A collection of declassified U.S. documents recently released by the National Security Archive exposes the harsh reality of Peru’s internal armed conflict that lasted from 1980 to 2000. This release coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Peruvian truth commission’s final report. The documents shed light on the government’s violent counterinsurgency strategies, human rights abuses committed by security forces, and the complex relationship between Peru and the United States during this dark period.
One particularly chilling report from the State Department in 1984 accurately predicted the Peruvian Army’s potential actions, stating that they might resort to physically annihilating anyone suspected of being a member or sympathizer of the insurgent group, Sendero Luminoso. Another report from 1988 revealed that Peruvian Prime Minister Armando Villanueva endorsed the execution of captured guerrillas discreetly. These documents highlight the government’s willingness to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses.
Another shocking account describes “Operation Aries,” which occurred in March 1994. The report, sourced from the Pentagon’s Southern Command, details how Peruvian helicopters fired upon villages in central Peru, followed by ground troops committing acts of rape and murder on survivors. The assault resulted in numerous civilian casualties and mirrored previous “search and destroy” operations conducted by the army in areas believed to be under guerrilla control.
The declassified records also expose the complications Peru’s human rights record caused in its relationship with the United States. A cable from the U.S. Embassy reprimanded the Peruvian foreign minister for sending a known human rights abuser to testify in the U.S., prompting the State Department to invoke diplomatic immunity to protect him from prosecution.
Despite the Peruvian truth commission’s efforts to address the country’s violent past, the current political crisis in Peru suggests that the problems and legacies of that era continue to persist. President Pedro Castillo’s failed “autogolpe” in 2022 resulted in his removal from office. The current government of President Dina Boularte is facing widespread protests, demanding her resignation, new elections, and a new constitution. The government’s violent suppression of these protests has drawn international condemnation and has resulted in numerous deaths.
The long-term goals of the truth commission were to encourage Peruvians to confront the country’s violent history, understand what occurred, and prevent similar atrocities from happening again. However, these goals remain elusive, as the recent developments in Peru show. Public confidence in the government is at a historic low, with calls for early elections and widespread dissatisfaction with the current administration.
The newly released declassified documents provide crucial insights into Peru’s internal armed conflict. They offer a sobering reminder of the human rights abuses that occurred and the need for continued efforts to ensure justice, accountability, and respect for democracy and human rights in Peru.
National Security Archive – www.nsarchive.org