Peru Retries Notorious Rebel Leader
LIMA, Peru - The founder of Peru's Maoist Shining Path insurgency raised a defiant fist in court Friday as the government retried him on terrorism charges a decade after he was sentenced to life in prison by a secret military court.
That sentence against Abimael Guzman was overturned last year by Peru's Constitutional Tribunal, which declared the secret military court unconstitutional. Prosecutors filed new charges against Guzman and other convicted rebels in civilian court.
Guzman, 69, mastermind of a bloody insurgency initiated in 1980 by a movement that envisioned a classless utopia, was captured in 1992 and sentenced by a secret military tribunal to life in prison without parole. A truth commission last year blamed the Shining Path for more than half of the nearly 70,000 deaths from the guerrilla conflict and the brutal state backlash.
Experts on Peru's Shining Path insurgency are concerned that the government is not fully prepared to retry Guzman, known to his followers as "Presidente Gonzalo," in a civilian court and warn that missteps could lay the legal basis for freeing hundreds of former high-level guerrillas jailed during the 1990s.
In the trial starting Friday, Guzman is accused of having used a prep school for aspiring college students to help finance his insurgency. Prosecutors, who are seeking a life sentence, say they are beginning with the this charge because they are still preparing cases involving peasant massacres and assassinations.
Manuel Fajardo, Guzman's lawyer, told The Associated Press before the trial started that both he and Guzman would refuse to speak during the hearing to protest its illegality.
"We question the unconstitutional anti-terrorism legislation. We question the existence of a special tribunal. We question the draconian penalties," Fajardo said.
Courtroom images broadcast by Canal N television showed a stooped, gray-haired Guzman, wearing tinted glasses and dressed in a dark jacket over a white shirt unbuttoned at the collar. He turned to reporters, smiled and thrust his fist defiantly into the air before taking his seat with 16 other co-defendants.
The image was reminiscent of 12 years ago, when days after his capture he was placed in a cage and shown to reporters, pacing like a lion in his striped prison uniform and preaching a revolutionary message.
Critics of Peru's revamped anti-terrorism laws maintain that the change of venue from a military to a civilian courtroom is not good enough because the laws themselves must be refined to meet international standards of fairness.
Former anti-terrorism judge Marcos Ibazeta has said it was a mistake for Guzman's first civilian trial to be for a nonviolent crime. Instead, prosecutors should have charged him with numerous rebel massacres of highland peasants, he said.
That strategy would help fend off any appeal Guzman might take to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica - seeking the rebels' release - by establishing evidence of crimes against humanity, Ibazeta said.
The Costa Rica court, the judicial arm of the Organization of American States, has questioned the vagueness of Peru's definition of terrorism and its uniform application of harsh sentences for a variety of crimes.