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Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1990

Latin America Overview

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Latin American Regional Overview

The number of international terrorist incidents in Latin America rose to 162 in 1990, higher than any other region. Even so, these figures represent only a small percentage of the total number of terrorist acts committed in Central and South America. In most Latin American countries, the primary targets of guerrillas, narcotics traffickers, and others who engage in terrorism have been domestic -- government and law enforcement officials, opinionmakers, and politicians. This was especially true in Colombia, Peru, and El Salvador where the levels of violence have been extremely high. In Peru, for example, of the more than 3,400 terrorist-related deaths in 1990, only six were of foreigners.

Roughly two-thirds of all anti-U.S. attacks worldwide took place in Latin America, where U.S. citizens and interests were the principal foreign targets of terrorist groups. Various groups have been operating for years in Central and South America and share a radical leftist ideology that, combined with a visible U.S. presence in the region and historical antipathy toward the United States, contributes to the large number of attacks against Americans. Two Americans were killed in 1990 -- one in Peru and one in Panama -- and 31 were wounded. Chile was the most common site of anti-American attacks in Latin America. The number of anti-U.S. attacks there increased from 21 in 1989 to 61 in 1990. Most of these were bombings of Mormon Church facilities in Santiago and other parts of the country.

Although narcoterrorist and guerrilla violence continued to plague Colombia, the number of anti-American incidents fell from 39 in 1989 to 25 in 1990. In Peru, with two murderous insurgent groups -- Sendero Luminoso and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) -- there were 22 anti- American incidents in 1990.


Five of six international terrorist incidents in Bolivia were directed against U.S. interests. Although the investigation continues, virtually no progress was made in the prosecution of Zarate Willka members charged with the 1989 murder of two U.S. Mormon missionaries or the 1988 attack on then Secretary of State George Shultz. The government changed prosecutors five times and had not named a judge to hear the case by year's end.

The Nestor Paz Zamora Commission (CNPZ), a new Bolivian group named after the deceased brother of President Jaime Paz Zamora, conducted its first terrorist attacks in La Paz during 1990. The CPNZ claims to be part of a renovated National Liberation Army (ELN), the group led by Che Guevara during the 1960s. The CNPZ began with the abduction of Bolivian Coca-Cola President Jorge Lonsdale in June, later murdering him in December just as the Bolivian security forces were mounting a rescue attempt. The CNPZ also claimed responsibility for an assault in October on the U.S. Marine house in La Paz that killed one Bolivian guard and wounded another. The group also took credit for a second bomb attack on the same day that destroyed a monument honoring John F. Kennedy.

During 1990 more evidence surfaced pointing to cooperation between Peruvian and Bolivian terrorist groups. The investigation of the Marine house assault revealed that Peru's Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement provided financial support and at least one member to counsel the Bolivian CNPZ terrorists in their operations. Two Sendero Luminoso members were captured in August near the border with Peru.


Terrorism in Chile increased significantly in 1990, notably since the March inauguration of the country's first democratically elected government in 16 years. International terrorist incidents rose from 23 in 1989 to 64 in 1990. Despite the democratic transition, radical leftist Chilean splinter groups remain committed to armed struggle and have been responsible for virtually all of the incidents. The dissident faction of the Communist- affiliated Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (FPMR) and the Lautaro Youth Movement (MJL) have been the primary assailants.

Chile topped the list of nations worldwide where anti-U.S. attacks have occurred, with 61 incidents in 1990. Although most of these have been directed against U.S.-related property, such as Mormon churches and U.S.-Chilean binational centers, two incidents appear to have been intended to cause U.S. casualties. The November bombing of an organized softball game killed a Canadian citizen and severely wounded a U.S. Embassy officer. The bombing of a restaurant during the same month in the coastal city of Vina del Mar seriously injured three U.S. sailors and five other people, including one British tourist. Both incidents were claimed by the dissident faction FPMR/D of the FPMR.

Despite the new government's efforts to address the issue of the repressive policies of the Pinochet regime, leftist Chilean terrorists conducted lethal assaults against former officers in the military government as part of their own campaign. Terrorists received a major boost in January when more than 40 suspected members of the FPMR and FPMR/D staged a mass jail break. Several of the escapees had been involved in the 1986 attempt against Pinochet and presumably have access to arms caches.

The FPMR conducted several acts of domestic terrorism in 1990, including the attempted assassination of former military junta member Gustave Leigh and another general; the murder of a retired Carabinero colonel; and the daytime shooting of an Army officer assigned to General Pinochet's security detail. The MJL continued to conduct armed robberies that, on several occasions, resulted in the deaths of security personnel. In November, Lautaro killed four security personnel in an attack on a hospital aimed at freeing one of their comrades.

