Related topics

Peruvians happy crisis is over, but poor feel sympathy for dead rebels

April 25, 1997

Lima, PERU (AP) _ The man who held Peru captive for four months is buried on a remote hill in a sprawling cemetery in Lima’s southern slums. A small black cross scrawled with the name ``Nestor Cerpa″ juts from the rocks and dirt above him.

Alberto Vuocc, the ditch digger at the Virgen de Lourdes cemetery, said Friday that Cerpa’s aunt, Irma Cartolini, came to watch the casket placed into a hastily dug trench the previous evening.

The six soldiers who carried the coffin asked him to help. He said they joked that the body ``was heavy from all the lead.″

Cerpa and his 13 comrades died Tuesday when Peruvian commandos stormed the Japanese ambassador’s mansion to end the four-month hostage crisis. The rebels’ bodies were riddled with bullets, and news reports suggested some may have been shot down as they tried to surrender.

On a day when President Alberto Fujimori’s government carried out elaborate funerals for the two commandos and one hostage killed in the raid, the rebels’ bodies were buried Thursday in simple graves without ceremony or mourners.

The families of the rebels were not allowed to arrange funerals _ or even open the coffins to see the bodies. And they were not permitted to have autopsies performed.

The family of Roli Rojas, Cerpa’s right-hand man, was only allowed to watch as soldiers buried him. They weren’t allowed to see the body or conduct the burial according to Roman Catholic custom.

Rojas’ mother barely had time to utter a brief prayer before the casket was put in an above-ground burial chamber.

``Son, you will always be in our hearts,″ Maria Fernandez said, according to La Republica newspaper. ``Nobody will be able to kill you.″

Cerpa’s funeral was even simpler _ the soldiers dropped the coffin in the trench, waited for it to be covered with dirt and left. Cartolini said she had to fight to get them to scrawl Cerpa’s full name on the small cross.

On Friday, she returned and climbed the hill to the grave with four other relatives to pray for all those killed in the raid.

Most Peruvians consider the raid a stunning success _ all but one of the 72 hostages were pulled to safety _ and Fujimori’s approval ratings skyrocketed. But for Peru’s impoverished majority, sympathy for the 14 poor rebels killed in the attack tempered their relief at the end of the grueling siege.

One hostage, Supreme Court Justice Carlos Giusti, and two soldiers were killed in the rescue that ended a standoff that began when Tupac Amaru rebels ambushed a Dec. 17 cocktail party at the diplomatic residence. All the rebels were killed.

Desperate family members of a few rebels rushed from the military morgue to cemeteries throughout the capital as authorities quickly and unceremoniously buried their loved ones. Relatives of the other rebels live in jungle villages far from the capital.

A poll conducted in Lima one day after the rescue showed the city’s poor, while happy that the siege had ended and impressed by Fujimori’s leadership, were moved by the deaths of the young rebels at the hands of 140 elite troops.

According to the survey by Apoyo, a Lima polling firm, 55 percent of poor respondents were upset that the rebels died in the assault. Just 33 percent of their wealthy neighbors shared their concern. The poll had a margin of error of five percentage points.

Julio Quispe, a 56-year-old man who makes his living washing cars, said he was angered by the raid.

``They said we would never see a military intervention, but that’s what they did. They are liars,″ he said. ``A human being feels for another human being. They blew them to bits.″

Enrique Ventura, 32, a Lima shoeshiner, said it was important to remember that most of the hostage-takers were young and poor.

``They got involved in this because they didn’t have any money,″ he said.

But few well-off Peruvians voiced similar sympathy for the hostage takers or their families.

``The only thing regrettable is the death of Giusti and the soldiers,″ said Armando Borda, a 47-year-old bank employee. ``Terrorists cannot be permitted to blackmail the Peruvian state.″

Church leaders urged the elated Peruvians not to lose sight of lives lost in the rescue _ including the rebels.

``We shouldn’t be cheerful, but rather mourn the deaths of these 14 misguided people,″ Cardinal Augusto Vargas said at a memorial service. ``We can’t be happy that there was no opportunity to win them over with love.″

Update hourly