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-CONTEXT- Free Speech or Apology for Terrorism? Shining Path leader Guzman publishes his memoirs

September 23rd, 2009 · No Comments


 (Abimael Guzmán, left, says: “Innocent civilians, women and children were killed, but that’s just war. I request amnesty.” Former president Alberto Fujimori, right, says: “I say the same: Cantuta and Barrios Altos were part of war.”  Peruvians in the middle say: “Lies, no war justifies those murders. And another thing: there’s no amnesty for crimes against humanity, so forget about it.”  Cartoon by Carlos Tovar, printed in newspaper La República on Sept. 16, 2009)


Despite the conclusion in 2000 of Peru’s internal armed conflict between state security forces and subversive groups, recent events have managed to rekindle old tensions. 

Over the past few months, there has been mounting pressure on President Alan García’s government to stamp out new outbreaks of the subversive group Shining Path that have allegedly reappeared in the country’s highlands, reconfigured as a “narco-terrorism” group.

Now, the former leader of Shining Path, Abimael Guzmán, currently serving a life term in prison, confounded the government by clandestinely giving material to his lawyers for the publication of a book.  On Friday, September 11, 2009, Guzmán’s legal team, headed by Alfredo Crespo, presented his book De puño y letra, or “In My Own Hand.”

The 408-page book primarily contains manuscripts Guzmán wrote regarding his defense strategy when on trial and letters written between him and longtime romantic partner, Elena Iparraguirre, also incarcerated for her involvement in Shining Path.  Guzmán was captured and sentenced in 1992, and later given a retrial in 2003 when Peru’s highest court ruled that the anti-terrorism laws under which he was convicted were unconstitutional, and ordered a new trial.  He was sentenced on similar criminal liability theories that were used in the conviction of Alberto Fujimori.

The armed conflict between Shining Path and the military from 1980 to 2000 left approximately 70,000dead and disappeared according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report (issued in 2003). The Commission found the Shining Path responsible for 54% of the deaths and disappearances and found state agents responsible for 37%. 

Though this is not the first time a Peruvian prisoner has published from behind bars, the government insists that Guzmán’s book encourages terrorism.  Following the book’s presentation, Justice Minister Aurelio Pastor led the incumbent APRA party in bringing criminal charges against those responsible for its publication of apology (public defense) for terrorism.

Attorney Julio Galindo Vásquez, the public prosecutor in charge of the case, told BBC Mundo that in the book “it is assumed that the author calls for the uprising of his followers.”  Secondly, he said, Guzmán’s lawyer Crespo “is a member of Shining Path who was convicted of terrorism and served 12 years in prison.”

Crespo, on the other hand, has commented that “there might be praise [of Shining Path in the book], but not an apology.”

Censorship or apology?

Critics of the government’s reaction to the Guzmán book have claimed that its fierce criticism is exactly what has made the book popular.  Former justice minister Diego García Sayán, currently a judge in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, reportedly told a local rights radio station “…this book, which would have slipped by unnoticed, has managed to become a huge box office hit thanks to Minister Aurelio Pastor.  The book is already out of stock and I don’t know how many pirate editions there are or how many will come out in the future.”

Well-known journalist and analyst Augusto Álvarez Rodrich commented, “I hadn’t planned on reading it, sensing it was rubbish, but Minister Aurelio Pastor’s impulsive effort to ban the books motivated me to want to get [a copy].”

According to his own reading, Álvarez claimed that even “in journalistic terms, there’s not much ‘juice’ beyond the love letters at the end of the book written to someone who already threw in the towel.”  Yet due to the government’s grandiose efforts to suppress what he considers primarily a journalistic-style book, Álvarez poses the question, “Incidentally, Mr. Minister, is it also a crime to report journalistically on the issue?”

