Lima Under Strict Security for Bush Visit
Terror Concerns Overshadow Trade After Fatal Car Bombing Near U.S. Embassy
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
LIMA, Peru, March 22 -- Peru's capital has gone into a security lockdown
in anticipation of President Bush's arrival Saturday afternoon, less than
72 hours after a
powerful bomb killed nine people and wounded dozens across the street from the U.S. Embassy.
Thousands of police have cordoned off blocks of central Lima. The Peruvian
navy dispatched warships into Callao, Lima's nearby port. Television bulletins
citizens to report all suspicious characters. Even the hang gliders who delight in soaring above Lima's Pacific coast were grounded for the 15-hour presidential visit.
The extraordinary precautions presented a sobering reality for Peru
and the United States in the new global war on terrorism. Saturday's stop
will be Bush's first
official trip to South America and the first ever by a sitting U.S. president to Peru. Yet even here, far from Afghanistan, the issues of security, anti-Americanism and
terrorism rose to the forefront of a visit in which the administration had hoped to spotlight its agenda of free trade and democracy-building in Latin America.
Bush plans to meet with several South American leaders. And in light
of Wednesday's bombing, officials said, terrorism is expected to play an
expanded role in the
talks. U.S. and Peruvian intelligence officials have said the prime suspects in the explosion are guerrillas of the Shining Path, a Maoist underground group that was
largely extinguished in the late 1990s but might now be attempting a resurgence.
Other topics, such as a program to swap debt relief for promises to
protect sensitive environmental zones, seemed likely to be postponed, sources
here said. Security
measures are also likely to hinder Bush's exposure in Peru, where one of a number of planned photo opportunities was canceled for security reasons.
In addition to Peru's President Alejandro Toledo, the regional leaders
with whom Bush is expected to meet include President Andres Pastrana of
country's intensifying, four-decade-long war with guerrillas linked to narcotics traffickers is spilling over into Ecuador, Brazil and Peru, and threatening to draw in
Washington more deeply. The United States has labeled Colombia's leftist guerrillas, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, as terrorists. In turn,
the insurgents have issued recent threats to begin attacking U.S. targets.
Bush is also meeting with President Jorge Quiroga of Bolivia, where
U.S. intelligence and members of the armed forces are deeply involved in
efforts to combat drug
traffickers and eradicate the coca leaf used to make cocaine. Fears are mounting that Bolivia's coca farmers are organizing into armed resistance groups, perhaps
with the aid of Colombian drug lords. Violent clashes with the U.S.-backed government in La Paz have left dozens dead in recent months.
In Peru, a nation of 24 million that suffered through fierce leftist
violence during the 1980s and early 1990s, Wednesday night's attack has
sparked concern that the
Shining Path, the larger and more notorious of two major insurgencies, might be staging a comeback. Although it could take weeks for investigators to sort out who
set the bomb, Peruvian and U.S. authorities say the device -- a 100-pound package of fuel and ammonium nitrate, set off in a fashionable shopping mall across from
the fortress-like U.S. Embassy -- bore the group's signature.
Attacks on Lima had become an almost nightly occurrence before a series
of U.S.-supported military campaigns successfully tracked down and arrested
Path's leader, Abimael Guzman, in 1992.
"The fact that there was a bombing here highlights the fact that terrorism
is a worldwide problem," said Peruvian legislator Luis Gonzales Posada,
head of the Foreign
Relations Committee, who added that the bombing will have "an obvious impact" on the talks between Toledo and Bush. "This attack not only affects Peru, and it is
[in] all of our best interests to join forces in an effort to eliminate terrorism in all its forms."
For Toledo, who assumed the presidency in July after staging a long
pro-democracy crusade that contributed to the fall of former president
Alberto Fujimori, the
bombing represents his toughest challenge since taking office. Fujimori, who is now in political asylum in his parents' native Japan, has been widely discredited for
corruption, electoral fraud and human rights abuses. But he was also seen by many Peruvians as the driving force behind government successes against leftist
guerrillas -- and many Peruvians are already questioning whether Toledo is equally up to the task.
"We need a firm hand, a really firm hand. None of us can accept going
back to those horrible days," said Ramon Minero Suarez, 38, a Lima T-shirt
"Fujimori was strong on terrorism. You had to give him that. But I'm not sure about Toledo. I don't know if he has the guts."
Toledo, whose popularity has been dropping since he took office and
now has a 25 percent approval rating, today asked for special powers from
tighten terrorist laws. He also said he would relaunch a witness protection program for repentant guerrillas and offered a $1 million reward for information leading to
the bombers' capture. He additionally pledged to double the anti-terrorism budget and promised to rebuild Peru's intelligence service, disbanded soon after Fujimori
"Peruvians have been directly hit by terrorism once again," Toledo said. "I will act with a strong hand, but within the law, to not permit the return of violence in Peru."
Special correspondent Lucien Chauvin contributed to this report.