A third-culture kid (TCK / 3CK) or trans-culture kid is "someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more cultures other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture."


Sunday, November 27, 2011

What is a Guarantor?

Dear friends, I am happy to share with you the second installment of "A Bloody Summer" (Part 2 of 5) brought to you by David Bickford. Enjoy the read:

The Embassy continued to monitor the hostage crisis, which took up an enormous amount of Peruvian political attention and energy, but there was no evidence that negotiations had even begun. Then, in early January, Ambassador Vincent was asked to serve in a personal capacity as one of a Group of Guarantors. With Ottawa’s consent and support, he accepted the role. As the acting foreign minister explained to us, the group was to include Japan (representing Asia), the Vatican (representing Europe), Canada (representing the Americas), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (providing food, water and amenities to the hostages on a daily basis). The Japanese representative opted to be an observer given the large number of Japanese hostages, and the ICRC representative decided to continue to devote his efforts entirely to the care and feeding of the hostages. The Guarantors effectively were limited to Tony Vincent and the Archbishop of Ayacucho, Monsignor Juan Luis Cipriani (representing the Vatican), although the Japanese representative, Terusuke Terada (Japanese ambassador in Mexico) provided much wise counsel.

Left to Right: Tony Vincent, Monsignor Cipriani, Domingo Palermo, Michel Minnig and Terusuke Terada

The mandate of the Group of Guarantors, as initially stipulated by the Peruvian government, was to be present when the terrorists laid down their arms, released the hostages and left the residence for a safe haven. They were not to be present during negotiations. The Guarantors argued successfully, that they could guarantee the implementation of an agreement if they had not been party to the negotiations. The Peruvian government reluctantly agreed with this point of view, and the guarantors discovered at their first meeting between the government and terrorists that negotiations had not yet started, and that the terrorists were becoming nervous about the unwillingness of the government to discuss their demands.

In order to kick-start negotiations, the Guarantors began to introduce ideas and to stimulate discussion in order to clarify positions and build at least a small measure of confidence. The Guarantor’s role moved from passive observer to facilitator, and eventually to mediator. As part of that process, I got to lead a sub-group to visit the MRTA leadership incarcerated in high-altitude, maximum-security prisons – scary, but that is another story.

To digress slightly, at some point in their career, diplomats receive training in “negotiating skills”. I had completed such a course several years before, and dug out the course material and my notes to see whether there was any inspiration there. It was a depressing exercise since, in this instance, none of the criteria for a successful negotiation were present: There was, inter alia, no willingness on either side to negotiate, no flexibility in positions, no mutual confidence, and on the terrorist side no clear understanding of what they really wanted. At times, they demanded the release of all their comrades from jail, at others better health, food and visits privileges, at others just the release of their key leaders. The Guarantors attempted, unsuccessfully, to convince the terrorists that the release of their leadership was a non-starter, and they should lower their expectations.

I had talked with hostage rescue experts from a number of countries, including our own, and the consensus was that an armed assault on the Japanese residence would be extremely costly in human lives, since the building was large, with many rooms and hostages and captors were spread throughout the building. A major factor was that the MRTA regularly practiced their routine for responding to such an attack – which essentially meant killing as many of the hostages as possible before being overwhelmed. The view was that if the takeover could be accomplished in under 3 minutes, 50% of the hostages would become casualties, 50% of the remaining hostages would die within the next 3 minutes, and so on. If the operation lasted more than 12 minutes, it was likely that all the hostages would be dead or wounded.

Peruvian police coaxing the terrorists keeping watch

The Guarantors believed that the only conceivable favourable outcome was a negotiated exit strategy. All efforts were made to ensure such a conclusion, but as the months passed, very little progress was made. Meetings between the government and the terrorists were few and pro forma, accomplished little. In consequence, the Guarantors spent more of their time in the Japanese residence attempting to make the terrorists listen to reason and urging the hostages to keep calm and not provoke their captors. In this, the Guarantors were more successful. Moral remained relatively high among the hostages, there were few instances of confrontation between the hostages and terrorists, and a form a reverse Stockholm syndrome emerged - several of the young (15 to 16 years of age) and impressionable terrorists were awed by being the presence of ministers, generals and ambassadors and saw them as role models.

