The Revolutionary Prisoners of Challapalca

Families in Peru Denounce Torture and Isolation

Revolutionary Worker #1158, July 14, 2002, posted at

We received the following article from the Committee to Support the Revolution in Peru (CSRP).

The Committee to Support the Revolution in Peru recently received a statement from families of political prisoners being held in Peru's notorious Challapalca prison. These families have released their statement to the national and international community in order to denounce the brutal treatment the prisoners are suffering inside this remote prison.

Challapalca is located at an altitude of over 16,000 feet above sea level, close to the borders with Bolivia and Chile. The government of Peru is using this prison as a concentration camp where especially brutal treatment is inflicted against revolutionary prisoners who have carried out heroic resistance from inside the prison walls. Political prisoners from other prisons are being transferred there.

The release of this statement and the other efforts of the families to draw attention to the cruel conditions faced by their imprisoned relatives are the latest actions in a long and heroic history of struggle by the political prisoners and their families in Peru.

Today there are over 4,000 political prisoners in Peru. Overwhelmingly these people were convicted and sentenced by secret tribunals during the regime of Alberto Fujimori and his notorious adviser, Vladimiro Montesinos. These secret tribunals, many presided over by hooded military judges, offered no opportunity for the accused to present a defense. Most were accused of participating in or supporting the Maoist People's War, which was initiated in 1980 and is being led by the Communist Party of Peru (PCP).

From the early years of the People's War, successive Peruvian regimes have used special conditions of isolation in the prisons to try to break the spirit of the captured revolutionary fighters. But over the years the revolutionary prisoners have turned their dungeons into what they call "Shining Trenches of Combat." In the early and mid-1980s, the Peruvian government sent prisoners to the infamous El Frontón island prison off the Peruvian coast to try to isolate them. But the defiant prisoners fought off prison guards to gain control of their cell blocks. With the help of visiting relatives, the prisoners organized their own food production, education, and recreation. They also produced beautiful art works that reached the outside world, bringing news of the People's War.

Day of Heroism, June 19, 1986

These inspiring struggles by revolutionary prisoners were targeted for vicious genocidal campaigns carried out by successive Peruvian regimes. But the prisoners have never stopped fighting back.

On June 19, 1986, over 300 political prisoners were killed in the government's military assault against three prisons, including El Frontón. The valiant resistance against this assault is remembered today as "The Day of Heroism." Armed with makeshift weapons and a few captured firearms, the prisoners fought back against the government's murderous air and amphibious assault.

In 1992, after Fujimori and the generals established military rule in the country, the Peruvian regime carried out another military assault on revolutionary prisoners. Canto Grande prison in Lima was assaulted by government armed forces. Over 40 revolutionary prisoners were executed in the attack. Political leaders were particularly targeted, and some were assassinated by shots to the head after they were captured and made to lie down on the ground.

In February 2000 a major uprising took place at Yanamayo prison in Puno, high in the Andes. The prisoners rose up in response to a murderous assault by police forces during which Carlos Ponce Perez, one of the political prisoners, was assassinated. Fifty political prisoners rose up and demanded the closing of the special prisons designed for torture and isolation. They also demanded an end to the isolation of PCP Chairman Gonzalo, who has been imprisoned since his capture in 1992 at a specially constructed underground prison at El Callao Naval Base in Lima.

Torture and Isolationat Challapalca

In 1996 the Fujimori government opened a new chamber of horrors, the Challapalca prison. From the beginning this prison was denounced by Amnesty International and by the International Red Cross because of its extraordinarily harsh conditions. According to a June 2002 report from Amnesty International, various human rights organizations--including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty International--have demanded that the Peruvian government close the Challapalca prison.

Challapalca was initially used to hold common (not political) prisoners, but since Alejandro Toledo became president in 2001 the Peruvian government has been transferring more and more political prisoners to Challapalca. Especially targeted for transfer to Challapalca have been prisoners identified with the political line of carrying forward the Maoist People's War despite the setback that resulted from the capture of Chairman Gonzalo. Once at Challapalca, these prisoners and others are being singled out for special punishment for their protests and rebellion within the prison system.

Challapalca's location makes it extremely difficult for family members or lawyers to visit the prisoners, thus leaving the prisoners more isolated and vulnerable to abuse. In their statement the families explain:

"The policy at the Challapalca prison is officially called `The Special Closed Regimen,' but it is commonly known as the `punishment' prison because the guiding philosophy at the prison is that prisoners can be `rehabilitated' through the application of pressure, torture, and even death. Challapalca's character as being in an extremely remote, `extraterritorial' region serves these ends, since international and national laws regarding human rights are completely disregarded..."

