30th July 15:34
Communist Terrorist To Be Tried For Killings
Saturday, November 6, 2004
PERU'S MAOIST LEADERS ON TRIAL
A Shining Path to prison?
Founder of terror group stands before civilian court as authorities fear
effort to renew rebellion
BY C.J. SCHEXNAYDER
November 6, 2004
CALLAO NAVAL BASE, Peru - The war continues for Abimael Guzman.
The 69-year-old founder of Peru's Maoist Shining Path terrorist movement,
which paralyzed the country for more than two decades, faced a civilian
court Friday for the first time since he was arrested more than 12 years
He and his co-defendants brought the hearing to a halt when they stood and
faced media cameras with raised fists.
"Long live the Communist party!" they chanted. "Glory to the Peruvian
people! Glory to Marxism, Leninism, Maoism!"
The proceedings were stopped and cameras cleared from the courtroom. They
are expected to resume next week.
The rhetoric was almost the same that he used when launching his rebel war
in 1980 as a philosophy professor at the University of Huamanga in Ayacucho.
"He has no regrets for what occurred," said Carlos Tapia, a former member of
Commission for Truth and Reconciliation who has interviewed Guzman more than
a dozen times in the past two years. "He feels the acts committed were
justified because it was a war."
Deadly road to utopia
According to a truth commission report last year, Guzman's radical communist
group, which envisioned a classless utopia - was responsible for more than
half the 70,000 deaths incurred during the conflict. The vast majority were
innocent residents of Peru's poorest regions, caught between terrorists and
the military crackdown, the report found.
Eulogio Cruz witnessed the bloody rebel takeover of his highland village in
the Ancash region more than 12 years ago. Weeks later, a group of soldiers
descended on the town and shot Cruz in the eye when he tried to stop them
from taking away his son, Epifenio, as a suspected terrorist. While Cruz
survived, his son was taken and he has not seen him since.
"I want justice," said Cruz, now 54. "The trial is the first step toward
In the early 1990s, then-president Alberto Fujimori succeeded in passing
laws to strengthen the trial process against suspected terrorists. Cases
were referred to a military court presided over by hooded judges and closed
to the public. Hundreds of suspects were found guilty and imprisoned,
including Guzman, who was convicted of treason in 1993 and has been
incarcerated since at this naval base just outside Lima.
Peru's Constitutional Tribunal ruled his trial unconstitutional last year
and overturned the conviction. Under Peruvian law, Guzman can be held for
three years as long as a new trial is held within that amount of time. To
avoid having to release him in 2006, the government must secure a conviction
in a public trial, and Guzman is being tried along with 17 Shining Path
leaders whose convictions also were overturned.
Path to light again?
While there is little chance Guzman will be freed, Peruvian authorities are
concerned he is trying to reorganize Shining Path to resume the armed
conflict. Col. Benedicto Jimenez, a former leader of the national police
anti-terrorism unit and the man who led the team that captured Guzman, said
the prisoner has been sending his followers orders in coded messages.
Jimenez said he thinks Guzman plans to use the trial to reorganize his
movement politically while several hundred at-large compatriots continue the
military struggle, mainly from jungle bases.
Last year, a terrorist monitoring group, the Council for Peace, estimated
there were approximately 730 Shining Path adherents still at work in remote
areas. There have been numerous clashes with authorities in the past 18
months, particularly in Ayacucho.
Peru Interior Minister Javier Reategui has said there is also concern
Shining Path is trying to infiltrate the education system - a tactic Guzman
used in the 1970s to gain adherents and financing for his revolution.
Steve Stern, a U.S.-based expert on the group, said the danger exists it
will return, but he doubts it could repeat the devastation of the late 1980s
and early 1990s. "As an organized political machine, it is finished," he
said. "But there is still the danger it can create a great deal of chaos."