Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Peru: Interview with Shining Path's "Artemio"

Gustavo Gorriti and Romina Mella today published the first part of an interview with Shining Path leader "Artemio" for IDL-Reporteros today. It's pretty fascinating stuff watching him sitting there in the jungle acknowledging the group's failure and calling for a process of disarmament. His quiet voice is at such odds with Abimael Guzman's public image as well.

For the non-Spanish speakers, here are some highlights:

- Initially, they describe the arduous journey to the camp in the Huallaga valley and how the journalists slept, fully clothed and guarded by armed guerrillas. Incidentally, they were accompanied by, among others, Dan Collyns who writes for the Guardian, so maybe we will see an English-language article on this soon - I've searched and haven't found it at the time of writing.

"Artemio" gave his real name as José ‘Pepe’ Flores Hala and his age as 47 - both these facts have been disputed by others who have investigated him.

Do you agree that the war that you initiated on 17 May 1980 has ended in failure for you?

Yes, that's true. We're not going to deny it.

So, the sort of actions which you are carrying out now are not the actions of an insurrection which seeks victory, but merely defensive.

The political objective is the same as when we took up arms, although practically speaking, today it is not possible. I think that is easy to understand. Secondly, we maintain an armed force to guarantee our position with respect to our imprisoned comrades - and I think that that may be easily understood. We do not have the least intention of brandishing our arms, of armed struggle. No. Honestly, we want to point out that we want a political solution; we want it to come to an end, using the methods of the negotiating table.

You want to demobilise.

Of course. The issue is that is happens via a military ceasefire.

A ceasefire. That's not the same thing as demobilisation.

Right, but it's the first step. A military ceasefire which gives the space and the corresponding guarantees in a particular are with the aim of starting up talks moving towards negotiations. It depends which decision the State and the government in power takes.

That is to say, demobilisation and the handing over of weapons as the final result of negotiations?

The demobilisation and putting weapons out of use publicly.

To destroy them?

To destroy them. Publicly. I think that there have to be mediating organisations such as the International Red Cross or the Church which have intervened in cases like this to verify what happens. But it all needs... the political will of the State and the government if they really want to solve this problem of the armed comflict and for it not to be like what happened before with previous governments.
[He then goes on to discuss secret talks which took place with previous governments]

But, do you still believe that violence is the only way to end class war?

We have Marxist principles. We think that the only form of power is to change the capitalist system into a socialist system. But at this time, that isn't possible. And if it isn't possible, what has to be done now is to end what started yesterday.

What will you do if you manage to give up your weapons?

I'm a politician, I will take up politics, I will work on the land, I could study agriculture, something that would be useful in the current reality. Or, I don't now, you can't know what you will do tomorrow.

The Huallaga front has been one of the most violent of the war, in general, and it has also been one in which there has been most murders or "selective eliminations" carried out by your group. This was the case in the '80s and '90s, and also in the first decade of the 21st century. How do you explain that and how would you explain it to the relatives of the victims?

[...] I repeat [sic]: we committed excesses, we made mistakes, in the case of Lucanamarca, Tarata, and some cases in which we eliminated innocent persons considered to be informers. I understand the pain which this caused and sometimes self-criticism is not sufficient, but it is necessary to ask forgiveness of the families which we bereaved, believing them to be enemies, when really they weren't.

And, while you are not demobilised, what military activity are you going to carry out? Are you going to continue with ambushes, attacks, annihilations, assassinations?

No, nothing like that. We will restrict ourselves to organising political work. To carrying out politics. We will maintain an armed force for security, to defend ourselves. If we are attacked, we will defend ourselves. We will respond in kind.

That is to say, you maintain a strictly passive position.

A defensive position, militarily speaking.

There will no sort of attacks?

There will be no sort of attacks. I can guarantee it. We are not going to attack.

Does that include selective annihilations?

Yes it does.

Incredible stuff. Spanish-speakers, read the whole thing, and look out for part two tomorrow:

Entrevista a "Artemio" en el Huallaga (IDL-Reporteros)

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