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Roots of the Peruvian hostage crisis

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The unfolding hostage drama in Peru is only one symptom of a disorder now spreading through large portions of Latin America. From Mexico to Colombia to Peru insurgencies are gaining strength. Behind this instability is a widening gap between rich and poor – particularly between Native Americans and the descendants of European and Asian immigrants.;;In the developing world as a whole, the poorest 20 percent of the population receives 7 percent of total income. In Latin America, the poorest 20 percent gets only 3 percent of total income, according to the United Nations Development Program.;;Poverty in Latin America is strongly linked to ethnicity, particularly to Native Americans. Latin American countries were formed by conquests of the native peoples; where native peoples were more numerous and less easily overwhelmed, the eventual outcome was a highly stratified and polarized society.;;Thus, it is no coincidence that new or revived insurgencies arise in Mexico and Peru, the homelands of the Aztecs, the Mayas and the Incas, nor that much of Colombia is in the hands of rebel groups.;;In part, the widening gaps can be attributed to the political and economic reforms in the region. These modernizing measures are working well in Chile and even in Argentina, precisely because these are countries with fairly homogenous, Euro-American populations.;;But they are failing miserably in densely populated rural Peru, southern Mexico and Colombia, because they undermine traditional means of subsistence, without offering alternatives in modernizing sectors of the economy. Native farmers losing their livelihood either to cheap foreign imports or to increased competition for exports now grow coca and are happy to accept the protection of guerrilla organizations.;;Like many other Latin American armies, the Peruvian military is in fact a militarized domestic police force. Its mission is to maintain domestic order in a country whose native majority continues to be subjected to poverty, racial and cultural discrimination and official violence.

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