April 22, 1997 | Hostage Taking in Peru

Being held hostage cannot be a fun time: how about being held hostage for 126 days?

LIMA, PERU — I would imagine that when it comes to hostage taking the granddaddy of all such incidents is the 1979-1981 siege at the US embassy in Tehran. Coming shortly after the Iranian Revolution of February 1979, students/rabblerousers scaled the walls of the diplomatic premise on November 4 of that year and when all was said and done on January 20, 1981 44 American citizens had been sequestered for 444 days.

This crisis was the subject of a lot of coverage (unsurprisingly) and even a recent movie based (loosely) on the rescue of some US diplomats who had found themselves outside the compound when it was seized. I am referring to Argo, starring Ben Affleck, which makes partial reference to the fact that the Americans were saved/protected by Canadian diplomats during that time (and the film was not that accurate on the role the Canucks played, from what I have heard).

Batman Star Ben Affleck Remembers Late 'Argo' Spy Tony Mendez
Thank God Ben was on the job!

The illegal detention by the Iranians was of course an egregious violation of international law when it comes to the hosting of diplomats. Everyone knows, of course, that embassies and consulates serve multiple purposes, including intelligence gathering, but all civilised nations have abided by the Vienna Convention since it was passed by the United Nations in 1961.

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Nevertheless, embassies, consulates and other such facilities have not always been the havens they should be. There have been numerous attacks on such entities and, as we shall see, bizarre, lengthy terrorist acts. This is not that odd, as these institutions are seen as representative of a particular state and its policies and we know that state actions are often cited by terrorist groups as justification for their acts of violence.

On this day in 1997 the Peruvian Army stormed the Japanese Embassy in Lima to rescue hundreds of hostages who had been seized four months earlier by 14 members of the Marxist Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). Diplomats and guests had been attending a party commemorating the 63rd birthday of Japanese Emperor Akihito.

On this day in 2997, a 4-month hostage taking at the Japanese Embassy in Peru ended with the deaths of 14 MRTA Marxist terrorists.

One hostage, two Peruvian commandos and all the terrorists were killed in the rescue operation: there were allegations that some of the MRTA were summarily executed after they had surrendered. The terrorists had issued demands including the release of some of their confreres and changes to the neoliberal economic policies of Peruvian President Fujimori (he was of Japanese descent, a fact that may account for why the Japanese Embassy was chosen by the MRTA to make their point).

The MRTA was a traditional Marxist-Leninist revolutionary movement formed in 1983 which aimed to establish a Marxist regime and to rid Peru of all imperialist elements (primarily US and Japanese influence). It has been inactive for many years.

We forget that at one point there were dozens of Marxist-Leninist groups around the world and others who took inspiration from them. This philosophy may now be seen as a defunct ideology although a resurgence can never be ruled out.

Being held hostage can not be a pleasant experience. One wonders why terrorist groups, which often claim to be protesting human rights violations, go on to commit similar violations of their own.

Phil Gurski
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