Peru: Sendero Luminoso Leader Abimael Guzman Faces Second Trial in Civilian Court

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, December 3, 2004 | Go to article overview

Peru: Sendero Luminoso Leader Abimael Guzman Faces Second Trial in Civilian Court


Former leader of guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso Abimael Guzman is going through a new trial in civilian court after serving eleven years of a life sentence that had been handed down by a masked military tribunal. But efforts to retry the jailed Maoist fell apart after a tribunal lost judges who recused themselves and attacked each other. After the tribunal's dissolution, the government announced plans to try Guzman for the massacre of 69 campesinos in 1983. Meanwhile, unpopular President Alejandro Toledo is advertising his plans to conduct a "severe" war on terrorism in Peru, and debate over whether the country should withdraw from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has led to controversy.

Tribunal dissolved amid bickering, defendants shout slogans

The first public trial of Sendero leader Guzman fell apart on Nov. 15 when the second of the three judges presiding over the case stepped down, citing a conflict of interest. That meant three new judges had to be named and a new trial set for Guzman, 69, who masterminded a struggle to impose his vision of a Maoist, campesino workers state on Peru until his 1992 capture.

In the case being tried, Guzman and 17 other defendants, including two still at large, were charged with using a preparatory school for aspiring college students to help finance the insurgency. Guzman faces numerous trials for planning campesinos massacres and political assassinations.

The case was annulled after Judge Josa de Vinatea recused himself, saying he had represented terrorism suspects in court previously. Another judge, Carlos Manrique, stepped down after saying he had participated in other rebel trials and that his partiality might be questioned. Prosecutors had insisted that the lead judge, Dante Terrel, step down since he had also represented terrorism suspects in the past, but he refused.

Guzman, a former philosophy professor, launched his insurgency in 1980. He was captured in 1992 and sentenced by a secret tribunal to life in prison without parole. Last year, Peru's Tribunal Constitucional (TC) ruled that the secret military courts created by former President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) were unconstitutional, and prosecutors brought new charges in civilian court against Guzman and other rebels.

Press outlets criticized the tribunal members' attacks on one another that preceded the dissolution, as well as the "show" that they allowed the defendants to put on when they arrived in court on Nov. 5. The Nov. 5 hearing started with each defendant standing to address the court, with most saying their lawyers needed more time to prepare.

When Guzman's turn came, he whispered on one side to Elena Iparraguirre, his longtime lover and top guerrilla aide, and on the other with a co-defendant. The defendants then all stood, turned and chanted to the media, "Long live Peru's Communist Party! Glory to the party of Leninism, Maoism! Glory to Marxism!" The judges then ended the proceedings.

A Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that 69,000 people died during the conflicts between the government and the Senderistas, blaming the rebels for 54% of the deaths and disappearances (see NotiSur, 2003-06-20, 2003-09-12). Guzman has been incarcerated in the naval base at Callao since 1992 where he is held under strict security measures.

The trial came on the heels of reports that Guzman and Iparraguirre were conducting a hunger strike, a claim the government denied. Outside visits to the couple by their lawyers and family members were prohibited, leading the couple to protest.

Judicial sources announced on Nov. 29 that Judge Ruben Bedrillana Ore would begin a prosecution against Guzman for the massacre of 69 campesinos in the southern Andean city of Ayacucho in 1983. Guzman will be accused of qualified homicide (homicidio calificado) for ordering the executions of the campesinos from the district of Santiago de Lucanamarca in Ayacucho. …

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