Peru: ‘This Is The Beginning Of A Soft Coup’

Above Photo: Héctor Béjar. Radio Nacional.

Interview With Former Peruvian Foreign Minister Hector Béjar.

Sengo Pérez: Did you expect to be offered the position of Chancellor, or did it take you by surprise?

Héctor Bejár: No. For me, it was a surprise.

SP: Who offered it to you?

HB: President [Pedro] Castillo himself, whom I did not know. I had never seen him personally.

SP: And did you think, when you took the position, that this adventure was going to be so short-lived?

HB: Yes, it was among the possibilities. That came as no surprise to me.

SP: Were you also not surprised when Guido Bellido (President of the Council of Ministers) asked you to resign? What did you feel at that moment?

HB: Nothing at all. I had this possibility in my mind among the probable alternatives. There was already a climate of hostility in the media from the concentrated press [Béjar refers to the oligopolistic media, especially Grupo El Comercio] and on the part of the [Peruvian] Navy against me. It is part of the political conflict.

SP: Do you think this case is a surrender of the government to the right wing?

HB: I do not want to characterize it. I still think Señor Castillo is an excellent person, and I wish him the best. I do believe that this is a weak government; I am not going to deny it, and one that refuses to reinforce itself for some reasons that I can’t explain.

SP: What do you mean by “reinforcing itself?” In what way?

HB: Well, I said it before I became minister: that the government should choose the best personalities, not just from Peru — when we talk about Peru here, we usually talk about Lima — but from the real Peru. The country has many universities in the provinces, where there are excellent people, with professors who should be ministers at this moment. And it also has excellent leaders of popular organizations, who should also be ministers. They have not been appointed, and it is a pity.

SP: Something difficult for Lima to accept?

HB: Well, yes. But it’s the provinces that won the elections, and it is up to them to govern, that is to say, to the Peruvian people, who have never governed.

SP: More than 100 years ago Manuel González Prada wrote about Lima’s contempt for the provinces. It seems that this is still the same . . .

HB: Evidently. It is a racist contempt, as we all know, because the citizens of Lima, regardless of whether they are poor or rich, for the most part feel superior to the people of the provinces. Unfortunately, in Peru, to say “serrano” is practically an insult. A “serrano” is a person from the Andes highlands, and most of Peru is from the highlands. [The word is an insult in Peru, referring to Indigenous people.]

SP: In this election the racism that exists in Peru became more apparent?

HB: Of course. And racism is another thing that Peru refuses to recognize: we are a racist country. And I include myself; sometimes I catch myself with racist thoughts.

SP: Did you feel little defended by the Executive, by your fellow ministers, considering that what triggered this was a misrepresentation of your statements? Did you expect more from them?

HB: No, I did not expect more. I do not know them. I know practically no one in the Executive, not even President Castillo.

SP: The Navy’s communiqué (see Jacqueline Fowks’ article in the same issue of Brecha, in Spanish) must have passed, I suppose, through the Ministry of Defense, before it became known?

HB: There is not only a communiqué. I have received at my home a threat in the form of a notarized letter addressed to me by the solicitor of the Ministry of Defense, that is, by the government itself. The government is threatening me with prosecution if I do not correct my statements. They accuse me of offending the Navy and demand that I apologize to them; if I don’t, they will put me on trial.

SP: But what are they accusing you of? The facts you mentioned — the Navy’s participation in those attacks — are almost proven.

The Navy admitted its crimes

HB: And yes, I have only cited known facts. And they were published by the Navy itself in its own publications.

SP: What did you feel after more than 50 years, since your guerrilla activity and your participation in the Velasco Alvarado government and your later quiet academic life, when after this appointment you were branded as a terrorist, an assassin?

HB: Nothing really. I expected it, of course. I knew the risks to which I was subjecting myself by accepting to be Chancellor. But I could not refuse; I could not say no to a person I believe to be a good person, an excellent person like Professor Castillo. I was delighted to support him. I knew the risks, but that is life: one must assume the obligations one must assume.

SP: Did you expect such a virulent reaction from the opposition?

