Saturday, 22 August 2009

Peru: How Guzmán Got Away

Silvio Rendon at Gran Combo Club has a very interesting post on Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán and how he evaded justice through the years. The information in it was largely already familiar to me, but this is a very good, thought-provoking summary. Spanish speakers can follow the link below to read the whole thing.

Basically, Guzmán was briefly arrested in the late 1970s when Shining Path was still in the very early stages of germination (before the burning of the ballot boxes at Chuschi which marked the start of armed struggle). On this occasion there wasn't much on him and he was released; the photographs taken during his detention were for a long time some of the only definitive images of him.

Then in 1982, President Fernando Belaúnde knew that Guzmán had been sighted in the capital city and was, according to sources, in poor health. But, apparently out of a desire to avoid turning the guerrilla leader into a martyr, Belaúnde avoided arresting him and instead tried to reach a deal. He offered Guzmán safe passage out of the country; not surprisingly for those who know anything about senderista ideology, Guzmán declined and stepped out his campaign of violence.

In 1990, too, Fujimori had Guzmán within his grasp, and again, he failed to seize the opportunity. This time his motivation was his own political success: his successful attempt to grab power in 1992 was based on the fact that Peru was under threat by an internal enemy. Destroying the enemy too early would necessarily remove the justification for the far-reaching presidential control.

When the top senderista was finally detained in 1992, it was by a special police squad working outside the official intelligence service run by Vladimiro Montesinos, and acting without informing the president in advance.

Belaúnde's actions can partially be excused by the fact that he could not know how the situation in Peru would develop in the subsequent decade. Fujimori's cannot; tens of thousands were already dead by 1990. It's both sobering and interesting to see how political considerations allowed Guzmán to keep his freedom for ten full years after his first discovery in Lima - and that, for most of that time, it was assumed that he was holed up somewhere in the remote mountains, when a careful consideration of past experience would have suggested otherwise. Guzmán's whereabouts are now certain (San Lorenzo Island naval base prison, near Callao), but combating Shining Path remnants remains a concern for Peru.

Much of the information in this post comes from Peruvian journalist Gustavo Gorriti: his seminal work on SP is available in Spanish and in translation.

Belaunde deja escapar a Guzman

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