Rebel chief going on trial
Abimael Guzmán, founder of the Shining Path guerrilla group, will have a second trial after an earlier one ended in a mistrial.
By RICK VECCHIO
LIMA - This nation will confront a frightening chapter of its history today when it once again attempts to retry imprisoned Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán, who last year caused a mistrial with communist-inspired courtroom antics.
Guzmán's lawyer says the man who for 12 years spearheaded a bloody rebellion against the government ''is aware'' that he will receive the same life sentence meted out in 1992 by a secret military justice system that was later deemed unconstitutional by Peru's highest court.
''He would like the trial to end quickly,'' attorney Manuel Fajardo told a group of foreign correspondents. ``Abimael Guzmán, in particular, doesn't like to waste time.''
But Lima Bar Association President Marcos Ibazeta, a former anti-terrorism judge, said Guzmán's impatience should not be mistaken for that of a condemned man resigned to his fate.
Ibazeta said that Guzmán knows Peru will never release him, but that his goal is to discredit the judicial system for an appeal to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, aimed at freeing hundreds of imprisoned guerrillas for alleged violation of their due-process rights.
''It's not resignation,'' Ibazeta said. ``Like all leaders, he is assuming responsibility so . . . he continues to be a symbol.''
The Shining Path's growing threat started to fade after Guzmán's capture, and in the last four years, Peru has stood out in South America as a beacon of relative political stability and sustained economic growth.
But rebel factions continue to operate in Peru's coca-growing jungle region, where several hundred guerrillas provide protection for cocaine traffickers.
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, President Alejandro Toledo's cabinet chief, warned last week about a Shining Path ''resurgence,'' which the president was quick to deny.
Peru's Constitutional Tribunal ruled in 2003 that the draconian secret military courts established by former President Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s were unconstitutional, and civilian prosecutors brought new charges against Guzmán and other convicted rebels.
The trial will be held in the same maximum security naval base where the 70-year-old former philosophy professor has been imprisoned since April 1993, and will reunite him with 11 of his top commanders, including his longtime jail mate, lover and second in command, Elena Iparraguirre.
Guzmán was put into solitary confinement last November and Iparraguirre was abruptly transferred to another prison as part of a crackdown that Toledo ordered days after their first retrial degenerated into chaos.
With fists raised, Guzmán and Iparraguirre led four of their co-defendants in chants of ''Long live Peru's Communist Party! Glory to the party of Leninism, Maoism!'' while television cameras rolled. The trial collapsed days later when two of the three presiding judges stepped down under pressure, citing a conflict of interest.
''We are not going to give in to terrorists. We won't send them gifts of birthday cakes or organize boat rides or romantic dinners,'' Toledo said at the time. He was referring to perks used by Fujimori's ex-spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos to woo Guzmán and Iparraguirre into calling for peace talks in 1993.
Guzmán and Iparraguirre had reportedly been allowed to live as a couple, with her bringing him breakfast in bed, and sharing much of their time together outside their cells.
Fajardo said that Guzmán hopes to marry Iparraguirre but that prison officials have tried to impede Guzmán's efforts to gather the necessary paperwork.
''The sentimental relationship he has with Ms. Elena Iparraguirre is absolutely incontestable, very beautiful,'' Fajardo said of the leaders of one of Latin America's deadliest insurgencies, which is blamed for more than half of an estimated 69,280 deaths between 1980 and 2000.
For this trial, officials say they will stand firm behind a ban on cameras and tape recorders in the courtroom to deny Guzmán another opportunity to turn the proceedings into political theater.
Anti-terrorism Court President Pablo Talavera said proceedings should last five months, combining a series of cases, including the 1983 massacre of 69 peasants in the Andean village of Lucanamarca, one of the Shining Path's worst atrocities.
The guerrillas shot or hacked their victims to death, including nearly two dozen children, in retaliation for the villagers killing 10 rebels.
Guzmán ''has not minimized or run away from responsibility, but
he has rejected the terrorism charge,'' Fajardo said, explaining his client's
position that he led a legitimate insurrection against Peru's government.