Inside the walls of the occupied ambassador’s compound, there is no gun-pointing or threatening. Only a routine set up by hostages to stay sane and fit: lectures and debates, card-playing, exercise sessions, toilet-cleaning duty - and sleep.
“There’s conversation, disagreements, discussions. It’s a very special environment, a microclimate,” said Javier Diez Canseco, a Peruvian congressman freed Friday.
Though the two-story house stinks of the unwashed, freed hostages say civilization persists inside its walls, where hostages trade life stories, dreams and jokes.
The Tupac Amaru rebels seized the Japanese ambassador’s residence Tuesday during a diplomatic party. They freed the majority of their hostages since then, winnowing their captives down to a select group of 140 Peruvian and Japanese VIPs.
The roughly 20 young rebels patrol the halls calmly, automatic rifles slung over their backs, politely shooing hostages back into their assigned rooms.
Rebel commander Nestor Cerpa takes every opportunity to preach about the injustice suffered by Peru’s poor, and gets lectured back by a brain pool of people who run embassies, universities and international aid programs.
Nobody even thinks about trying to escape, the freed hostages said.
The rebels told hostages early on that they’d mined the rooms, roof and patio where guests at Ambassador Morihisa Aoki’s cocktail gala dropped their hors d’oeuvres Tuesday night in the lightning rebel takeover.
After the rebels released the women and elderly, the hostages organized themselves. In each crowded room, they elected a governor who delegated the cleaning of bathrooms, the emptying of ashtrays, the collecting and distribution of meals that had to be shared among three to four men.
In some of the plush, carpeted rooms, hostages were assigned a square meter of space after furniture was pushed into corners. In others, they had to sleep in shifts.
Throughout, Ambassador Aoki was everybody’s hero.
“He was all through a tremendous host through what he called ironically the longest cocktail party he’d ever organized,” said Hubert Zandstra, director of the International Potato Center.
The rebels drew such respect from their hostages that some Peruvian press reports suggested they had developed Stockholm syndrome - the unexpected sympathy developed by hostages for their captors.
“I’m not sure if anybody necessarily took sides with the people involved, but I think many people developed some respect for these people,” Metcalfe said.
About half the 225 hostages released Sunday shook hands with the captors as they left, Metcalfe said.
“And, strange as it may seem, I heard many of them wishing them good luck,” he added.