LIMA, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Tashta Ocharutunan, in the department of Ancash, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of Lima, is the name of my family's expropriated farm. It had belonged to the Pretel family since 1913, but then--one day in July 1969--the military came and told my family to leave. My father called me over the telephone. "Son, we have been made poor. We have nothing to eat, not even a sheep or a loaf of bread."
The leftist military junta, which seized power in a coup d'état on October 3, 1968, had promised "to give justice to the poor" by--among other things--carrying out an "agrarian reform." But the reform was limited to expropriating lands and passing them on to untrained, under-capitalized laborers, who--in the end--remained as poor as before. In the process, they managed to reduce the productive potential of the expropriated lands, setting back Peru's relatively modern and highly productive agricultural sector for decades.
In exchange for our 1,626 hectares (4,018 acres) of cultivated land--and stocks, and machinery--the military government gave my family "Bonos de la Deuda Agraria" (land bonds) for 253,000 Soles Oro, which at the time was Peru's currency. The bonds valued the lands and accompanying assets at a fraction of their market price. My father's parting words--before he died--were: "Son. Do not accept payment. It is a vile price."
He need not have worried. Forty-three years later, the bonds issued to my family remain unpaid, and their value has become practically zero thanks to the fraudulent doings of the Constitutional Tribunal--Peru's highest constitutional court-- and the manipulative actions and payment formulas of the Ministry of Finance (MEF).
Strong words? Indeed. And they require some explaining.
Like my grandmother, and my father before me, a large number of expropriated landowners fought the government's expropriations in the country's courts. For years, we questioned--to no avail--the value of the lands as enshrined in the Agrarian bonds. Later, we resigned ourselves to demanding payment. All along, the succeeding governments gave us short shrift, saying the bonds had no value because of all the time passed and the inflation and hyperinflation, which had ravaged the country in the 80's.
But then, on March 15, 2001, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled the bonds to be valid and ordered that they be paid in full, with all the adjustments necessary to restore the purchasing power of the original bonds and to recognize the opportunity cost (interest and arrears) of holding the bonds all these years.
Elated, I visited my father's tomb in Ancash and cried.
Fourteen years later there is still no payment but, alas, at long last there is a payment proposal, described in detail in the Ministry of Finance's decree laws No. 17 and No. 19 of 2014. In my case, I would be paid 0.5 Nuevos Soles per hectare, or about $0.06 per acre, for a grand total 813 Nuevos Soles (about $250) for all of my land -- money which will only be paid as of 2020, at the earliest. The lands' current value? According to recent sales and other data, about $3,000 per hectare, or nearly $5 million for all 1,625 hectares.
How did the MEF manage such alchemy? In July 2013 the judges of the Constitutional Tribunal -- after having carefully considered for over a year a motion to order the government to comply with their 2001 decision --were instructed by the Tribunal President to suddenly disregard a draft proposal that was supported by three judges (and signed by two of them) and to debate instead a "new" proposal -- precisely the one which now provides the legal underpinnings to the MEF's decree laws No. 17 and 19.
Those decrees are plagued with unconstitutional provisions and a payment formula which once again liquefies the value of the bonds. Many people – myself included – believe the Tribunal's ruling was written by MEF staff and--via political arm-twisting--forced upon the magistrates. But among the suspicions is one certainty: the political arm-twisting did not convince all magistrates. One of them, Judge Carlos Mesias, left his signature imprinted on the original opinion which, without his agreement and with the helpful use of white-out, was turned into a dissenting decision.
No matter. Somehow, the Constitutional Tribunal managed to approve the new proposal just 24 hours after it was first presented to the magistrates. The whole thing is a scam. The Constitutional Tribunal's decision is fraudulent and the MEF's payment formula is confiscatory.
But because white-out was used to alter the rulings – which I first discovered while reviewing the files – at least the whole thing is under criminal investigation. And two weeks ago, the secretary of the Constitutional Tribunal was criminally charged with falsification of documents. The charging documents say the President of the Tribunal "could not be disengaged from the acts that took place."
I am now 75 years old. In all likelihood, if the MEF's payment scheme remains unchanged, I will not see justice done during my lifetime. Regardless, I will continue my family's quest for justice, until my very last breath.
Augusto Pretel is a retired Navy captain whose land was expropriated by the Peruvian government.