Amid the seeming complacency or incompetence of the government, drug-related violence and criminals acting with impunity are creating an all-too-familiar atmosphere of fear.
A similar sense of absolute defenselessness is increasingly being felt there today. It's not just a matter of mild concern or analysis. We've reached a crisis point in which parents fear that taking their children to dinner or to the circus might endanger their lives (Criminals used grenades and other explosives at a Lima circus in late July, injuring 11 people). Drug cartels and other organized crime engaging in extortion and other violence have driven murder rates in some of Peru's cities to levels similar to the most violent countries in Central America.
These aren't just isolated incidents, and the fear isn't just a perception. Peruvians are living with violence on a daily basis, with increasing frequency — and worse, amid increasing indifference. When murder becomes commonplace, there is the danger of our senses being dulled. In addition, we have to listen to the excuses that make the public seem like idiots, from officials who may well see insecurity as a matter of perception, sitting as they do in highly secured offices.
I'm not speaking of pseudo-political terrorism. Peru is suffering from terrorism that wants — precisely as the word implies — to dominate us through fear being spread by a relentless series of violent acts, followed by chilling and sickening impunity. A bomb attack in a circus one day, and gunmen entering a well-known restaurant in Lima to kill a customer in full view of everyone eating there on another. Gang members recently tried to kill senior staff at a high school, successfully murdering the principal. The students had no idea what had happened, but they were aware there was violence because the pool of blood at the school entrance left little to the imagination.
Then there are the threats commonly delivered by mail, ranging from sending someone a few bullets in an envelope to leaving explosives cartridges at someone's doorstep as reminders of some pending debt or in acts of extortion cooked up inside one of the country's prisons — perhaps that high-security installation where inmates recently enjoyed a tranquil weekend swimming, with barbecued chicken and beer.
And yet the current government insists the raging violence is all mistakenly "fixed" in our minds. What should be done? Bring out the army again, as some suggest? Do people even trust the government to protect their interests? Ordinary Peruvians wonder these days who will defend them, given that state institutions and officialdom seem either incompetent or untrustworthy, or both. The response right now, frankly, is the press. If we don't report crimes and demand solutions, nobody will do anything about the culture of violence.
The aim here is not to be alarmist. The intention is to generate awareness about the public's lamentable vulnerability and the fear that is metastasizing like a vile tumor on society. As the public are kept distracted with gossip and scandals affecting the rich and powerful, the specter of terrorism is once more creeping up around us.