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.”
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. 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…