(Source: Barricada International - January 19, 1991)

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