Peru: Revolt at Yanamayo Prison

Revolutionary Worker #1043, February 20, 2000

The following account of the recent rebellion by revolutionary prisoners in Peru is from the International Emergency Committee to Defend the Life of Abimael Guzmán (IEC-US).

In response to the revolutionary People's War of peasants, workers, students, and others, led by the Communist Party of Peru (often called "Sendero Luminoso" or "Shining Path"), successive U.S.-backed Peruvian regimes have carried out a dirty and vicious counter-insurgency war. Tens of thousands have been massacred, disappeared or executed by government forces. In 1992, the president of Peru, Alberto Fujimori, escalated the repression by staging a coup, dismissing congress and the courts to assume dictatorial rule. With U.S. assistance, a system of secret trials with hooded judges was established with no due process. Political prisoners continue to be railroaded into Peru's jails. Today there are more than 5,000 political prisoners, most accused of supporting the Communist Party of Peru (PCP). Yanamayo prison, which holds around 400 prisoners, is one of the most notorious and deadly on earth. It is located on an isolated highland near Peru's border with Bolivia--12,700 feet high in the Andes.

Uprising at the Yanamayo "Concentration Camp"

On Sunday, February 6, in the freezing cells of Yanamayo prison, 50 political prisoners and prisoners of war charged with belonging to the PCP rose up in rebellion. By holding two dozen guards hostage for two days, the heroic prisoners forced Fujimori, and the international press, to speak to their just demands.

These demands, as reported in the media and by Fujimori himself, include: that the prisoners be officially regarded as prisoners of war and political prisoners; that they be granted direct communication with imprisoned PCP leader Abimael Guzmán (Chairman Gonzalo); that the Callao Naval Base (where Abimael Guzmán and other PCP leaders are held in isolation) near Lima be closed; improvement of prison conditions; and the presence of the International Red Cross and human rights officials, "with the purpose of ensuring their physical integrity."

According to Peruvian press accounts, the rebellion was ignited by guards murdering a prisoner when 60 to 70 police, armed with shotguns and tear gas, stormed into Pavilion 4. The regime outrageously lied, saying that the prisoner was "killed by fellow inmates"!

During a similar attack on November 23 the prison warden, Colonel Oscar Altamirano Flores, stormed Pavilion 4 with 50 troops, shooting into the air and firing tear gas. According to relatives of the prisoners, "these goons beat prisoners and forced seven of them into totally dark, filthy isolation cells."

Although the prisoners released the 24 guards at noon on Tuesday, February 8, reports indicate that they remained in control of their cellblock throughout that day. During this time prisoners continuously chanted their demands and boldly flew red flags with hammers and sickles from the windows.

Danger of Further Attacks Against Yanamayo Prisoners

As of February 12, press and human rights observers have been repeatedly denied access to the prison, and it is unknown if government forces have yet entered Pavilion 4.

The prisoners and their families have warned, and Fujimori has stated, that the government may soon attempt to forcibly move some of the prisoners from Yanamayo in order to further isolate them. The prisoners have pledged to resist.

The U.S.-backed Peruvian regime has a long history of suppressing similar uprisings by massacring prisoners, often after the prison rebellions have ended. On May 6, 1992, the regime murdered 40 revolutionary prisoners in a military assault on Canto Grande prison. On June 19, 1986, the government attacked three prisons where revolutionaries were held. The revolutionary prisoners at El Frontón, Lurigancho, and the women's prison at Callao resisted the plans to kill them. At El Frontón, the prisoners held out for 24 hours against naval and helicopter attacks with homemade weapons. Nearly 300 prisoners were killed in what is now commemorated internationally as the "Day of Heroism."

The political prisoners in Peru risked all to break their isolation and make their voices heard. It is now up to us to answer their urgent call--lives hang in the balance. Here in the U.S., the country most responsible for the misery in Peru, we have a special responsibility to take action.

