Chairman Gonzalo on Trial in Peru

by the Committee to Support the Revolution in Peru

Revolutionary Worker #1258, November 14, 2004, posted at


As the RW goes to press, news broke on November 5 of the dramatic opening and sudden postponement of the trial of Chairman Gonzalo and the 17 other accused leaders, members and supporters. According to initial reports, including photos and video, Chairman Gonzalo and other defendants stood up in the courtroom in front of the press and the cameras with their fists in the air, chanting "Long Live the PCP" and "Glory to Marxism, Leninism, Maoism." The courtroom was thrown into chaos. The judge immediately evicted the news media and ordered the trial postponed for a week. The Peruvian authorities vowed to continue with the trial but said they will take firm measures to prevent any further disruptions of their legal proceedings. This was the first time that Chairman Gonzalo has been allowed to appear in any way before the public and the media in the 12 years since he was convicted and locked away at Callao Naval Base in 1992.

Information from A World To Win News Service was used in writing this article.

November 5 was the opening date for a trial of Abimael Guzman, known as Chairman Gonzalo of the Communist Party of Peru (PCP), and 17 other accused leaders, members and supporters of the party. This trial will be the opening salvo of a whole legal assault which the Peruvian state is gearing up to launch against Chairman Gonzalo.

The basic focus of this legal assault is to put on trial the people’s war which the PCP launched in 1980 under Chairman Gonzalo’s leadership—an armed mass upheaval that eventually drew in millions of Peru’s downtrodden— especially peasants in Peru’s mountains and jungles as well as workers and others in the shantytowns that ring Lima— and people of all social classes. By 1992, the people’s war had become so strong that a sense of twilight fell over gatherings of the old ruling classes.

But on September 12, 1992 Chairman Gonzalo was captured and sentenced to life in prison in a brief, secret military trial before "faceless" (hooded) judges under draconian "anti-terrorism" laws enacted by then Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori. Along with Elena Iparraguirre (Comrade Miriam), Chairman Gonzalo has spent the years since then in a specially built dungeon cut off from most of the rest of the world. In the years since the capture and imprisonment of Chairman Gonzalo, the people’s war has encountered difficulties and suffered setbacks.

In January 2003, Peru’s Constitutional Court declared that the "anti-terrorism" laws under which Chairman Gonzalo and thousands of others had been convicted were unconstitutional. The discredited Fujimori had been chased out of office and into exile recently, and the new government was anxious to prove that it was different by overturning Fujimori’s decrees, which the Inter-American Human Rights Court had already declared illegal under international law.

Yet despite the court’s annulling of these decrees, and thus the convictions of Chairman Gonzalo and thousands of other prisoners, the Peruvian state had no intention of releasing the prisoners. The Peruvian state scrambled to set up new courts and enact new "anti-terrorism" laws with which to retry and to justify the continued imprisonment of these political prisoners. The trial beginning on Novermber 5 is the first of several expected for Chairman Gonzalo and other imprisoned PCP leaders.

The charges in this trial spring from allegations concerning a college preparatory school in central Lima named the Academia Cesar Vallejo, which the secret police (DINCOTE) raided in June 1992. The authorities claim that in addition to its scholastic activities the Academia secretly served as a "recruiting center" and a means "to transmit party instructions" (according to the Lima daily La Republica ) or (in the more drastic description in Peru 21) a "financial and logistical apparatus that reported directly to the central leadership." This, according to the newspaper accounts, is the "crime" that Chairman Gonzalo and the others are said to have committed in this case.

That’s not much of an accusation after all these years of imprisonment, but it seems the best the authorities can come up with for now in order to justify Chairman Gonzalo’s continued imprisonment. But this trial is only the beginning. The government has in store a "megatrial" in which Chairman Gonzalo and other leaders will face numerous particular charges in connection with having led the people’s war. This "megatrial," while currently on hold due to various legal challenges, promises to be a major political attack on the people’s war. Through these trials the authorities seek to pass the verdict of "terrorism" on the just and heroic struggle of the masses of people of Peru led by the PCP to free themselves from the oppressive state and the domination of U.S. imperialism. They seek to bury alive everyone associated with the people’s war.