The disruption of the internal intelligence apparatus resulting from the democratic transition has hindered the new government's attempts to control terrorism. The National Information Center (CNI), which was responsible for investigating terrorism under the military regime, was disbanded by President Pinochet before he left office. Under President Aylwin, the civilian investigative police have been hampered by an ongoing reorganization aimed at rooting out corrupt elements. To compensate for the disruption in intelligence gathering, the Aylwin government sought to enhance the intelligence capability of the national uniformed police (Carabineros).

As part of its effort to combat terrorism, the new government sought a comprehensive package of legal reforms. These would address the alleged human rights abuses associated with the military jurisdiction and penalties for those accused of terrorist crimes under Pinochet. The government also requested the appointment of special judges to investigate the MJL and the more dramatic acts of terrorism.

The Chilean Government is cooperating with the U.S. Government to resolve the murder of former Chilean Foreign Minister and Pinochet-critic Orlando Latelier and an American associate, Ronni Moffitt, who were killed in a car bombing in Washington, D.C., in 1976. Legislation that permits the transfer of jurisdiction of the case from military to civilian courts was passed by the Chilean Congress in December 1990 and went into effect in February 1991.


Colombia's democratic government faces opposition from active leftist guerrilla groups, well-financed narcotics trafficking organizations, and right wing paramilitary groups. All three use terrorism, primarily against domestic targets.

International terrorist incidents in Colombia declined for the second consecutive year, down from 46 in 1989 to 27 in 1990.

The most significant terrorist attacks in Colombia during 1990 were committed by the loose conglomerate of narcotics traffickers known as the Medellin Cartel. The Cartel and other traffickers, primarily criminally motivated, continued their use of terrorist tactics to hamper government attempts to impede their activities. In August 1989, following a string of political assassinations attributed to the Cartel, the government launched a crackdown. The narcotics traffickers responded with a violent campaign of bombings and assassinations of political figures and policemen that continued until mid- 1990, when the traffickers declared a truce.

Suspected narcoterrorists assassinated the two leading leftist presidential candidates in March and April 1990. In May, narcotics traffickers began a campaign to kill policemen in Medellin, inflicting more than 400 police deaths. Following the August inauguration of President Gaviria, narcotics traffickers focused on kidnapping prominent Colombians, many of whom were journalists. An abducted German journalist was released in late 1990 but, by year's end, the traffickers still held nearly a dozen hostages. One of them, the daughter of former Colombian President Julio Cesar Turbay, was killed in January 1991 during a police attempt to rescue her.

The leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) conducted virtually all of the attacks against U.S. interests in Colombia. To protest President Bush's visit to the Cartagena Summit in February, the ELN kidnapped three U.S. citizens living in Colombia but released them shortly thereafter. Three U.S. petroleum engineers abducted in November in northern Colombia were still in captivity by year's end. The ELN also crossed the border into Venezuela to conduct operations, including the kidnapping of a Venezuelan farmer in January.

The Colombian Government enjoyed significant success during 1990 by continuing its firm policy toward the insurgents, demanding they demobilize before they could participate in the political process. A former M-19 leader, whose rebel group turned in its weapons in March 1990, finished third in the balloting during the nation's Presidential election. Another group, the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), agreed to refrain from military operations and to begin demobilization.

The Colombian armed forces maintained pressure on the two rebel groups-the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia's largest guerrilla group, and the ELN -- that rejected the government's offer to disarm and join the political process. For the first time the military conducted a major assault on the FARC headquarters. In 1990, the Colombian Government also began implementing a judicial reform program it hopes will strengthen the government's ability to convict terrorists.

El Salvador

The number of international terrorist incidents in El Salvador declined from nine in 1989 to two in 1990. This decline is more indicative of terrorist targeting -- the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) has deliberately refrained from targeting foreigners -- than of a decrease in overall political violence in the country.

The FMLN generally adhered to its pledge to halt attacks on civilian officials and the public transportation and telephone systems between March and October 1990. But in the last months of the year, during the rebels' so-called national maneuver, the FMLN consistently caused civilian casualties in attacks on Salvadoran armed forces positions. The group also attacked or sabotaged numerous economic targets of no military significance. The FMLN's indiscriminate use of firepower resulted in more than 100 civilian casualties.

The FMLN carried out numerous attacks on important economic targets. In November, the FMLN conducted more than 100 attacks on the electrical power grid and two on major hydroelectric plants. Terrorist attacks on the electrical power system alone caused more than $10 million in damage. In December, terrorist attacks disabled 10 percent of the country's telephone system.

The FMLN also attacked off-duty military personnel and military targets near civilian areas. Significant FMLN terrorist attacks include a drive-by attack on the home of an Army battalion commander; the assassination of an Army major as he returned from a class at the national university; and a mortar attack on the presidential office complex. In November, the FMLN hurled a bomb at a group of soldiers in San Salvador's crowded central market, wounding nine civilians -- among them four children -- and two soldiers.

