A WORLD TO WIN    #18   (1992)


"Defend the Life of Chairman Gonzalo"

The Battle-cry Resounds on Every Continent

Report on International Campaign

Since the September 12th capture of Comrade Gonzalo, Chairman of the Communist Party of Peru (PCP), a fierce and complex struggle has been unfolding. On the one side, the Fujimori regime backed by U.S. imperialism and egged on by reactionaries the world over. On the other side, Chairman Gonzalo, the People's War in Peru, the world's proletarian revolutionary forces centred around the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement and a broad and growing front of people opposed to imperialism and reaction and united in the demand to save the life of Dr Abimael Guzmán (Chairman Gonzalo's given name).

Chairman Gonzalo was hauled before a military tribunal with breakneck speed. The reactionaries planned to present the people with a settled question before much could be done about it. But on September 15th, the Committee of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement issued a call to "Move Heaven and Earth to Defend the Life of Chairman Gonzalo". In only a few days, a movement to defend his life had already begun to spring up, with an unprecedented rapidity and a broad social scope and international character.

A broad array of people from all over the world stepped forward to form the International Emergency Committee to Defend the Life of Dr Abimael Guzmán (IEC). By September 20th, the IEC began issuing regular bulletins and other messages by fax to the local defence committees that were being established in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North and South America. Among them was a letter from Alfredo Crespo, Chairman Gonzalo's lawyer, who wrote, "My client is aware of the concern of your organization and appreciates all of the efforts that are being undertaken."

Chairman Gonzalo himself set the tone for the resistance on September 24th when he was "exhibited" before a howling mob of hundreds of journalists and secret policemen. The plan was to "break the myth of the unbeatable leader", as the London Economist wrote. He was presented dressed in a cartoon-style, specially-made striped uniform with a large prisoner's number on his chest, enclosed in a steel animal cage. But in the end it was his captors who were made to look foolish and impotent. The comrade turned this spectacle into a political setback for them by refusing to be intimidated or distracted by the threat of death and the screaming enemies surrounding him, and instead delivered an historic message to the Party and the people of Peru and the world. The contrast between his unbreakable dignity, revolutionary confidence and high-mindedness, on the one hand, and the loathsome treatment to which the regime was subjecting him, on the other, was strongly felt by many people around the globe. It inspired a number of prominent personalities to write angry protests to the Fujimori regime and helped impel European and American lawyers to accept invitations to form a delegation of international observers to travel to Lima.

The Peruvian People's Response

In Peru, despite all the hysterical publicity surrounding the arrest, since then news of the People's War has been almost entirely smothered. After the trial, the Armed Forces reinstructed the media  those broadcasters and publications that the military hadn't already shut down  not to carry anything about the struggle in the countryside, where the revolution has strongholds, the revolutionary base areas where the workers and peasants have already seized political power.

But they could not avoid covering some spectacular actions right in the enemy's strongholds in Lima, such as the disruption of Armed Forces Day celebrations September 24th, and the November 6th annihilation of a top DINCOTE secret police commander. It was also reported that the PCP led a very successful "paro armado" (armed strike) in several provincial cities and towns at the end of September. For 24 hours, nothing moved in the city of Ayacucho and the surrounding countryside, a revolutionary stronghold since the People's War began in 1980. The garrison town of Huanta to the north was paralysed for 48 hours. The shutdown lasted three days in Huancayo, a mining centre in the department of Junin in the centre of the country. Major attacks on government forces were reported in the south-central and central mountains and in the Upper Huallaga jungle. Police patrols were ambushed in the outskirts of the capital. And in Lima's poor districts and shanty towns, huge quantities of a PCP leaflet entitled "Defend the Life of Chairman Gonzalo" were given out.

