World

Terror in Lima

Canada's envoy helps mediate a hostage crisis

TOM FENNELL December 30 1996
World

Terror in Lima

Canada's envoy helps mediate a hostage crisis

TOM FENNELL December 30 1996

Terror in Lima

Canada's envoy helps mediate a hostage crisis

World

Lucie Vincent thought she was going to die. She and her husband, Anthony, Canada’s ambassador to Peru, were attending a party at the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima to celebrate the birthday of Emperor Akihito. “We were in the gardens,” Lucie Vincent later recalled. “I was talking to some lady and my husband was talking to a business contact.” Suddenly, a bomb blew a hole through the back of the building. Instantly, white-clad waiters, who moments earlier had been pouring champagne, pulled out automatic weapons hidden in large flower arrangements. Armed guerrillas of the secretive Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement stormed through the breached wall. “Keep your heads down,” they commanded, “or we’ll blow them off.” Lucie Vincent glanced over at her husband and dove for cover. For the next 40 minutes, the guerrillas and police battled for control of the building. ‘We were all praying,” said Vincent. “When you hear all that shooting, you think that’s it, that’s the end.”

When the firing stopped, the guerrillas had seized the building and were holding more than 450 people hostage—including the Vincents and three other Canadians. The VIP guest list had included nearly every ambassador in the city as well as most of its business elite; the U.S. envoy had just left. Draped with ammunition and carrying knapsacks filled with grenades, the bandanna-clad guerrillas soon calmly announced that all the women would be released. Hours later, Lucie Vincent left with about 80 other women. Then the next day, her lanky husband, still dressed neatly in a dark suit and white shirt, walked out of the compound with the ambassadors of Greece and Germany and a Peruvian envoy. ‘We have been freed to serve as a contact and bridge with the Peruvian government,” Anthony Vincent told waiting reporters.

And there was a terrible sword hanging overhead: the rebels had instructed the ambassadors to negotiate the release of 300 of their members being held prisoner or they would start killing their hostages. “It’s an extreme measure,” Tupac leader Commandante Loayzatold Maclean’s correspondent Sally Bowen, who was at the party and later set free. “It is the only way to press for the release of our leaders.” Two days later, on Dec. 20, the rebels let another 38 hostages go, leaving 340 captives in the embassy,

but they still vowed to carry out their threat. The remaining hostages, meanwhile, complained that conditions inside had worsened, with power and water having been cut off.

Vincent quickly assumed a key role in the drama—one of the largest hostage takings in history. The 57-year-old veteran diplomat, who is described by colleagues in the foreign affairs department as cool and unflappable, headed the department’s security division from 1988 to 1992, dealing at times with terrorism issues. But nothing could have prepared him for his encounter with the Tupac rebels. The desperate guerrillas wanted their fellow rebels not only released from prison but transferred to a jungle hideout in a remote part of the country. They also demanded that Peruvian President Alberto Fujimod, who is a nisei, or second-generation Japanese immigrant, and fluent in the language, cut his administration’s close ties with Japan. Commandante Loayza told Maclean’s: “It is a protest against the constant interference of the Japanese government, supporting the neoliberal economic policies and the violation of human rights here.”

With the world’s attention riveted on Lima, on Dec. 19 Vincent met with Peru’s mediator, Education Minister Domingo Palermo Cabrejos, and then returned to the Japanese compound where he discussed the government’s response with the rebels. Later, he was careful not to divulge either the government’s message or the guerrillas’ reply. “Discussions were cordial, the hostages were in good condition,” said Vincent “Both the hostages and [their captors] have behaved with restraint.”

For nearly 16 years, the Peruvian army fought a running battle with both the Marxist Tupac Amaru, which is named after an 18th-century native who led an uprising against the Spanish, and the larger Maoist Shining Path guerrillas. Nearly 30,000 people died in the struggle. But following his surprise victory in presidential elections in 1990, Fujimori moved quickly to clean up government corruption and break the back of the terrorist movement. Backed by the army, he fired more than 100 judges and seized near-dictatorial powers for himself and the military.

By 1993, thousands of rebels had been imprisoned, including Abimael Guzman, the revolutionary guru who headed the Shining Path fighters, and Victor Polay, leader of the Tupac guerrillas. With terrorism seemingly under control, Peru’s shattered economy began slowly to improve, helped by Japanese investment. Fujimori swept to power again in 1995, but last week’s violence plunged the country back into uncertainty. As political columnist Manuel D’Ornella put it ‘We have returned to being a country subject to terror.”

I The Tupac raid also trapped Fujimori between hardline support¡ ers who did not want him to give in, and others who wanted to save I lives by negotiating a deal. The United States, which argued that any I concession would be a mistake, dispatched a team of security I experts to Lima on Dec. 19. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister ? Lloyd Axworthy backed the tough U.S. stance. ‘To give in to those

kinds of demands,” said Axworthy, “simply increases the problem.”

The Japanese, however, were more flexible. Of the more than 400 hostages, 120 were Japanese. Peru also has the second-largest Japanese community in South America, after Brazil. In an atmosphere of growing concern, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto sent his foreign minister, Yukihiko Ikeda, to Lima and made it clear that Ikeda’s mission was to save lives.

There was also growing anger in Tokyo over lax security at the embassy. Before Fujimori’s crackdown, the Japanese compound was one of the most secure buildings in Lima. The ambassador had feared an assault from the guerrillas, who claimed Peru’s Japanese community was trying to take over the country. “An attack should have been predictable,” said an editorial in the Tokyo newspaper Sankei Shimbum, “given the relationship between Fujimori and Japan.”

As the negotiations continued on the pre-Christmas weekend, Vincent said the mood inside the compound was calm. The Canadians held hostage were André Deschênes, 55, a Hull, Que., native working as a consultant on poverty with the Canadian International Development Agency; Hubert Zandstra, 56, formerly of Ottawa and director of the Lima-based International Potato Research Centre; and Kieran Metcalfe of Rossland, B.C., an employee of the Vancouverbased mining company Comineo Ltd. who was working in the country. Meanwhile, their relatives waited anxiously for word from Lima. “We are united in prayer,” said Deschênes’s brother Pierre in Hull. “Only God could solve this type of thing.”

The crisis put the spotlight on British-born Vincent, who is no stranger to controversy. He joined what was then the department of external affairs in 1969 and later served as high commissioner to Bangladesh and ambassador to Burma before taking over the department security division while between postings. His former neighbors in the Manor Park area of Ottawa, where he was once chairman of the community association, were not surprised to learn that Vincent was helping to negotiate an end to the siege. “When there wasn’t a consensus at our meetings,” said Lana Burpee, who served with him, “he could always bring one about.”

Vincent has been involved in international intrigue before. In 1991, he was ensnared in the case of Mohammed al-Mashat, a former Iraqi ambassador who tried to defect to Canada following the Gulf War. When Mashat was discovered living in Vancouver, the Conservative government blamed Vincent for supposedly bungling the case. Vincent then spent two years in language studies, a kind of forced limbo. But when the Liberals were elected in 1993, Vincent was rehabilitated and given the fateful assignment to Lima.

TOM FENNELL with SALLY BOWEN in Lima and LUKE FISHER in Ottawa

SALLY BOWEN

LUKE FISHER