Chronic and profound deficiencies in the country's judicial system continued to impede an effective counterterrorist policy during 1990. The government is hard pressed to effectively prosecute any case, whether it be an FMLN terrorist attack -- such as the Zona Rosa killings in 1985 -- military abuses, or even nonpolitical crimes.

The case of Army officers and troops accused of murdering six Jesuit priests and two civilians in 1989 was remanded to trial. Although extrajudicial violence directed against suspected FMLN sympathizers by members of the military acting without official sanction is much less common than in the early 1980s, evidence indicates that such activity has not disappeared.

Military and public security forces kept up their efforts to preempt terrorist and insurgent activity by the FMLN. The armed forces captured more than 1,000 weapons and routinely provided security for many potential terrorist targets. The government also maintained a special counterterrorist unit for dealing with hostage rescue and other terrorist incidents.


Although the incidence of international terrorism rose, from four attacks in 1989 to seven in 1990, it was the escalating domestic political violence that continued to have the most impact on conditions in Guatemala. The three major Guatemalan guerrilla groups struck at many economic and nonmilitary targets, such as policemen, bridges, powerlines, government road repair facilities, telephone equipment, missionary medical facilities, and private farms. Guerrillas attacked an American missionary family living in the countryside, vandalized their home, and stole most of their personal property. Fortunately, none of the family members were injured.

Terrorism by rightwing extremists and members of the security forces also took many victims over the past year. Leftist politicians, students, unionists, journalists, members of human rights groups, and, above all, indigenous rural people suspected of proguerrilla sympathies were assassinated or disappeared. The nation's human rights ombudsman claims security forces were the main perpetrators of this violence. Security forces were suspected of involvement in the murder of a prominent leftwing Salvadoran politician who was visiting Guatemala in May. The government's investigation into the murder reached no credible conclusions.

The military continued its ongoing battle against the guerrillas, losing about 100 soldiers and civil defense members. The government also sought to end guerrilla access to sanctuaries by working more closely with its neighbor, Mexico. In an effort to end the domestic conflict, the government supported informal peace talks between representatives of the guerrillas and various political, economic, and social sectors.


Although the number of international terrorist incidents declined in Honduras from eight in 1989 to two in 1990, the attacks were no less serious. In recent years these incidents have been directed against U.S. interests, often U.S. servicemen. In the most serious attack during 1990, the leftist Morazanist Patriotic Front (FPM) claimed responsibility for the ambush of a U.S. Air Force bus in March that wounded eight airmen, two of them seriously.

The Cubans, Nicaraguan Sandinistas, and Salvadoran FMLN guerrillas continue to support the Honduran Popular Liberation Movement -- Cinchoneros. The FPM is also suspected of receiving Cuban assistance. The FMLN probably continues to use Salvadoran refugee camps in Honduras for infiltrating its guerrillas into El Salvador.

The Honduran Armed Forces conducted sweeps of known guerrilla operating areas during the year. In August, an interdiction team discovered a van carrying concealed weapons at the Nicaraguan border. The van was driven by a French citizen, and the contents of the van indicated that the arms and documents were destined for the FMLN in El Salvador. During the same month, nine Cinchoneros members attempting to rob a bank were killed in an ambush by the Armed Forces. The security forces suffered four fatalities in the firefight.


There were no international terrorist incidents in Nicaragua during 1990. The Sandinista government, which turned over power to the democratically elected government of Violeta Chamorro in April 1990, had supported a number of international terrorist groups during its 10 years in power. This support ranged from public statements in support of specific terrorist actions to allowing Nicaraguan territory to be used as a weapons transshipment route. Nicaragua was also used as a training and organization base for a variety of international terrorist groups. Despite the election of a new government, the Salvadoran FMLN, Basque ETA, and various other groups that have engaged in international terrorism continued to operate in Nicaragua. These organizations established a presence in Nicaragua during the former Sandinista regime and appear to continue to rely on contacts with the Sandinistas, who retain full control of the police and armed forces.

The Chamorro government secured passage of tough legislation forbidding the use of Nicaraguan territory for the purposes of support for foreign subversion. Investigations of reported FMLN support bases in Nicaragua are a sign of government resolve to carry out this policy. However, President Chamorro allowed the FMLN to operate a political office in Managua, and supplies for Salvadoran insurgents continued to originate from or pass through Nicaraguan territory. The Sandinista-controlled military publicly admitted that four of its officers sold surface- to-air missiles to the FMLN without Nicaraguan Government approval.


Since the ouster of General Noriega, most acts of violence in Panama have been attributed to a shadowy M-20 organization, purportedly dedicated to destabilizing the Panamanian Government. There were four international terrorist incidents in 1990. Domestic terrorism has tended to consist of low-level assaults and has included bank robberies, bombings, and threats against government officials.