In September Chairman Gonzalo’s current lawyer, Manuel Fajardo, filed a habeas corpus petition arguing that since his client’s conviction has been declared invalid, there is no legal basis to hold him in prison. Lawyers for hundreds of other prisoners did the same. Leading Lima reactionaries argued that if these political prisoners are not retried and given new prison terms, many could soon be free, either through court action or because they have served the legal minimum sentences. A former secret police official associated with his capture warned that if Chairman Gonzalo were to be tried under ordinary charges, he could be free in five years under the maximum penalty authorized by the law for such convictions.

In short, this new trial is about punishment, not justice. Chairman Gonzalo was leading a revolutionary civil war, not "terrorism." The authorities seem to have decided to try him and others in relation to the Academia because they feel they can prove direct links in this case.

Chairman Gonzalo, who is nearly 70, and other accused leaders are facing a life sentence (which in Peru means serving at least 35 years). Prosecutors have demanded 20 to 25 years for the Academia’s two directors. According to the Peruvian establishment and its media, that is the new trial’s only possible result. All but two of the defendants have already spent as much as a decade and a half in prison. The trial’s main purpose is to put the face of "law" on the sentences passed by Fujimori’s "faceless" judges and reaffirm his decree that the Callao prison would be Chairman Gonzalo’s "tomb."

Also in September, new "terrorism" charges—with possible 20-year prison sentences—were brought against Chairman Gonzalo’s former lawyer Alfredo Crespo and Jorge Cartagena, who also defended leading PCP members. Shortly after Chairman Gonzalo was sentenced in 1992, Crespo, who was the only other civilian at the Chairman’s original trial, was locked away too. He has remained in prison ever since. Now Crespo and Cartagena face new "terrorism" trials and possible 20-year sentences for practicing their profession on behalf of revolutionaries. This underlines the vengeful intent behind all of these proceedings and the injustice that Peru’s legal system stands for.

Chairman Gonzalo has purportedly been called to testify on several previous occasions. Last June he reportedly gave testimony against Fujimori, who was accused of ordering the 1992 murder of union leader Pedro Huillca. The ex- president was tried in absentia because he had been given asylum in Japan—with the U.S. silently assenting to this illegal protection of its former puppet. At the time of the 1992 murder, many news organizations and even people concerned with human rights groups all over the world mindlessly repeated Fujimori’s accusations that Chairman Gonzalo’s party was behind this murder.

Unlike the total secrecy that surrounded Chairman Gonzalo’s first military mockery of a trial, the authorities have announced that this civil trial will be public. Peruvian news media expect to attend, along with reporters from the world’s major news orgaizations. Yet because this trial is to be held in a special ultra-high security courtroom on the Callao naval base near Lima where Chairman Gonzalo has been held, it is far from clear which "public" will be admitted and what kind of coverage the media will be allowed to provide. A recent law makes it possible for the authorities to ban audio and visual recordings.

In the years since his 1992 capture, while never allowing him to speak for himself, the authorities have made repeated claims that he and Comrade Miriam signed a letter asking for negotiations to end the people’s war. In response to these claims the demand was raised by the international movement in his defense that he be allowed to express his own views to the public - directly and unimpeded. This demand has never been met. It is not clear what opportunity Chairman Gonzalo will have to defend himself or to speak on his own behalf during this trial.

Included among those standing trial on November 5 are eight people arrested along with Chairman Gonzalo and others accused of being party leaders or cadre. According to newspaper reports, they include Oscar Ramirez Durand (Comrade Feliciano), who became the party’s leader after Chairman Gonzalo’s capture, and Comrade Miriam. These two are being held in cells adjoining Chairman Gonzalo in the El Callao underground prison. Among those reportedly scheduled to be brought from other prisons are Margie Clavo (Comrade Nancy), Osman Morote, Martha Huatay, Victor Zavala and Angelica Salas.

This legal offensive which aims to condemn the people’s war in Peru and label those who have led it as "terrorists" must be opposed and denounced.