This Week in History: December 13-19

25 years ago: the Tupac Amaru hostage crisis in Peru

On December 17, 1996, 14 members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) took 72 hostages at the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru. Inspired by the Cuban revolution and based on a perspective of petty-bourgeois nationalism, the guerrilla movements played a dismal role in the class struggle in virtually all parts of Latin America, and the hostage crisis of 1996 did not only highlighted the impasse of these guerrilla movements. as a form of struggle.

The MRTA seized the residence of the Japanese ambassador in order to pressure Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori to release the imprisoned members of the group, to obtain ransoms and to protest against the treatment of the impoverished population of the country. .

Peruvian soldiers during the siege of the embassy

The Fujimori regime was one of the most despotic in all of Latin America. He ruled Peru largely by emergency decree, while continuing a campaign of counterinsurgency that has left thousands dead. Hailed as a model for the structural reform programs developed by the International Monetary Fund, the Peruvian economy has created super profits for foreign capital and a thin layer at the top of Peruvian society, while reducing the broad masses to misery. .

The MRTA made no appeal for popular support. Described by the media as “Marxist guerrillas,” his methods and policies had nothing in common with Marxism. Isolated from the working class, the armed actions of the MRTA were a form of protest aimed at influencing, rather than overthrowing, the Fujimori regime.

The MRTA was founded in 1983 by three factions: the Revolutionary Socialist Party, a group from the former “left” military junta of General Velasco; the MIR, a Castro group from the petty-bourgeois nationalist party APRA; and a faction of the Stalinist Communist Party.

The first group promoted the revolutionary pretensions of the “progressive” generals, the second advocated the actions of guerrilla bands in the countryside, and the third gave their loyalty to the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow. What all of these factions shared was their conviction that a force other than the working class would be the vehicle for social struggle in Peru.

The 126-day siege ended in a bloodbath when the military stormed the residence in February 1997.

50 years ago: Nixon announces major devaluation of the US dollar

On December 18, 1971, the US dollar was devalued by 8.57% against other currencies. The devaluation was part of the “Nixon shock” of economic measures that came with the end of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates based on dollar-to-gold convertibility. The devaluation, along with other measures such as the wage freeze, were intended to put the cost of the global economic crisis on the working class and protect corporate profits.


The specific terms of the devaluation were decided at a meeting of the “Group of Ten” countries that met in Washington. There, Nixon met with leaders from Japan, Canada, France, the UK, and other Western European countries. After the deal was struck, Nixon described the reunion of the world’s capitalist powers as “the most important monetary deal in the history of the world.”

In addition to the declining value of the dollar, the United States agreed to remove the 10% import surcharge that Nixon imposed earlier this year, during the official demolition of Bretton Woods announced on the 15th. August 1971. The new official gold price rose from $ 35 per ounce to $ 38, the first price increase since 1934.

Other currencies also underwent revaluation during the meeting. The Japanese yen appreciated 16.88%. The British pound and the French franc have not had an official revaluation of their currencies with respect to the purchasing power of gold, but the devaluation of the United States resulted in a 7.89% increase in their currency. value against the dollar.

The value of the West German mark rose 12%, while the Italian pound and Swedish krona fell slightly by around 2%. It was decided that the Canadian dollar would continue to “float,” meaning that the Canadian central bank would not set a fixed exchange rate and that the value of the Canadian dollar would change according to market conditions.

In his comments on the devaluation, Nixon said the move was in line with his efforts “to restore national wage and price stability productively.” In other words, the Nixon administration was doubling down on its commitment to enforce acceleration, unemployment and wage freezes against the American workforce.

The revaluation of the dollar was a concession by the United States to other world economies to temporarily prevent a major economic collapse. The economic crisis was fundamentally stimulated by the decline in the United States’ global economic position as the post-war period drew to a close and industrial economies like Germany and Japan had recovered and were become competition from the United States.

75 years ago: the Vietnamese resistance launches the battle of Hanoi

On December 19, 1946, Vietnamese independence forces, led by the Communist Party, launched a daring raid in Hanoi against French troops seeking to reconsolidate colonial rule.

Vietnamese soldier fighting the French in the rubble of Hanoi

During World War II, Japan had taken control of Vietnam, then known as Indochina, a larger entity encompassing present-day Laos and Cambodia, displacing the former colonial power, France. With the defeat of Japan, French imperialism aided by Britain sought to reestablish its domination. Vietnamese Stalinist leader Ho Chi Minh had been involved in a series of maneuvers trying to win the favor of the American and French imperialists.

Peace talks between French and Vietnamese independence forces collapsed in late November when sections of the French army seized a minor incident as a pretext for the bombing of the coastal town of Haiphong.

The Vietnamese campaign to take control of Hanoi was aimed at demanding retaliation for this massacre and came as the prospect of a negotiated settlement grew distant. Vietnamese fighters escaped French guards patrolling the city, detonating explosives at its main power station. This action plunged Hanoi into darkness. Vietnamese guerrilla forces sought to capitalize with surprise attacks on French positions throughout the city.

Over the next few days, the French would use their superiority in arms and trained soldiers to regain control of Hanoi. This included the bombardment of parts of the city and brutal house-to-house searches and raids. More than 500 casualties were inflicted in the fighting, as the battle was part of a series of events that would plunge Vietnam into decades of war, as independence fighters clashed with imperialist powers.

100 years ago: the treaty of the four powers is signed

On December 13, 1921, Britain, France, Japan and the United States signed the Four Powers Treaty which helped establish a new status quo in the Western Pacific in the aftermath of World War I and the United States. defeat of German imperialism.

Much of the Four Powers Treaty was aimed at maintaining the integrity of the island possessions of each power in the region. Taiwan, for example, was a possession of Japan and the Philippines of the United States. The treaty also sought to limit the territorial expansion of the great powers.

Washington Naval Conference

On December 12, the United States and Japan signed the Treaty of Yap which attempted to resolve American concerns over the control of submarine cables, then the primary form of militarily secure intercontinental communications, off the small island of Pacific of Yap, a former German possession which had been mandated to Japan by the League of Nations. The United States, which was not a member of the League of Nations, was granted the rights of a member in the mandated territories.

The treaties were negotiated at a major conference dominated by the great powers, the Washington Naval Conference in Washington DC, from November 1921 to February 1922 under the auspices of the League of Nations. China, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands also participated. The main objective of the conference was to prevent or reduce a naval arms race in the Pacific, particularly by Britain, Japan and the United States. The Washington Naval Conference is described in bourgeois diplomacy as the first successful arms control conference in history, despite the outbreak of the imperialist war in the Pacific in 1941.

Other treaties reached at the conference placed limits on the naval tonnage of imperialist powers, satisfied Japanese interests in Manchuria and China, and continued the American open-door policy in China that allowed American influence in what was to come. at the time a semi-colonial country with many regional warlords vying for influence.

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