New Trial for Chairman Gonzalo--Civilian Rerun of Military Tribunal?

Revolutionary Worker #1198, May 11, 2003, posted at

We received the following from A World to Win News Service:

28 April 2003. A World to Win News Service.The Peruvian government has announced that sometime in 2004* a civilian court will retry Abimael Guzmán Reynoso, known as Chairman Gonzalo of the Communist Party of Peru (PCP). This is a result of a decision last January by Peru's Constitutional Court that some aspects of the presidential "anti-terrorist" decrees authorizing secret trials before "faceless judges" were unlawful. As a result, the convictions of about 1,500 people tried by the military and another 1,000 before "faceless judges" in equally closed civil trials were formerly annulled March 7 and they are all to be retried.

Three hooded Navy officers sentenced Chairman Gonzalo to life in prison in a secret, one-day travesty of justice shortly after his capture in 1992. Then his lawyer was given the same penalty for defending him. Within days of his arrest, a strong international movement had arisen to "move heaven and earth to save the life of Chairman Gonzalo." This was one factor that prevented the ruling dictator, Alberto Fujimori, from simply having him immediately executed without a trial, which was, according to recent press accounts, Fujimori's plan. When instead he had Chairman Gonzalo convicted of "terrorism" and sentenced to life in prison (Peru has no official death penalty), Fujimori threatened that the party leader would not live long in the conditions of the underground dungeon he had specially built for him. He called it Chairman Gonzalo's "tomb." After running Peru by personal edict and open terror for almost a decade, Fujimori ended up fleeing the country in discredit. His replacement, Alejandro Toledo, could not claim that his regime was different if it did not comply with the Inter-American Human Rights Court in Costa Rica, which condemned these decrees as contrary to international law.

However, even though their convictions have been ruled illegal, not one of these prisoners is to be released. Toledo's government says it is "updating" the evidence against them. In many cases this "evidence" was no more than the word of an anonymous informer, a tortured prisoner or someone else who came before a hooded military officer or civilian judge and claimed that the defendant participated in or even merely supported the People's War initiated by the PCP in 1980. The accused had no rights to refute the charges against them. In Chairman Gonzalo's case, at least, the exact accusations against him were not revealed. Ironically, a few hundred political prisoners arrested in the 1980s and early 1990s, before Fujimori set up his secret courts, have been released or will be soon because they have served their sentences. But these 2,500 prisoners, most of them in jail for ten or more years already, now face a new 18-year sentence in the upcoming trials--and those terms would start from now, not from when they were first convicted.

As part of the preparations for a new trial, a special judge and prosecutor have held preliminary hearings at the El Callao naval base where Chairman Gonzalo has been confined for a decade. Supporters of Chairman Gonzalo find it particularly disturbing that he and at least five others continue to be held in the underground cells there. The other two PCP prisoners are Comrade Feliciano (Oscar Ramírez Durand), who assumed the responsibility for Party leadership after Chairman Gonzalo's arrest until he himself was caught in 1999, and Comrade Miriam (Elena Iparraguirre), captured with Chairman Gonzalo. There are also three leaders of the MRTA organization. They are all cut off from the normal contacts with the outer world that prisoners in Peru and most other countries consider their right. This punishment is not applied to political prisoners in other facilities and not at all to common prisoners.

On 24 September 1992, when Fujimori tried to parade him triumphantly before the international press, Chairman Gonzalo turned the tables on his captors and gave a famous speech. He said that the Peruvian revolution would continue on the path of People's War despite this "bend in the road." (For the full text, see A World to Win magazine No. 29 at The following year, Fujimori claimed that Chairman Gonzalo and Comrade Miriam had signed a letter asking for peace accords. A right opportunist line arose from within the Party that argued that because of Chairman Gonzalo's capture the revolutionaries had to abandon the People's War and disband their army and the People's Committees where the peasants held political power in much of the countryside. The international movement in Chairman Gonzalo's defense, which among other things sent seven inter-national delegations to Lima over the course of the decade, has focused on the demand that Chairman Gonzalo, Comrade Feliciano and the other political prisoners and prisoners of war be given free and direct access to lawyers, relatives, friends and the international press. Although some contacts between these prisoners and family members, lawyers and others have been reported, it still has not been possible for Chairman Gonzalo and the others to publicly state their views.

It seems that Toledo is attempting to pursue the policies of his predecessor under new conditions. He is continuing to apply the legally and morally ridiculous, Alice in Wonderland concept of "first the sentence, then the trial." He is also keeping these prisoners in punishment conditions and doing his best to maintain a still intolerable degree of isolation. If, as has been claimed, Chairman Gonzalo has had a discussion with a Catholic bishop, among others, what possible justification could there be for denying him the right to speak to visitors of his choosing? Why has he still been denied visits by his international lawyers? Isn't this just continuing political persecution? Why should the people of the world have to read second-hand reports of Chairman Gonzalo's views from dubious sources, and not hear and read exactly what he has to say in his own words?

Further, there are disturbing elements in the conditions for a new trial. A recent law specifies that audio and visual recordings may be forbidden in trials of people accused of "terrorism." Will the new trial be open to the public and the press, or will it be just a civilian rerun of the original outrageous military tribunal? There is every reason to fear that the government intends that these new trials be nothing more than a rubber stamp for continued imprisonment. Last year, for similar constitutional reasons and under pressure from some quarters in the U.S., Lori Berenson, an American sentenced to life in prison by a "faceless" military court for supporting MRTA, was retried in a civilian court and quickly re- sentenced to 20 years on the same flimsy, hearsay evidence.

The People's War, a deeply rooted mass outpouring with the support of millions of peasants, workers, students and others, cannot be characterized as "terrorism." In fact, why should the government of Peru, which rules at the pleasure of the U.S. and has done so much harm to the Peruvian people, be allowed to imprison anyone for the "crime" of working for or supporting its overthrow?

Supporters and lawyers all over the world will be closely following developments. This situation gives all the more power of logic and justice to the demand for an immediate end to the isolation of Chairman Gonzalo, Comrade Feliciano and the others.


* Some recent press reports have speculated that a trial might begin in fall of 2003.-- RW

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