The statement points out that many of the prisoners there have been targeted previously for attack because they had participated in the organized resistance at Yanamayo prison. It is apparent that the government moved these prisoners from Yanamayo to Challapalca in September 2001 in order to further punish them for participating in the Yanamayo prison protests of February 2000. According to the families' statement, "It is now known, through the release of a Vladivideo that Vladimir Montesinos Torres orchestrated a genocidal attack against the prisoners. [Vladivideos are the large collection of videos that Montesinos secretly made of visitors to his office. The videos were later seized when Fujimori and Montesinos fled the country, and some were made public, partially revealing the corrupt and genocidal actions of the government against the Peruvian people--CSRP.] The government and press version of the assault at that time said that `the shining path prisoners had staged a rebellion and that they themselves had killed their own companion.' This version of events was thoroughly exposed as a lie with the release of the Montesinos video."

Prisoners Isolated fromTheir Families and Lawyers

The statement details "the inhumane conditions that family members are subjected to" as they endure great hardships to try to maintain contact with the political prisoners, in the face of the government's efforts to keep them totally isolated:

"Due to the extreme remoteness, high cost of transport and harsh traveling conditions to the prison, family members cannot visit frequently. Upon entering the prison, freedom of movement is severely restricted, and family members and prisoners are harassed and threatened. This is further aggravated and great pain and suffering is caused when family members finally do arrive at the prison, and then are not allowed to have direct contact with imprisoned family members who have to pass 30 days in total isolation without visits and then pass 120 more days with only visits through phone/waiting room booths."

"We are forced to travel to the Challapalca prison in cargo trucks since there is no normal public transportation. The area is so remote that the only lodging is in the house of a townsperson whom we must beg to allow us to stay in his home since the INPE [the prison authorities] has threatened the townspeople and tells them that we are `dangerous.' In this place, we have to sleep on the floor, there are no bathrooms, much less potable water or electricity. Under these already difficult conditions, we have to withstand temperatures of below 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees F) at an altitude of more than 5,000 meters (16,000 feet). In addition to being exposed to these harsh conditions, we have the additional hardship of having to pay the very high cost to travel this distance to visit the prisoners, since we are poor people ourselves. In the prison they confiscate from us the written denunciations and complaints that our imprisoned family members make of their treatment, saying that it is strictly prohibited to remove them from the prison and we ourselves can be accused of terrorism for doing so."

The isolation of the Challapalca prison also makes legal defense very difficult: "Many of the prisoners need to submit court papers for the review of their cases, arrangements for upcoming release etc., but they cannot do so because the prison is so remote and because they are extremely poor and do not have the economic resources to carry out a defense. This makes it impossible to pay a lawyer, much less have a lawyer visit them."

Brutal Transfers

The authorities carry out systematic beatings and torture of prisoners in the process of transferring prisoners to Challapalca from other prisons. The families' statement documents the following incidents:

"At 7:30 on the evening of September 21, 2001, the prisoners were moved to Challapalca [from Yanamayo prison] with their hands tied behind their backs. When they arrived at the prison they were beaten and tortured savagely by the prison guards. Later they were forced to take off all of their clothes, and prison guards continued beating them and stole the few personal possessions they had. During the beatings the guards said: `This is Challapalca, here we'll take you out to the guard fence and make it look like you're trying to escape and right there is where you will die. These orders come from above and we'll carry them out, there are no "human rights" here.' These beatings and torture are confirmed by the medical records of the prison, the office of the Defender of the People, and the International Red Cross which all verified the bruises and wounds inflicted during the torture. Prison authorities and guards showed absolutely no concern for the injuries and wounds that the prisoners had already received at Yanamayo prison where huge quantities of bombs were launched against the prisoners when authorities stormed the Yanamayo cellblock."

"Six prisoners were moved from La Capilla prison (October 6, 2001) and were beaten. One of the prisoners protested being unjustly relocated, beaten and having their personal belongings stolen, by beginning a hunger strike. After he had begun his hunger strike he was beaten to such a point that he had to ask for medical assistance. Instead of getting him medical attention, prison authorities sprayed him with tear gas and INPE personal yelled at him, `Die you bastard!'"

"On October 26, 2001, six prisoners from La Capilla prison, three of them political prisoners, were forcefully relocated, tortured and beaten, one of them to the point of fainting (Santos Asqui Araca). He had just recently come out of surgery a few days before but he was tortured and beaten just as the others were."

"On October 28, 2001, six prisoners from Tacna, and on October 31, 2001, four more were moved. They were all beaten."