In the meantime, the Peruvian army was digging tunnels under the residence

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Bloody Summer

This weekend, I am proud to share a very special blog entry with you all that my father, David Bickford, has generously contributed. These are his accounts of the Japanese Embassy hostage crisis. He was the Political Councillor at the Embassy of Canada in Lima, Peru from 1995 to 1999. Enjoy the read of A Bloody Summer (Part 1 of 5):

By December 1996, many of us believed that terrorist activity in Lima was on the wane. Attacks on police stations, bombings and car bombs were less frequent, and crime with violence appeared to be a more potent threat to our families’ security. Thus, terrorism was not at the front of my mind when I received a call in the evening of December 17 to inform me that Ambassador and Mrs Vincent were in some way victims of a terrorist occupation of the Japanese residence. Thus began the longest cocktail party in human history, or what one Peruvian newspaper later described as “The Bloody Summer.”

India and Israel's Ambassadors flanking the hosts

Not really knowing what was happening, as the number 2 at the Embassy, I called colleagues from the staff, and we sped to the Embassy to open up the office and a channel with Ottawa as well as to try to gather information on what had occurred at the Japanese residence. It soon became clear that Tony and Lucie Vincent were being held captive by an MRTA terrorist cell along with well over 600 other Peruvian and foreign dignitaries. At about midnight all of the women and some of the older guests were released, leaving perhaps 350 inside. At about 2:00 in the morning, I received a telephone call from a calm and collected Tony Vincent, to debrief me on what was happening in the residence. He had borrowed someone’s cell phone and we talked with the sound of snoring in the background. Tony informed me that, beyond himself, there were three other Canadians among the hostages. With four Canadian lives at risk, this became essentially a consular crisis for the Embassy – everything else was subordinated to the task of ensuring that these Canadians emerged unscathed. None of us slept that night.

The next afternoon Tony was released as part of a commission to present the terrorists’ demands to President Fujimori. I was near the front of the Japanese residence at that time, and it was a huge relief to see him emerge, tired and dishevelled but unharmed. For the next 24 hours, Tony made repeated attempts to meet with Fujimori, but his efforts had been rebuffed. At this point, Fujimori clearly wanted to devise and put a strategy in place before receiving any communiqué from the terrorists.

Minister Tudela surrounded by the MRTA

That evening Tony told me that he would be going back into the Japanese residence to inform the terrorists that he had not been successful in his task, but that he would continue his efforts. While the two of us got along well, this time we argued. I told him not to go back in – who knows whether he would be allowed to leave again. He persisted, and I told him to send in a written status report with the Red Cross. He refused, and I asked him why he was so insistent about going back in. “Because I gave my word” he replied[1]. Again, I argued that we were dealing with unpredictable terrorists, and one didn’t have to keep his word to such people. He again insisted, and while I didn’t agree with what he was doing, I appreciated his courage and desire to help ensure the safety of many of his colleagues and friends. I watched him go into the residence with a mixture of emotions: fear and apprehension that he wouldn’t be coming out alive; and pride that the Canadian foreign service had produced someone like him. I don’t think I took a full breath until he emerged some 30 minutes later.

Over the next few days, Tony was able to deliver the MRTA’s terms to the government’s “interlocutor” for negotiations with the terrorists, and all the other Canadian hostages had been released. With terms delivered and all Canadians now safe, I heaved a sigh of relief and thought that our direct involvement in the crisis was over. Little did I know…

[1] For more on this, see David Goldfield’s book “The Ambassador’s Word”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Japanese Embassy Hostage Crisis

The ambience of diplomatic cocktail parties is very glamorous. The guest list includes the usual suspects: high-ranking foreign dignitaries representing each and every international mission in the country, senior business executives from companies with stakes in the local market, and the who’s who of the domestic political and business elite. Everyone pulls out their best attire, including the military attaches looking very official with all their colourful medals. Every country is subtly recommended to send the senior most people possible from within their ranks as kindling fueling the flames of an amicable relationship. Brian and I both had the pleasure of suiting up for some of these fine occasions, which helped to refine our networking skills and proudly represent our youth to the highest possible standard. These fancy shin-dings are usually held to celebrate important events such as national days or in this case, the Emperor Akihito of Japan’s 63rd birthday on December 17, 1996 at the official Japanese residence.

Japanese Ambassador Aoki and his wife Naoko greet Francisco Tudela

On that Tuesday evening, Brian and I were rocking out in the living room enjoying some quality mind-numbing American television programming – we had the major networks on Cable Magico transmitting from Denver, Colorado – while Maman was stuck correcting exams as her deadline for handing in her students’ end of semester marks approached. Dad’s mobility had been somewhat limited due to contracting a treacherous stomach flu, needing to remain at close proximity of his trustworthy white porcelain friend. No need to delve into further detail there. He was the number two in our Embassy and was scheduled to attend the function that evening however, due to his condition at the time, he honourably bowed out. Our Ambassador Anthony Vincent and his wife, Lucie, were the only fine members of our corps showing their friendly faces on behalf of our country. Aside from them, many of my friends from school’s parents were there as guests, sharing the memorable occasion as a sign of respect to the Japanese. The people from the land of the rising sun were also blessed with the presence of some of President Alberto Fujimori’s family (all very active in the political world), members of his cabinet and government. Now that’s what I call an A-list.