Imperialist Collaboration

Abroad, just after Chairman Gonzalo's arrest, the forces of reaction unleashed a secondary, containment blow to terrorize and disorient present and potential PCP supporters and politically isolate them. Fujimori's government brandished a list of names of people in other countries to be extradited and tried in Peru for "apology for terrorism". This list included a few Europeans as well as Peruvians, and in addition to PCP supporters it also named people of varying political tendencies who had criticized the Peruvian regime. All sorts of wild charges were made. It was claimed that international support for the PCP could only be explained by vast amounts of "drug money" pouring out of Peru. (Ironically, only yesterday Fujimori was accusing some of these same people of financing the People's War from abroad.) But plausible or not, these accusations and threats were loudly echoed by top government officials in several European countries and the international media as a whole.

Goose-stepping in unison to imperialist orders, the international press in general played their role as apologists for the Fujimori dictatorship with the polished perfection of a concerted, centrally-briefed propaganda campaign. This rabid crusade combined disinformation and distortion of the People's War and Chairman Gonzalo's role with systematic suppression of any news that didn't suit them. Once the military tribunal had set the terms for Gonzalo's "trial" and sentencing, in complete mockery of "human rights" and even reactionary Peruvian law, these champions of democracy were silent - so much so that in many countries the media did not even cover the summary "trial" of the man whose arrest had filled the headlines in every land a few weeks earlier. Virtually no news of the international campaign to defend Comrade Gonzalo's life was allowed to reach the people in most countries.

All this only showed the nature of the regime that was to try Chairman Gonzalo as well as the multi-faceted collaboration it was receiving from high places in the imperialist countries. In a bold counter-thrust to efforts by the governments and their media tools to politically encircle and criminalize the PCP and its supporters, people from all walks of life around the world began to come forward to oppose the threats and the farcical "trial" facing Chairman Gonzalo.

International Delegations Expose Fujimori's Crimes

The forms of struggle taken up in the international campaign to defend his life were varied, ranging from the traditional to the unique. Some were new to the Maoists, who found themselves facing new demands and new opportunities. First in smaller numbers and then in cascades, the IEC's Call to Defend the life of Abimael Guzmán was signed by renowned lawyers, members of parliament and former ministers and other government leaders, academic figures, well-known musicians, writers and artists, and others from Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, El Salvador, France, Germany, Guadeloupe, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Kenya, Martinique, Mexico, Nepal, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United States. Delegations of IEC supporters and other concerned people began to visit Peruvian embassies in many countries. Letters, telegrams and faxes protesting the threats against Chairman Gonzalo's life began to deluge these embassies and Fujimori's presidential palace.

The Fujimori government hurriedly convened their "trial" on October 1st, after only two days notice. But to their great surprise, the first international delegation organized by the International Emergency Committee had arrived in Lima. The regime and its sponsors were stunned that these delegates had dared confront them in their own lair, with a strength that came not from the backing of any government but from the fact that they represented a just cause and an emerging mass movement of a wide spectrum of people around the world and even within the imperialist countries. After television interviews and front page coverage in the Lima press, "all of Peru" knew about these people who had come to serve as ambassadors of the hundreds of thousands around the globe who are taking up this campaign. As lawyer and delegate Peter Erlinder later said, "I think we made it clear to the Peruvian government that events in Peru are of importance and concern to people outside Peru."

The delegates were widely recognized where ever they went. Delegate Heriberto Ocasio later reported, "When we walked around the centre of the city, in the first days after our press conference, people would give us the thumbs up and express their gratitude for our taking a stand for justice. A journalist from Ayacucho travelled all the way from this town in the Andes to Lima to find us and tell us how we were speaking for the many who cannot openly speak out in Peru.

"After a couple of days the government unleashed a fury of rumours which the press loyally served to spread. They claimed we were there to plot an escape attempt, some tabloids called me a psychiatrist sent by Saddam Hussein, [and said I was the one] who had masterminded the supposed escape attempt. All of the papers tried to paint us as organized and paid by the Communist Party of Peru. The press all repeated the government's threats of imprisonment or expulsion. After this, we still heard from people in the streets who supported us and from others who said they sympathized with the revolution, but they spoke to us only in whispers, telling us to be careful' of what opinions we expressed, for some opinions are illegal to express in Peru'."