"On November 28, 2001, 27 prisoners from the Socabaya prison, five of them political prisoners, were moved. The brutality and cruelty these prisoners were subjected to was even more extensive. Upon entering the prison, two of the prisoners were forced to pass through the dark passageway. A week later the prisoners were moved from cell block 2 to cell block 1, where they were once again savagely beaten and tortured to the point where they fainted. They were `revived' with shocks from an electrical rod. They were then forced to pass through the dark passageway. The director, Alfonso Garay, and subdirector, Mr. Rojas, both participated directly in this beating."

"On the morning of March 28, three prisoners were moved from La Capilla prison. They were tortured and beaten the same way. That same morning the prisoners Roman Rengifo Murrieta, Miguel Vela del Aguila and Wilfredo Bobadilla Torres were taken out of the hole and at approximately 8:30 a.m. they were beaten by the supervisor Gonzalez and five more agents of the INPE."

Extreme Conditions

The families' statement exposes the inhuman conditions at Challapalca: "The cells that prisoners live in are designed to punish and torture them. The windows are small, they have darkened windowpanes and a cement block which prevent sunlight from entering. This makes it impossible for the prisoners to undertake almost any activity which they might want to do. This violates Article 11 of the United Nations document. When prisoner delegates or representatives ask for better food or medical attention, etc. ... they are threatened with punishment and more than once they have been put in isolation just for requesting better treatment. As is usually the case, they are first punished and then a week later they are judged. In this way they are denied their right to a defense which is guaranteed to every prisoner (Article 34 of the CEP [the penal code]). The worst of these cases is the case of the prisoner Miguel Atahualpa Inga. There is absolutely no legal basis for this prisoner to be detained for more than seven months in absolute isolation, which is made even worse by the fact that he receives constant death threats."

"During the night, close to the cell windows, guards shoot their guns into the air, ignite explosives, blow whistles, rake their billy clubs against the bars, and enter the cells in the early morning hours, impeding the prisoners from sleeping normally. This is causing pain and suffering, which is classified as torture in the United Nations document."

The prison authorities deliberately attempt to humiliate prisoners during searches of the cells. The statement describes one incident: "That same day of the search, prisoners were forced to take off all of their clothes and become completely naked. This caused such outrage among the prisoners that they held a general protest. The authorities then attacked the prisoners, beating and kidnapping the prisoner Roman Rengifo M."

The health of these prisoners is further endangered by lack of necessary medical services at the prison: "The doctor that treats the prisoners comes only one day per week... There are shortages of basic medicines and there are no specialists, no surgeon nor an eye doctor. This situation is made worse by the fact that the prison is almost seven hours away from the nearest town. The lives and health of the prisoners are put at risk, as has already been the case for the prisoners Roman Rengifo Murrieta, Juan Isla Trinidad, Antonio Bendezu Vega, Jose Zamora Perez and Miguel Cuno Choquehuanca. Jose Zamora Perez suffered an attack of tachycardia and since there was no medical personnel around to attend to him, the authorities took another prisoner, Miguel Atahualpa Inga, a medical surgeon, out of solitary confinement to give him first aid."

The families denounce the continuing transfer of prisoners to Challapalce: "On April 25 of this year a group of 31 prisoners were moved from `Miguel Castro Castro' prison in Lima to Challapalca prison. Thirteen of the 31 are political prisoners, and four of them are between the ages of 62 and 68. These four prisoners had to be subsequently moved to Yanamayo prison due to their critical poor state of health. Up to the present, they are still in the clinic of Yanamayo prison. This relocation was a surprise operation done in the early morning hours. There was no evaluation done by the board of discipline, much less a medical evaluation of the older prisoners. The authorities callously went ahead with putting the lives of the older prisoners at risk..."

Families Demandthe Shutdown of Challapalca

In summary, the families' statement says: "All of these occurrences show that the different administrations have taken advantage of the isolation and remoteness of the Challapalca prison and its extraterritorial character to violate the laws which apply to prisoners and their families. With the orientation of promoting and allowing repressive actions, assassinations, corruption, misappropriation, and theft of public funds and a blatant disregard for the law, they have acted with the support of higher authorities, who maintain a policy of repression and revenge against our imprisoned family members."

The statement notes that Peru's Human Rights Committee declared in November 2000 that the existence of Challapalca prison violated the United Nations International Agreement on Civil and Political Rights. The families "demand the closing of the Challapalca prison because it is a concentration camp where a plan of increasing isolation, annihilation and genocide is being executed."

The full text of the statement from the families of the Challapalca prisoners is available online at:

For more information about this critical situation, contact the CSRP: PO Box 1246, Berkeley, CA 94701, (415) 252-5786.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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