The lavish soiree was eventually halted by the wrong kind of bang. A most unwelcome and unexpected bang shifting to a rather molotovesque ambiance. An explosion on one of the rear walls of the residence announced the rapid entrance of 14 members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (commonly referred to as MRTA), crashing the party with Nestor Cerpa Cartolini at the helm. As Tim “The Toolman” Tailor’s antics on Tool Time entertained Brian and I, Dad came running down the stairs dressed in his work attire, followed by Maman walking swiftly behind him to see him off. Ambassador Vincent’s driver, Segundo, had called him to let him know some inexplicable event had unfolded. My brother and I wondered what had occurred as there had not been enough time to tell us or to draw significant conclusions. Our mother rushed to us, asking us to turn to the local news channel. As the good sons we were, we complied only to witness live coverage from San Isidro – an upscale Lima neighbourhood – with no real tickers explaining developments as commonly observed on CNN showing all sorts of obscure live footage. Suddenly we saw military vehicles, a Peruvian version of the elite American SWAT team and other security forces taking over the streets amidst an air full of tear gas and shots rifled through the air. It seemed that even the media had no idea what was going on, except for an explosion having gone off. The locals were all very familiar with bombs and violence, but thought that the days of terrorism were long gone after defeating the Shining Path.

After hours of watching and no news update from Dad, the situation was crystal clear. This was a hostage crisis. My father was at the Embassy in Miraflores, organizing a crisis centre to keep in the loop and act as a channel for Ottawa. He brought in the RCMP attaché, security and consular staff with others on standby if need be. They were bracing for everything and anything. My first reaction was to thank God for my father’s stomach flu and my mother’s work. Otherwise, they would have been there without a doubt. Then my mind turned to the diversity of the school’s population and my friends. Actually, even those who I just knew existed. Damn! Maybe they had parents in there! What was going to happen to them? Would they ever see their parents again? Would the terrorists execute one of them to demonstrate to the Peruvian government that this was a serious outfit? Every scenario usually witnessed in a suspenseful Hollywood action movie seemed possible. Surely, this never would have happened in Canada.

Canadian Ambassador Anthony Vincent as he was released

As the clock struck 2:00 AM, the first hostages were released. These were primarily women and older guests. Among the women was none other than Alberto Fujimori’s mother who could have been a major bargaining chip. This was a significantly male-driven society, similarly to its South American neighbours, therefore it was impossible to conceive that any female hostage could be a potential strategic asset. Within twenty-four hours, our Ambassador Anthony Vincent was released along with Heribert Woeckell of Germany, Alcibiades Carokis of Greece (these last two fleeing Peru on the first available flight after their return to freedom) and Armando Lecaros, of the Peruvian Foreign Ministry at the time. The MRTA released them in the condition they would take their various demands to President Fujimori to begin a negotiation process. The Peruvians held strongly to their conviction of not negotiating with terrorists, and Vincent and Lecaros were continuously turned away by the closed door of the head of state’s office. It was hardly a time to breathe easy as 300 men were left and their lives were still in the balance. A good few weeks later, this number was reduced to 72 who would be in this for the long haul. Some of my buddies such as Kensuke Kobayashi and Jorge Gumucio were going to have to wait in suspense to find out if their fathers were ever going to return home safely.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Making Friends And Drinking In Moderation

After returning from my Incan adventure, I was ready to tackle yet again another year of high school in Lima. Not only was it another year, but it was my last one. Brian would be heading to Canada for post-secondary education and I was only three years behind him. I would be stuck doing my Grade 13 back home. I had finished my previous year on a solid footing, including an excellent performance in my English, an accomplishment I was very proud of. My teacher had been Mrs. Barbara Walker, a lovely woman from Minnesota who had applauded my skills and learning curve, especially realizing it was my first time reading and writing in this language. She had recommended me to Advanced English for Grade 10, but for some reason that teacher did not want me in her class. Algebra with Mr. Daniel Brenig was awesome, and I would be in his Geometry class this year. Awesome again. Honours Biology was a result of having done well in Physical Science with Ms. Zalecki and History, my all-time favourite subject-matter was now Peru-Latin American History. The road was paved for a very exciting academic year.