HB: Yes, I expected that reaction; I really expected it. About five years ago they [the left] proposed me to be a candidate for the presidency, and that was what I was telling them, precisely: what would happen the moment I entered the politics of the system. I have always been outside the system, that is, the political system understood as the Parliament, the parties, etcetera. They are going to demolish me; I told them: there are many people who do not like me. And I knew that.

Lies of the corporate media

SP: And you expected the misrepresentations of the press, the lies?

HB: Of course I did. That’s what the press has been doing my whole life. If you read El Comercio — I have read all El Comercio of the 19th century, without exception, issue by issue, since 1839 you will find that. So you cannot read the history of Peru in El Comercio.

You can read a part of the history, because what was really happening in the country is not there. It is an impunity, an abuse of freedom of the press. I have been called a “bloodthirsty murderer.” I prefer to laugh. They have even accused me of killing the brother of Archbishop Castillo.

SP: Do you think that some statements are measured with different yardsticks? At the time, Alan García praised the “mystique” of the Shining Path, (his Minister of the Interior) Agustín Mantilla visited (the founder of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement) Víctor Polay in jail . . .

HB: In Peru they always measure with different yardsticks. In reality, here terrorism has not really been fought; terrorism is used for political ends. Sendero [Shining Path] has been used for political purposes. It no longer exists, but it still exists in the press, for example. No movement has gotten as much press as that group. If you add up from 1980 until now, there are kilometers of headlines.

SP: If what you said about the Navy’s participation in attacks is true, why do you think people do not accept it?

HB: Because they are afraid. People are afraid. People have a very reverent attitude toward the Armed Forces, which are understood as guardian institutions of the nation. But a nation does not have tutelage; a democracy does not accept tutelage [rule by the state apparatus].

People do not know, and besides, nobody dares to say that the tanks, the rifles and the ships are ours. They do not belong to the marines or the military: they are ours; they have been bought with our money. The military are public servants, so we have no reason to serve them. But in Peru there is an inverse criterion sponsored by the Armed Forces themselves.

Throughout history we have been taught that they are institutions of protection against which you cannot say anything. You can say anything you want against the Bar Association, against the Medical Association, against the Judiciary, but nothing against the Navy, nor against the Army, nor against the Air Force. And I, modestly, as a common citizen, ask myself: Why? Why can’t I say anything against the Navy as an institution? No institution can be free from criticism; they all have to be criticized.

SP: Those who have served sentences for terrorism are required to ask for forgiveness. However, the Armed Forces have systematically violated human rights in the internal conflict and do not receive the same demands. Is it not accepted that there was State terrorism?

HB: It is called denialism. In Germany it is condemned [denying Nazi crimes]; it is a crime. Not here. There are people who deny that the Armed Forces violated human rights. The Truth Commission’s report was reluctantly accepted. To its name they added: “and Reconciliation.”

Reconciliation with whom? With the human rights violators? Because if you talk about reconciliation, you are talking about the two contenders, that is, Sendero and the Armed Forces or, in any case, Sendero and the people of Peru. But that reconciliation was never encouraged. If I were to say that on Peruvian television, I would be judged differently.

Never convicted of terrorism

SP: You are being charged with acts of almost 60 years ago?

HB: In Peru the sentences are eternal. I just heard a Navy officer tell another lie: that I was convicted. I was never convicted. There was a five-year investigation against me that proved that I was not guilty of the terrible crimes of which I was accused, an investigation carried out by a military court, a court martial. My amnesty was signed by Admiral Vargas Caballero, head of the Navy at the time.

SP: Is a reform of the Armed Forces necessary?

HB: Of course. Human rights training must be introduced in the Armed Forces. For many years I have been a professor at CAEN (Centro de Altos Estudios Nacionales, a military postgraduate school under the Ministry of Defense), and I know the virtues and defects in the training of high-ranking military personnel. Many of them have enormous gaps in terms of knowledge about Peru.

SP: Is Fujimorism still entrenched in the Armed Forces? [Fujimori is the former dictatorial president of Peru (1990-2000), now imprisoned for embezzlement and bribery.]