President García’s other former cabinet chief, Jorge Del Castillo, thought it best not to talk about the book at all.  “It’s not worth it for serious people to talk about these murderers,” he stated during a local radio interview

On the other hand, daily local newspaper El Comercio printed one of the parts in question that Minister Pastor read to Congress from pages 406 and 407 in an effort to justify the government’s accusations: “We make the call to emulate the path which decades ago launched the Communist Party of Peru so as to reconstitute itself and prepare for the beginning of the popular war that will uncompromisingly combat the opportunist opponents.” It is not clear, however, if the excerpt is part of a reprinted past letter or part of the book’s more recent narrative content.

Pastor, while calling the book “garbage,” also invoked article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits all propaganda in favor of war, as well as justifications used to instigate violence.

Former cabinet chief, Yehude Simon, told Ideeleradio that “…there are phrases that are surely very shocking, but I do not believe [that it constitutes apology for terrorism…I think that we are making a mountain of a molehill.”

For his part, the deacon of the Lima Bar Association, Walter Gutiérrez, said he personally believed that the accusation for apology of terrorism against those who published Guzmán’s book should proceed.  “[Guzmán] has every right to write a book on his reflections, but he cannot write on criminal issues and promote them,” he told local radio RPP.

Meanwhile, current Defense Minister Rafael Rey blamed García Sayan for the publication of Guzmán’s book.  “In the year 2001, I asserted that the relaxation of the prison regime for terrorists that Diego García Sayán instigated as justice minister was unwise,” he said, since he believed this allowed the imprisoned terrorists to “leak information which ultimately allowed this book to be [published].”

APRA’s evenhandedness questioned

Apart from the book’s alleged encouragement of terrorism, journalists and civil society are finding the government’s current reactions incongruent with their behavior in the past regarding similar events.

El Comercio reported that other imprisoned convicts have published books including: Shining Path member Óscar Ramírez Durand, known as “Feliciano”; member of the subversive group MRTA, Víctor Polay Campos; and former presidential advisor Vladimiro Montesinos.  Polay’s book included a preface written by APRA leader Armando Villanueva del Campo.

In response, journalist Álvarez Rodrich argued that based on “that same absurd argument [that the government is using to accuse Guzmán’s publishers] you would have to put Armando Villanueva on trial.”  He further notes that it is peculiar that APRA did not mention anything about the other books written by prison inmates.

On being questioned on this issue, APRA leader Del Castillo answered that this was solely the responsibility of Villanueva, although avoided the issue of criminal prosecution:  “This does not implicate me or the party.  It is the strict responsibility of those who participated in [the book publication],” he specified.

Contested participation in 2011 elections

Apart from presenting Guzmán’s book, lawyer Alfredo Crespo also announced the convicted leader’s desire to participate in the 2011 presidential elections.

In statements to the local political magazine CARETAS, Crespo said that Guzmán planned to form a party for the coming elections and that “those who have served their sentences have a right to participate in national politics.”

However, former president of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Salomón Lerner, referred to recent statements that the Commission’s Final Report clearly states that Shining Path’s conduct and beliefs do not fit into Peruvian society.  “We think it is unacceptable to give room in national politics for a movement like the Shining Path. It is antipolitics.”

Similarly, Iván Hinojosa, a historian specialized in the area of Shining Path, added that “the [Truth Commission] said that Shining Path should not be permitted to participate in politics due to the damage it caused.  It is just like the Nazis: if you do something tremendously barbaric, you cannot participate.”

Yet, Guzmán’s lawyer Crespo recently asserted that “a general amnesty is necessary for both sides involved in the internal conflict and to enter in a process of national reconciliation.”   

Significantly, Peruvian military officer Santiago Martin Rivas, implicated in leading the paramilitary group Colina and convicted for extrajudicial killings, also called for amnesty. In a past interview with journalist Gilberto Hume, which was discussed during his testimony in former president Alberto Fujimori’s human rights trial, Martin Rivas asserted that a truth commission like South Africa’s was needed, in which military personnel were given amnesty in exchange for truthful confessions.

However, Supreme Court president, Javier Villa Stein, has affirmed that amnesty for Shining Path members is not a possibility.


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