The "Trial" of Chairman Gonzalo — A Desperate Farce
The trial of Chairman Gonzalo was one of the most scandalous of
the twentieth century. First of all, it is outrageous that a leader
of the workers and peasants fighting a just war for their liberation
should be treated as a criminal. Secondly, even within the bounds
of bourgeois law, the "trial" was nothing more than a
naked exercise of power, a criminal violation of what all the world's
rulers call "the rule of law".
The "trial" consisted of little more than a sentencing
— a sentence that Fujimori had already announced beforehand: isolation
for life. Chairman Gonzalo is being kept in an underground bunker
which military officials have called "his tomb".
He is to have absolutely no communications or visitors for at least
a year. He is also to be forbidden any reading or writing materials.
His glasses have been taken from him. His lawyer has been informed
by military officials that they will not permit him to see Chairman
Gonzalo. After a year of total isolation he is to be put to forced
labour with at most one visit a month from a government-approved
immediate relative. All this amounts to burying him alive. Fujimori
justifies it this way: "These measures may seem very strict,
but we took them from the U.S. penal code. This guarantees that
international bodies cannot criticize them."
But there is every reason to fear that the regime has no intention
of keeping Chairman Gonzalo alive at all. These conditions only
make it easier for the Peruvian government to stage an "illness"
or "suicide". As long as no one, not even his lawyer,
is permitted to see or communicate with him, the authorities have
a free hand. This intolerable situation makes it impossible to know
if the authorities have already started trying to kill him by denying
him the medicine he needs, or are subjecting him to direct torture.
Furthermore, Fujimori has reopened the question of legal execution
for Chairman Gonzalo and other political prisoners. Before the trial,
Fujimori at first had called for executing Chairman Gonzalo, despite
the fact that capital punishment is forbidden by Peru's Constitution.
Then, after the sentencing, he said Peru would withdraw from the
San José pact, an international treaty by which most Latin American
governments renounced capital punishment. In a speech on October
30th before government officials reported in the Spanish newspaper
El País, "Fujimori reiterated his determination to do everything
possible so that Abimael Guzmán can be executed".
Fujimori has posed two possibilities. One is that the case be reopened
and the death penalty be applied retroactively, that is, that Chairman
Gonzalo be executed even though the death penalty was outlawed in
Peru at the time of his arrest. The other is that Chairman Gonzalo
be held hostage, with the threat that he be killed in reprisal for
unspecified future acts committed by his "followers".
Either one of these would be an act without precedent in modern
But the idea does not originate from any madness particular to Fujimori.
Rather he is responding to debate within U.S. ruling circles. After
the verdict and sentencing, William Buckley, a notorious opinion-maker
whose advice to American presidents is often taken, wrote a very
significant article entitled "Unwisely Fated Not To Die"
criticizing Fujimori for "a failure of nerve". "[Abimael
Guzmán] should have been shot.... Herewith is a call for the execution
of Abimael Guzmán." It should be noted that this call was issued
not in Lima, but in a Washington daily.
The "trial" took place in a climate of escalating terror
by the Fujimori regime. Martial law reigns: tanks patrolling the
streets of Lima, soldiers stationed everywhere, all media critical
of the government had been shut down or were occupied by troops.
Since the September 12th arrest of Chairman Gonzalo, numerous police
raids had been carried out in Lima's poor neighbourhoods and surrounding
shanty towns, with manhunts of presumed PCP leaders and massive
arrests of suspected PCP supporters.
The trial was held on the island military base of San Lorenzo, off
the coast of Lima. It is likely that the Navy was given the privilege
of conducting it because many of its top officers are from feudal
landowning families, and their hatred of the rebelling peasant masses
led by Chairman Gonzalo is intensely personal. Of course, the Peruvian
Navy have never fought anyone but the Peruvian people for over a
century. Their Marines have distinguished themselves in torture
and other methods of counter-insurgency.
The military tribunal itself was conducted in the strictest secrecy.
The judges, like everyone else in the courtroom but the defendant
and his lawyer, were all Navy officers, and thus under Fujimori's
direct orders as commander in chief. He supervised the spectacle
on closed-circuit television from an adjacent room. The judges and
their assistants all wore black hoods, allegedly to protect themselves
against reprisals. Some newspaper accounts say they bellowed their
questions. Others say they wore electronic devices to distort their
voices. Everything about the way this drama was staged points to
a conscious attempt to recreate the terror of the Spanish Inquisition,
in which heretics were burned at the stake.
