Methodical Doc Untangles Peru’s Knotty History of Violence


An informative if shrill primer on the last 35 years of Peruvian plight, the new doc
State of Fear may only be effective as an educational tool for Americans, whose media have told them next to nothing about one of the Western Hemisphere’s most horrifying killing fields. Next to nothing, that is, except about the destitute nation’s free-market privatization “miracle”—the only barrier to which has been “Marxist guerrillas”—as discussed in the occasional New York Times/Washington Post story, regardless of the 80-plus percent unemployment and the 50,000-plus civilians killed during the Belaunde and Fujimori presidencies. We’re back in Noam Chomsky World, where the only data about a country that could possibly be of relevance to Americans are the investment opportunities that its resources and restructured economy provide.

Pamela Yates’s video doc is all about the real stuff, tracing Peru’s arduous path as a microcosm of Cold War embattlement—to paraphrase the old African saying about fighting elephants and the grass they trample, when Communist insurgencies and U.S.-backed governments fight, the real victims are the people in between. Without stooping to mention the name Lori Berenson, Yates outlines the rise of the Shining Path quasi-Maoist movement (itself responsible for over 10,000 murders), the struggle to lock down the entire highlands in order to combat it, and the rise of self-fashioned despot Alberto Fujimori, who, after Shining Path had been neutered by police work, persisted with a monster power grab that included media buyouts, death squads, and the dissolution of congress. (Accompanying Yates’s thorough record is a seven-minute short composed entirely of the leaked bribery videos—complete with coffee tables stacked with cash—that extinguished Fujimori’s career.) With unofficial ownership of the media, Fujimori maintained his grip through three elections, generating a phobic public response to a threat that was no longer there.

State of Fear does its own moody muckraking with portentous music and CARE-ad visuals, but thanks to Peru’s 2002 truth commission, Yates has tons of declassified video footage, of both Shining Path guerrillas and Fujimori troopers in the process of kidnapping, assaulting, and killing civilians. The pertinent lesson here is how the Peruvian power base, as in Iraq, Chechnya, Turkey, west China, and the Palestinian territories after 9-11, exploited the fact of terror to kick up repression and control by force. In a radical programming call-and-answer, see next week’s Film Forum selection: a doc about Fujimori from his point of view.

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