In the most serious international incident in Panama during 1990, an unidentified individual threw a grenade into a crowded disco in Panama City in March that killed a U.S. service member and injured 15 others. Fourteen Panamanians were also injured in the attack. M-20 claimed responsibility for this attack and for the drive-by shootings at the U.S. Embassy and Marine security guard residence in June. In October, a grenade attack caused some property damage at the Austrian Consulate; the motive and perpetrators remain unknown.

The government has taken steps to end the support provided by the Noriega regime to the Colombian FARC and Salvadoran FMLN. Despite these efforts, FARC reportedly continues to operate in areas where the government has little control, especially near the Colombian border. The government continued to study increased security measures at regional airports in response to the hijacking in mid- 1990 of two Panamanian aircraft, allegedly by Colombian narcotics traffickers.

When an investigation revealed that a ship registered in Panama, the Tiny Star, was used to launch the Palestine Liberation Front's abortive attack on Israel in May, Panamanian authorities withdrew the ship's registration.


The number of international terrorist incidents increased in Peru from 21 in 1989 to 28 in 1990. An even greater cause for concern, the number of politically related deaths in 1990 climbed to more than 3,400 -- surpassing the nearly 3,200 deaths recorded in 1989. Peru also topped the list for foreign fatalities in the region in 1990. As many as six foreigners visiting Peru may have been killed by Sendero Luminoso (SL) during the year. In January, two French tourists traveling in the southern Sierra were taken off a bus and shot by SL. An American was shot near the city of Cuzco in February; his body showed signs of torture. Two British ornithologists were apparently kidnapped and killed by Sendero Luminoso in the northern coca producing Upper Huallaga Valley in June. In November, a Japanese citizen and five other people were killed in Lima's neighboring Junin department, an increasingly dangerous area.

Both Sendero Luminoso and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) conducted terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, mostly property, bombings designed to gain publicity. During 1990, SL detonated explosives at the U.S., Soviet, Chinese, German, and Japanese Embassies. In December, Sendero Luminoso was responsible for a driverless car with a bomb inside that rolled to a stop 100 yards from the U.S. Embassy in Lima and exploded. No injuries or damage resulted.

The leftist MRTA carried out most of the anti-U.S. incidents in 1990 with 11 attacks. It commemorated the group's anniversary in November by conducting a campaign against U.S. targets that included bombings of U.S. businesses, the U.S. Consulate, and a U.S.-Peruvian binational center. The MRTA also detonated a bomb in the park adjacent to the U.S. Ambassador's residence. Immediately after the explosion, five rounds of gunfire struck the residence from a passing vehicle.

Insurgent violence in 1990 continued to expand throughout the country, mostly in rural areas, marking the most violent year since Sendero Luminoso launched its armed struggle in 1980. Terrorist gunmen killed the former Defense, Labor, and Social Security Ministers in Lima. There also was an upsurge in kidnappings of prominent Peruvians by Peru's smaller terrorist group, MRTA.

To combat the wave of political violence, the government expanded the territory under emergency zone status. Constitutional rights are suspended in these zones, and the military is responsible for internal security. Eleven of Peru's 24 departments were under state-of-emergency status during some part of 1990. However, both the military and the police suffer from a lack of adequate supplies, security training, and the coordination necessary to conduct effective counterterrorist operations.

President Fujimori, inaugurated in July, promised new reforms that include speedier trials of terrorist suspects. In December, the President sought a constitutional amendment to permit the trial of accused terrorists in military courts. Prosecution through the civilian courts moves slowly, and both prosecutors and judges have been threatened by terrorist organizations. Between 50 and 75 percent of all accused terrorists in Peruvian prisons have not yet been brought to trial.

After more than two years in court, Osman Morote, SL's number-two leader, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on terrorist charges. He is the most senior terrorist figure to be charged and convicted in Peru since Sendero Luminoso embarked on its violent campaign in 1980. Four other codefendants were sentenced to lesser, but lengthy, prison terms. The trial of MRTA leader Victor Polay was suspended in July when he and more than 40 other suspected MRTA members escaped from jail.

Trinidad and Tobago

Although there were no international terrorist incidents in Trinidad and Tobago during 1990, the government successfully suppressed a coup attempt that included the taking of hostages, including Prime Minister Robinson, in the Parliament and state television facilities. The government is prosecuting 114 members of the Jamaat Al Muslimeen (JAM), a local Muslim group, on charges of treason and murder for its 27 July-1 August attempt to overthrow the government. Several JAM members including its leader, Yasin Abu Bakr, had traveled on several occasions to Libya, one of several occasions to Libya, one of several sources of funding for the Jam.

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