On Wednesday, February 9, members of the International Emergency Committee to Defend the Life of Abimael Guzmán and the Committee to Support the Revolution in Peru picketed the Peruvian Consulate in San Francisco with the following slogans: Protest the Deadly Prison Conditions in Peru! The Yanamayo Prison Uprising Was Justified! Defend the Lives of the Political Prisoners Who Rebelled--Support their Just Demands! Local media reported this action as one of many held worldwide in support of the political prisoners at Yanamayo.

Demands of the Yanamayo Prisoners

Last November 4 prisoners at Yanamayo issued a list of urgent demands that addressed their horrendous conditions. This statement (summarized below and available in its entirety from the IEC) outlined point by point the outrageous and deadly prison conditions and demanded "the full re-establishment and respect of all rights as protected by the international norms of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the political constitution of Peru, Peru's Penal Code and Code of Penal Procedure." The prisoners described Yanamayo as "a fascist concentration camp where a plan of isolation, annihilation and being applied." Six prisoner delegates put their lives at even greater risk by signing this document with their names and political titles: Pavilion 4 Delegate, Pavilion 4 Sub-delegate, two Food Delegates, Education and Culture Delegate, and Sports Delegate.

The following are excerpts from the Nov. 4 demands. The notes in parentheses are from the IEC-US.

@SLOGAN = ****

"We demand that the lock-down regimen be declared ILLEGAL, and especially that the Naval Base, Yanamayo and Challapalca concentration camps be CLOSED, because they threaten the physical and moral integrity of the prisoners... The lock-down regimen and the norms that sustain it are unconstitutional and contrary to the Code of Penal Procedure and international human rights." (Prisoners are locked down in cold cells [23 to 50 degrees F.] without lights or electricity, and allowed out of their cells a maximum of two hours per day.)

"We demand that we be transferred to our place of origin--to the Castro Castro prison [Canto Grande]--because we have been transferred here arbitrarily, and because our sentences have not been issued for this place, but for Lima." (Prisoners are moved to different prisons around the country arbitrarily and unannounced as a form of cruel punishment. Threats are made by the prison warden, Peruvian National Police Colonel Oscar Altamirano Flores, to send prisoners to an even more isolated and frigid prison in Challapalca, or to Lima's notorious Callao Naval base where Chairman Gonzalo [Dr. Abimael Guzman] and other PCP leaders are held in small, dark underground isolation cells.)

"We demand direct visits, without any restriction whatsoever, with relatives and friends...We demand that, pursuant to national and international law, visiting days be expanded...We demand the cessation of the harassment and intimidation of our relatives by PNP soldiers who by orders of [the warden] perform humiliating searches and blackmail our relatives." (Visits are allowed only with immediate family members. They are restricted to one hour per week, even though travel to Yanamayo can take days and is an expense and sacrifice only possible once or twice a year for many families. Visits are allowed only by means of a listening booth with no direct contact.)

"We demand the right to be in the yard all day long because the 22-hour confinement violates the right to health and to life...the right to moral, psychological and physical integrity..." (There are no medical specialists, no medications, no lab services, no x-rays, no surgery, etc. There are no preventative programs, TB control, nutritional support or women's health services. Dental care is sporadic and the necessary materials needed for treatment are lacking.)

"We demand complete respect for information and culture, access to media such as newspaper, magazines, radio, TV; the installation of TV sets in the halls as agreed with the pastoral team of the Vicar of Puno, who donated the equipment."

"We demand the outfitting and operation of the workshops, unrestricted flow of tools and production materials, respect for the right to work and the CESSATION OF THEFTS DURING SEARCHES."

"We improvement in the daily ration quality and quantity...We demand a stop to the robbing of food by staff...We demand the serving of food under hygienic conditions according to health standards...We demand unrestricted delivery of foodstuff... We demand authorization to utilize kitchenware and accessories for the preparation of food...We demand that the prisoner representatives implement control and supervision of the preparation of food and thus prevent the stealing of food which has reached outrageous levels. (Much of the food brought for prisoners by relatives is turned away or stolen by the authorities.)

For more information on actions to support the revolutionary prisoners in Peru, contact IEC-US: 3288 21st Street, PMB #195
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: (415)252-7414

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