Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

PERU: Shining Path Leaders Back in the Dock

Angel Páez

LIMA, Sep 30 2005 (IPS) - Like a pair of lovers in their twilight years, Abimael Guzmán and Elena Iparraguirre, the number one and two leaders of the Maoist rebel group Shining Path in Peru, were briefly reunited Thursday, thanks to a terrorism retrial that started this week.

Presiding Judge Pablo Talavera allowed the two to sit just one seat apart, but they were prohibited from speaking to each other during the trial, which opened Monday at the Callao Naval Base near the capital.

Twenty-five years after the launch of the armed struggle they led in the Peruvian Andes and 13 years after their capture in a middle-class residence in Lima, Guzmán and Iparraguirre, along with another 22 members of the Shining Path leadership, are being tried for “aggravated terrorism”, murder and various crimes against the state.

According to the independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), which documented the political violence in Peru between 1980 and 2000, the Shining Path “was the main perpetrator of human rights crimes and violations” in the 1980s.

Most of the guerrilla group’s victims were poor campesinos (peasant farmers) and indigenous people, the very sectors it claimed to be defending in the Maoist-inspired “people’s war” it waged from 1980 to 1992.

The defendants in the trial include Shining Path’s third in command Oscar Ramírez, better known as “Comrade Feliciano”.

Feliciano, a member of the small group handpicked by Guzmán to lead up the armed struggle, and a member of the Shining Path Central Committee, is one of the main witnesses for the prosecution, having offered to cooperate with the court in return for a reduced sentence.

The prosecutors have requested a life sentence for the majority of the group’s leaders, including Feliciano.

They are also seeking 20.5 billion dollars in damages from the guerrilla group’s former high command.

There is a logical explanation behind the decision adopted by Feliciano, the son of a retired army officer whose family is related to that of Vladimiro Montesinos, former president Alberto Fujimori’s (1990-2000) security adviser, and the “eminence gris” behind his presidency.

When Guzmán was arrested on Sept. 12, 1992, Montesinos negotiated a peace agreement with him, in exchange for certain privileges, such as being able to live with his partner, Iparraguirre, while in jail.

Guzmán accepted, and Montesinos released a video in which the Shining Path leader announced to his followers that the war was over, and urged them to lay down their arms.

But Feliciano, the commander of a Shining Path column in central Peru, disobeyed the order and continued to engage in armed combat for seven more years, until a police officer happened to recognise him and arrested him on Jul. 14, 1999.

Peru’s anti-terrorism prosecutor, Guillermo Cabala, said Feliciano’s testimony was essential in backing up the charges against Guzmán and the rest of the Shining Path leadership.

Nevertheless, because he himself was a member of that leadership, there is no way that Feliciano can be acquitted in return for his testimony.

There is, however, a legal code provision “that would allow him to be eligible for a sentence below the usual minimum sentence for the crimes with which he is charged, as long as it can be ascertained that what he says is true,” Cabala told IPS.

In any event, aside from the testimony to be provided by Feliciano, “there is more than enough evidence against Guzmán and the rest of the leadership for them to be sentenced to life in prison,” added Cabala.

Feliciano declared before a congressional committee and to judicial authorities that it was Shining Path founder Guzmán who ordered massacres in the name of the “revolution”.

He is a “psychopath” and a “traitor,” said Feliciano, referring to the man he once called the “beacon of the worldwide revolution”, “the fourth sword of Marxism-Leninism” and “the President of the People’s Republic of New Democracy”.

The trial that began this week groups together a number of different cases, including the Apr. 3, 1983 massacre in the village of Lucanamarca, in southwestern Peru, in which 69 people were killed, many of them children and the elderly.

According to Feliciano’s testimony to the CVR, Guzmán ordered the massacre in retaliation after the townspeople had forced the Shining Path out of their village because of the abuses the guerrillas had committed.

To save ammunition, the killers used machetes and knives.

In its final report, released in 2003, the CVR maintained that the ideology and functioning of the Shining Path, which were conceived of by Guzmán, were based on the systematic elimination of its opponents.

Guzmán maintains that he only adopted political decisions, and that the deaths that occurred during the years of armed struggle were the result of the “dirty war” waged by government security forces.

Carlos Tapia, who was a member of the CVT, as well as a professor at the University of Huamanga in Ayacucho back in the days when Guzmán was a philosophy professor there and first founded the Shining Path, believes that the accused have resigned themselves to spending the rest of their lives in jail.

“For the Shining Path, this trial has much less importance than we think. They have accepted their responsibility, and they know that they are never going to walk free,” Tapia commented to IPS.

“Guzmán had already admitted his responsibility when he spoke to the Truth Commission,” he noted.

The former rebel leader, who turns 71 on Dec. 3, “is a fundamentalist, a subversive, a terrorist. I don’t think he’s concerned about trying to win the trial. He expects to be buried as a communist ideologue,” said Tapia.

Anti-terrorism police colonel Benedicto Jiménez, who played a key role in Guzmán’s arrest, believes that the Shining Path leader will take advantage of this retrial to try to regain the privileges he had been granted by Montesinos.

In 1992, a military court sentenced Guzmán and the other rebel leaders currently standing trial to life in prison. However, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights subsequently declared the military trials carried out during the Fujimori regime to be invalid, in view of the restrictions on democratic freedoms and guarantees imposed under his leadership.

As a result, Guzmán is now being retried in a civilian court.

The start of the new trial coincided with statements by Prime Minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski regarding renewed activity by the Shining Path, although President Alejandro Toledo maintained that his words had been misinterpreted by the press.

According to sources with the anti-terrorism police, the two surviving Shining Path columns – one of which operates in the Amazon jungle region of Alto Huallaga, and the other in the Ene River valley, in Peru’s central jungles – have been reinforced.

“They have strengthened their ties with the drug trafficking rings that operate in those regions, and as a result they have money and weapons. These are the same terrorist columns, no new ones have emerged, so it cannot be called a new upsurge in activity. But in any case, the surviving groups are a threat,” said a police source.

Since 2000, a total of 65 people have been killed in armed actions carried out by these groups, including civilians, police and government soldiers.

Colonel Jiménez said he was surprised that another eight members of the Shining Path leadership, tried in separate hearings, were not included in the collective retrial, which will continue next Monday. “It’s a judicial error,” he said.

In his opinion, Shining Path is not regrouping. But he said the leader of the Alto Huallaga Column, “Comrade Artemio”, could take advantage of the trial to stage armed actions.

“The Shining Path will never make a comeback because most of its members are in jail,” including “the brains of the organisation: Guzmán,” said Jiménez.

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