The world's longest cocktail party Hostages: Marxist rebels crashed the Japanese ambassador's cocktail party Dec. 17. And now, nearly three months later, his VIP guests are sending out their laundry and cleaning the toilets.

Sun Journal

March 15, 1997|By Laurie Goering | Laurie Goering,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

LIMA, Peru -- They order out for pizza, jog laps around the house, take French lessons and write letters home twice a week. If it weren't for the guerrillas with an unsettling habit of playing catch with grenades, the 72 hostages at the Japanese ambassador's mansion might seem to be at some offbeat retreat.

Nearly 12 weeks after they went off to a cocktail party and were taken hostage, the captives of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement are making do in conditions that -- while far from ideal -- could be a lot worse.

Accustomed to more comfortable lifestyles, they sleep on foam mattresses on the floor, in rooms shared by handfuls of other snoring men. Congressmen must clean toilets. Judges collect the trash, and generals bathe from buckets.

"It's not easy for them. The situation constantly changes," says Steven Anderson, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which manages the supply line that has kept the hostages fed, clothed and even entertained for almost three months.

By all accounts, the VIP hostages have not fared badly. For a world accustomed to seeing hostages bound, blindfolded and beaten, the standoff in Peru has seemed at times almost civilized. As days have run into weeks and weeks into months, routines have developed at the block-long mansion, an attempt to order a life without a clear future.

Days start at 6 a.m. with bread, cheese and coffee, brewed from thermoses of hot water brought in by the Red Cross the night before. For lunch and dinner the hostages receive hot meals -- Peruvian or continental cuisine for most, Japanese specialties for the Japanese businessmen.

"They're not eating the same things every day, though I have to say the Japanese food looks the same to me," Anderson says. Tempted by the novelty of the Japanese fare, the Tupac Amaru '' hostage-takers have sampled it themselves and declared it tasty, former hostages report.

Like anyone put on what Anderson describes as a "balanced diet, with not too much fat or cholesterol," the hostages themselves have occasionally rebelled. Twice in recent weeks they've talked the Red Cross into sending out for pizza.

Other treats have arrived as well. Cookies made by one hostage's family for his birthday were brought in and shared, even with the captors. Another family has sent empanadas, traditional Latin American meat pies.

Books and compact discs have arrived as gifts. In a recent round of Red Cross deliveries, hostages each received a favorite book from home and a batch of compact discs, mainly of popular and folk music, to play on the battery-powered portable CD player with speakers provided by Peru's government.

The residence's television sets have been dark since the government cut power there weeks into the crisis.

For three young guerrillas, who became addicted to soap operas in the early days of the standoff and threatened half-heartedly to shoot hostages who changed the channel, the lack of television has been a strain.

But for the hostages, the blackout has been something of a relief. "Frankly, it was unnerving to watch the news," one former hostage says.

For the musically inclined, the Red Cross has provided two guitars, and candlelight sing-alongs have become a regular evening activity.

Dominoes, backgammon and board games such as Monopoly have been hauled in, along with boxes of books chosen to avoid military and guerrilla themes.

Japanese businessmen among the hostages have launched efforts to learn Spanish from their fellow hostages. The Spanish-speakers, in turn, are learning Japanese. To help out, Swiss members of the Red Cross have added French lessons to the mix.

The captives, who include Supreme Court justices, congressmen, generals and captains of Japanese industry, also are giving lectures on their specialties.

Even current news is available, thanks to transistor radios. The sports sections of the local daily papers -- though not the forbidden news pages -- arrive every morning.

On Monday and Friday mornings, the hostages write letters home, on half-page forms provided by the Red Cross. Forbidden to reveal strategic details of their captivity, the hostages cram the forms with loving wishes, hints of tales they hope to tell one day and the small requests of powerful men now powerless to do the simplest things on their own.

"Please close carefully all the windows in my room so a lot of dust doesn't get in," Juan Julio Wicht, a Jesuit held captive, begs his fellow priests in one note. Others list bank transfers to make, or suggest where wives might find missing keys.

Increasingly, hostages have turned their notes into laundry lists: Send that favorite blue shirt, please, and a pair of pajamas but please no starch in the underwear.

Perhaps to raise spirits at home, they recently asked for dress shirts, a sign that many hope the crisis will end soon.

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