The delegation's formal request to Peru's Supreme Court that they be allowed to attend the trial as observers was denied at once in an unsigned reply issued by the military. Two delegation lawyers attempted to accompany Dr Crespo to the island of San Lorenzo on the day the trial opened, but Naval officers allowed only Dr Crespo to board the boat. This ban on legal observers may have helped keep the details of the proceedings secret, but it only underlined the fact that this "trial" was a complete violation of the principles and specific guarantees of international law. It shocked and helped to galvanize many people, including in the legal profession.

Peru's Prime Minister threatened to jail the delegates for a term of six months to twelve years for "insulting the president and defending terrorism". In a late-night visit to their hotel, Peru's chief prosecutor told them that he "could not guarantee their safety". Exactly what he meant was made clear by a government-organized band of a dozen "civilians" who assaulted the delegates in the streets.

In his report to the IEC, delegate Martin Heiming described the role of the imperialist government embassies: "In this situation, I call up the German ambassador and leave him my name, just in case. Baron von Mentzingen uses this, as I learn the next day from the newspaper, to have minutely detailed information on me sent over from Germany. One day after that I can read the result: The German lawyer Heiming specializes in terrorism, his most recent case was Kurdish terrorists. At the same time, the U.S. embassy delivers an exhaustive dossier on Dr Ocasio, which is also fed to the press."

After leaving Peru, this delegation released a report analysing the legal issues. Because the trial was being "conducted in flagrant violation of both Peruvian and international law", they concluded that any verdict or sentence should be considered null and void.

Just how much this first delegation hurt the Peruvian regime became evident several weeks later. Worried about his image, Fujimori had at first announced that international observers would not be interfered with. Apparently he thought that the extra-legal threats made on the first delegates would be enough to keep away any others. Perhaps he also thought that the verdict closed the question, though he himself continued to publicly threaten Chairman Gonzalo's life. The regime received a rude surprise October 27th, when a second delegation of Italians, Americans and a German appeared in Lima at a press conference along with Dr Crespo. Despite Fujimori's fine words, television reports showed machine-gun toting officers hauling away the delegates as soon as they began to speak. They were taken to the headquarters of the DINCOTE political police. According to the Reuters press agency, "the decision to deport the six, who entered the country on tourist visas, had been taken in a meeting at police headquarters attended by high-level police officials and consular officials of the three embassies". In order to stifle a new round of protest against this, on October 28th the U.S. State Department announced that the delegates had been released and were free in Lima. In fact, they were still in police custody. The following day they were put on a plane and expelled to Miami, in the U.S.

But the damage to the reactionary regime was already done. Peruvian television, radio and press were saturated with the news. The delegates gave a successful press conference on their arrival in Miami. Millions of people in Peru  and across the world  became aware of this political battle. Although the delegation's planned mission was cut short, their mere presence in Peru was an unmistakable sign that new contingents were enlisting in the expanding movement to defend the life of Chairman Gonzalo. The verdict had no more closed the question for the people than it had for the enemy.

Actions Stretch

Across the Globe

In little more than a month, the campaign had taken root and spread to all continents. From the initial phase of contacting initiators of the Call and organizing a first international delegation, various forms of activities had started to mushroom in a number countries. These included sending delegations to present demands at Peruvian embassies, street marches, vigils, public meetings, graffiti writing, protests against the press and collecting money for newspaper advertisements. Early on, a large, spirited march and demonstration was held in Kathmandu, Nepal that targeted the UN office of human rights, with many people wearing "Release Comrade Gonzalo" T-shirts. Thousands of protesters marched the following day in New Delhi. In Germany 20,000 posters went up on the walls in three languages. In Istanbul a local IEC press conference successfully took the word of the campaign out to broad numbers in Turkey. And in Colombia, numerous human rights and other organizations were mobilized to register their protest to the Fujimori regime.