Brian, Maman, myself and Dad on Canada Day, 1996

Aside from that, I had also earned my respect guaranteeing my own safety and sense of belonging among my peers. No one messed with me and I didn't get involved elsewhere. Over the summer, I had added to my gang Glen Swanson, a Guatemalan-Canadian kid who had lived in Peru most of his life when I met him. His father was from British Columbia and worked for a Canadian NGO. We found a connection when I came to the school campus during the end-of-year break, bored out of my mind, looking to play some basketball. Basketball seemed to be a very unifying sport at this time in my life. We hung out over the summer at his father's office, quite close to my house, and played games on the office computer. During those visits to his patriarch's workplace, we discovered the wonderful world of E. Wong - the widely popular and only supermarket franchise when we arrived - and the food samples. We used our coins to play arcade games there, especially Cruisin' USA. You could choose from a decent range of vehicles and I preferred the school bus. There you have to race through traffic jams and you have pedals, a steering wheel and a gear shift. It was a great introduction into how not to drive.

Back to school now. My Grade 10 English class was with Ms. Barbara Brough, a Canadian from Odessa, Ontario - if you are not familiar with it, it is a town of 10 houses across the highway from Amherstview, west of Kingston, a real hotspot. In this class, there was a kid everyone referred to as Crack, but named Sebastian Olivares. This kid was born in Peru but grew up in Oaklahoma, USA. There were many questions about how he got his nickname but apparently, the true version, is that he came to soccer practice wearing a fancy kit but was terrible at the sport. Some also said that he used to bend over frequently, exposing his but crack. I, personally, had the pleasure of never seeing his butt crack. In the beginning, I remember he was slightly unpleasant with me but I couldn’t have cared less. He was shorter than my mother who is about 5' 2" so I did not feel threatened. I believe, still to this day that he had always looked up to Glen but as soon as he realized we were friends, he suddenly changed his opinion about me and began hanging out with me. Students of every age seemed to push this kid around, punch him and shove him around as he was small and defenseless. I think I was the only one who never got involved in that, as I was never one to go with the flow. Eventually, he caught on to this and I told him he should stick up for himself. After all, it worked for me even though it was rather unexpected.

Another friend who got thrown into the mix was William Erickson. Erickson and Crack were Glen's roller hockey buddies and eventually became good friends of mine, like Alejandro, Glen and Kensuke. William was a very quiet American kid, even more shy than I was. I couldn't believe it. I would try talking to him when he would sit and join us, but he would look away and not even answer. I couldn't understand if I was cool with him or not for the longest time. There was also Miguel Peschiera who had spent some time in the US and I had Biology with him. I got to know him that year, having become lab partners and working on some projects together. He was a really friendly kid and his family was adorable. I remember once being there for dinner with his parents, his older brother and his younger sister and they were all really chatty and curious about my country and my family. I think his father had a government job or something of the kind, so perhaps they were well schooled in protocol and manners. I almost felt at home but with a Peruvian-American spin. There was also Melor Mokhtar (better known in the inner circle as Mel), the daughter of the Malaysian Ambassador who became one of the best friends I have ever had. She grew up living a similar life to mine so we could relate on many levels. Even more, she was born the day after my birthday. She was my sister from a different continent. Well, she still is. These guys really made Peru for me. Looking back at our lunches on our every-day picnic table, it was a real potpourri of cultures, coming together and having fun. I know to this date these guys would still do anything for me if I ever needed them and I hope they know it is reciprocal.

Erickson, myself, Alejandro, Glen, Crack and Mel in the middle

Our out-of-school hangouts are still treasured memories. Generally, we would get together at someone's house on a Friday night - a sacred ritual that no one dared to break - and we would play video games or watch movies all night. This was also a period that saw an introduction to alcohol. It is a taboo subject in North America where society does not seem to have evolved much from the temperance movement, unlike Peru who never stumbled into these dark ages. However, we never did this hiding from our parents or anyone. It was completely normal for teenagers to enjoy a few beers. Beer and Domino's Pizza. Later, we discovered the British pub – I kid you not! I can't recall any time where we got drunk or drank to get drunk. Other kids did in fact use and abuse as a weekend ritual, something that could be easily noticed on Monday mornings. This freedom allowed us to learn to enjoy drinking socially and to understand limits, something I think is lacking in North America. There, people are magically introduced to drinking when they are "independent" as they go off to college and mommy and daddy are no longer around to ground them. If you are raised in responsibility and moderation, you will observe less abuse. Europe leads by example on this. Those who abuse and behave violently often are attempting to bury serious personal issues. We opted for a healthy life, including lots of sports including softball, basketball and soccer.