Insurrection in Andahuaylas

Nick Caistor | Update 107. 31 January 2005

New Year's Eve celebrations in the southern sierra town of Andahuaylas were rudely interrupted when an armed group of more than 150 people attacked the police station and took its occupants hostage. Four policemen and two civilians were killed before the group's ringleader Antauro Humala and many of the other attackers surrendered and were arrested four days later. Humala, a retired army major, claimed the attack on the police station was to get rid of President Alejandro Toledo, whom he accused of 'corruption'.

Humala and his followers are mostly army reservists belonging to a group who call themselves 'etnocaceristas'. Their name comes from a 19th century Peruvian general and president, who defended the country against Chilean invaders during the so-called War of the Pacific (1879-83). Cáceres also put forward nationalist ideas based on the concept that the only 'true' Peruvians were the indigenous Andean people, the 'raza de cobre' (race of copper). Humala and his brother Ollanta have gathered a following among army reservists who feel they have been badly paid for their services, as well as some campesinos. They claim that President Toledo has been bribed to allow Chilean investments in today's Peru, and that there should be a national crusade to retake the border city of Arica, which was lost to Chile in the 19th century war.

The 'etnocaceristas' publish pamphlets, carry weapons and dress in military uniform. The Humala brothers staged a brief protest against ex-President Fujimori shortly before his downfall in the year 2000, and have been accused of taking part in the violence in Ilave last May, when the local mayor was lynched. However, the revolt in Andahuaylas was the first time that the vast majority of Peruvians had heard of them.

It seems the attack also took the central government by surprise. President Toledo was slow to react, and appeared at first to blame the trouble on 'communists'. Some commentators in Peru say that the authorities had been warned something was about to happen in Andahuaylas, but had chosen to ignore the warning.

Although Humala and many of his followers were arrested, Interior Minister Javier Reátegui, who had only been appointed in June, felt obliged to resign. He was replaced by Félix Murazzo, until then the director of the National Police Force. Some human rights groups saw this as a retrograde step, as it brought someone from the security forces into a position previously reserved for a civilian since the days of Fujimori.

Observers in Peru saw the insurrection in Andahuaylas as presenting several dangers. On the one hand, during the occupation of the police station it was obvious that many people in the town openly expressed support for Humala and his followers, while few came out to show their backing for President Toledo or democratic rule.

Some analysts argue that the main aim of the attack was for Humala to get himself arrested, so that he could then present himself as a 'political martyr' suffering for a noble cause. The danger in this, it is argued, is that in neighbouring Ecuador (President Lucio Gutiérrez) and Venezuela (President Hugo Chávez), for better or worse, military leaders who led failed revolts and were imprisoned, emerged a few years later to become their country's elected leader.


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