HB: The Peruvian Armed Forces are pro-Fujimori. Fujimorismo is in the conscience of many military personnel. Some criteria that permeated Fujimorismo from the ’90s onwards are still present. (Former Intelligence Service chief Vladimiro) Montesinos is in prison, but Montesinismo is still present; the methodology and the way of thinking are in today’s military practice. That is why Montesinos communicates with the outside whenever he wants, and nothing happens.

SP: It seems that the word imperialism in the political language of a certain new left has gone out of fashion.

HB: Yes, there are words that cannot be pronounced. Imperialism, revolution and socialism can no longer be used in Peru. So it would be good if they would edit a Peruvian dictionary that would omit those words, and we would have a Peruvian history as the pharaohs did: tailored to the current dominators of Peru.

Priorities of the left

SP: Have the priorities of the left changed? There is more talk about women’s demands and LGBT rights than about hunger and misery. Castillo was criticized for not mentioning the former, but maybe that is why he won?

HB: Exactly. Our provinces are very conservative in sexual and reproductive terms. But human rights are integral. And it’s not just me who says so. There are two main principles on the subject. On the one hand, they are just that, integral: civil and political rights cannot be separated from the last generation rights, environmental, sexual and reproductive rights.

On the other hand, we cannot go back on the issue of human rights. What has been achieved has been achieved; they are international principles; they are agreements signed by Peru. But here there are people who only remember civil and political rights; they do not want to remember economic and social rights, for example, and vice versa. What we have to achieve is everything, even if it seems too ambitious. We have to achieve it; we cannot go backwards.

SP: Is a new Constitution needed?

HB: Yes. This one is obsolete. Not only because of what it says, but also because it does not include many human rights, which are the ones that should prevail.The rights of guarantee actions, such as habeas data and others, were included, but the constituents immediately managed to leave them without any possibility of application or to introduce other elements that prevented their application, among them, the referendum.

SP: Do you think that now the foreign policy guidelines will change? You said that was the real reason for your departure.

HB: I hope not; I hope not. But we have to see what Congress wants to do. They want to reinvent a group that no longer exists: the Lima Group. I feel that, unfortunately, at this moment — and I hope this will change with the appointment of a good foreign minister — the international issue is not part of the government’s agenda. And I say this for today, for this moment.

SP: But do you think the opposition is going to stop here? Congress member Jorge Montoya [Chief of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces from 2007 to 2008] has said, more or less, that they are going to remove all the ministers.

HB: The Congress wants to set up a government of those who lost the elections, that is to say, a new edition of a coup d’état. There are many ways to carry out a coup d’état.What happened yesterday (referring to Béjar’s own departure, carried out this past Aug. 18) has been a soft coup d’état. The heads of the armed institutions, who should obey the president, met with him to guarantee the resignation of a chancellor. It is a soft coup d’état or the beginning of one. I can only hope that it does not continue.

SP: The objective is the presidential vacancy . . .

Peru: A country in movement

HB: Yes. They have expressed it from the beginning: The objective is regime change. It started with me, and it will end with President Castillo. Hopefully not, but that is the plan.

SP: How do you characterize this political moment?

HB: Peru is a country in movement, and that is very good. It is a country where people are beginning to realize things, although still in a very nebulous way. The people have already reached the government, and that is very good. But there are problems: The people do not know how to govern, because they have never governed, so it’s understandable that this government has all the defects it has.

If we were democratic, we would help this government instead of taking advantage of its weakness to overthrow it. In Peru we have never had a democracy. At best, we are building it with great difficulty. But we do not have democracy. What we have is a dictatorship of the economic and media monopolies.

SP: What do you feel about what happened to you, personally and politically?

HB: Nothing. I am happy now, with my books. I am preparing one that is in its third or fourth edition, on the history of Peru. I will devote myself to my pleasures, which are the plastic arts. I am in a happy stage of my life. I do not feel resentful or hurt at all. I feel free again.

SP: Is it true that you met Che Guevara?

HB: (Laughs) I not only met him: I admired him, and I was his soldier.

Published Aug. 20 in the Uruguayan newspaper, Brecha (brecha.com.uy). Translation by Michael Otto.