On the day of Chairman Gonzalo's sentencing, October 7th, the IEC called for an International Day of Action that was widely taken up: 200 people demonstrated in Stockholm, 300 at Kent State University in the U.S. and a couple of days later 1000 (mainly Turkish immigrants) in Bonn. Other actions took place in Mexico City, in San Diego, San Francisco, and New York in the U.S., in London, Paris, Berlin, Hamburg and other German cities, and in Copenhagen, Denmark. Even the Peruvian Embassy in The Hague, Netherlands was not spared. In South Africa, students protested outside the U.S. Consulate in Durban and held a meeting in Capetown, and in Asia there were demonstrations in several cities in the Indian state of Kerala, as well as in Dhaka and other parts of Bangladesh, and in Canberra, Australia. U.S. and other flags as well as effigies of Fujimori went up in flames in a number of these actions, such as the lively march through Kreuzberg in Berlin, which has declared itself a sister city with Ayacucho. Huge banners were strung across the highways in Hawaii as motorists went to work. A radio call-in show in Hawaii invited U.S. soldiers who resisted the war against Iraq to discuss U.S. intervention in Peru.

The gathering of signatories to the Call also took on an increasingly mass character. In Nepal, a goal of a million signatures has been set and many thousands have been collected already. A notable exception outside Peru, many Nepalese newspapers have reported on the events surrounding Chairman Gonzalo. In Turkey, after an initial letter of support from 78 political prisoners on hunger strike in Izmir, a veritable movement began to spread inside Turkey's dungeons. Many organizations in Turkey have enthusiastically taken up this campaign, and human rights groups are actively protesting to the Peruvian regime and to their colleagues in Amnesty International for not intervening decisively. Major advertisements have appeared in the Turkish-language press in Europe. This outpouring of support from Turkey provoked the Lima press, no doubt dutifully responding to direct military command, to slander Gonzalo's Turkish supporters abroad as "morally corrupt" and "drug-dealers"! In Bangladesh, numerous ordinary people and prominent personalities have signed. Thousands of leaflets have gone out in Pakistan, and campaign graffiti have begun to appear on the walls of Karachi.

An open debate went on in the Mexican press after protests hit the offices of La Jornada for its biased coverage of Peru; when the event was reported in its pages, a group of reactionaries wrote a letter against the protesters, and in turn prominent people associated with the campaign there published an advertisement signed by many intellectuals, members of parliament and artists. A number of newspapers in Mexico, including the leading daily Excelsior, also published a letter to the Peruvian regime written by ten members of parliament condemning the violations of international law in Abimael Guzmán's case.

A strong contingent waving a "Free Chairman Gonzalo" banner took part in the October 12th demonstrations in Mexico City against the 500th anniversary of the European invasion that began with Colombus. As the contingent entered the city's central plaza, people already assembled there began to chant spontaneously, "Peru Yes, Yankees, No!"

In Hamburg, Germany, on November 3rd, demonstrators occupied the Peruvian Consulate office, holding a huge banner with the comrade's picture and the slogan "Move Heaven and Earth to Defend the Life of Chairman Gonzalo". For an hour, Consulate officials were reduced to helplessly  and foolishly  trying to defend the trial's legality.

In some places Peruvian ambassadors have been so offended by actions, letters of protest or signatories adding their names to the Call, they have taken to trying to intimidate new supporters by counter-attacking them in writing, visiting them at their homes, or organizing threatening calls to establishments that have hired out public rooms for campaign support meetings.

The appeal from the International Emergency Committee for "One Day's Wages to Defend the Life of Dr Abimael Guzmán" has touched a deep chord among working people in many countries. Several dozen day labourers in the city of Cochin, in Kerala, India, were among the first to make this pledge. There was a strong response from Turkish workers and other immigrant workers in Europe. Like the People's War in Peru itself, this campaign has relied on the self-sacrificing support of labouring people. Without it, the delegations and other work would not be possible. The call for "One Day's Wages" not only helped draw proletarians and other poor and exploited people into this campaign, it also helped make their support and internationalist solidarity a material force.

The launching of this vigourous international campaign in a brief period of time, in the face of the united efforts of the world's reactionary powers, has not yet stopped their heinous and criminal schemes but it has already stung them badly. As the Peruvian regime and its masters continue to hatch new conspiracies to kill Chairman Gonzalo, new waves of people are stepping forward in what is certain to be an increasingly fiercely-fought battle to defend his life.