Chairman Gonzalo's lawyer, Alfredo Crespo, who is head of the Association
of Democratic Lawyers, was led into the room blindfolded. He was
made to sit behind a sheet of thick glass (as though the judges
were in danger from him). For 15 minutes, he was allowed to communicate
with his client across the room by telephone. This was the first
and last time they were allowed to discuss the case.
The trial lasted only a few hours. Chairman Gonzalo was seated on
a chair in the middle of a small steel cage. He was interrogated
exclusively about his political and ideological convictions, making
it clear that it was the revolution itself that was on trial. Press
reports indicate that Chairman Gonzalo proudly accepted the responsibility
for leading the PCP and refused to accept the legitimacy of this
court. A Lima newspaper reported that Chairman Gonzalo "gave
a three and a half hour speech which threw the courtroom into disorder".
Dr Crespo had been told of the trial date and the general charges
only two days beforehand. It was only after the trial was over that
he was briefly allowed to see a copy of the indictment, to which
he was instructed to respond immediately in writing if he wanted
to appeal Chairman Gonzalo's conviction. He was not permitted to
communicate about this defence with his client. Since the indictment
is still secret and the lawyer is not allowed to reveal its contents,
it is not clear exactly what the charges were, although the press
has said that there were no specific charges whatsoever. One Lima
newspaper account says the supporting file accompanying the indictment
contained nothing but Chairman Gonzalo's writings and other PCP
documents. Dr Crespo had been forbidden to divulge any of the details
of the case and the trial to anyone, ever.
By October 7th, the expected verdict was released: guilty of "treason
to the fatherland". A week later, the Military Supreme Council
of Justice reaffirmed the decision. The government announced that
all possible appeals had been exhausted and the sentence was definitive.
But apparently it was definitive only for the defence, since it
was then that Fujimori reopened the question of the death penalty.
The military then informed Dr Crespo that Chairman Gonzalo no longer
had a lawyer. As if to enforce this decision, which Dr Crespo flatly
rejected, he began to receive anonymous death threats aimed at himself,
his family and colleagues.
Findings of the First Delegation
The four lawyers of the first delegation were Leonard Weinglass
and Peter Erlinder of the U.S., Anne-Marie Blanchet-Parodi of France
and Martin Heiming of Germany. Their findings concluded that the
trial was "null and void" because it violated the Peruvian
Constitution, Peruvian law and international law.
They based this on three main points:
The trial was secret, closed to the media, the public, family members,
legal observers and in fact everyone but the judges and court personnel.
The report called this a violation of the International Declaration
of Human Rights, Articles 10 and 11, and the American Convention
on Human Rights.
The trial was conducted by a military tribunal, in violation of
the right to an independent judicial process guaranteed by Resolutions
40/32 and 40/146 of the United Nations. Because the Peruvian Armed
Forces are directly confronting the PCP, bringing the Chairman of
the PCP before a military tribunal violates the legal principle
that no one can serve as both judge and party to a conflict at the
same time. Furthermore, as pointed out in the report to the IEC
by delegate Parodi, imposing a military trial on a civilian violates
Peruvian law, notably Article 282 of the Peruvian Constitution and
Articles 1 and 2 of the Preliminary Title of Peru's Basic Law of
n The entire process "violates Protocol II of the 1977 Addenda
to the Geneva Convention of 1949 to which Peru is a signatory, and
which, like other international treaties, has been recognized by
the Fujimori government in Decree 25418".
The Geneva Conventions cover the rights of prisoners of war, as
well as persons detained in "an armed conflict not of an international
character". Protocol II further defines an "armed conflict"
as that waged by "organized armed groups" under "a
responsible command". People detained in such conflicts may
be held prisoner until the end of the conflict but may not be punished
for having risen in arms. Protocol II also defines the minimum legal
standards to apply in cases where the government puts any detainees
It prohibits outrages on personal dignity, in particular humiliating
and degrading treatment. The delegation found that this was violated
by "the display of Dr Guzmán in a cage and his being subjected
to verbal abuse in an apparent attempt to degrade him".
This Protocol also stipulates that an accused person must be charged
with specific crimes, which was not the case with Chairman Gonzalo.
He must be presumed innocent. Since Fujimori announced the outcome
of the trial before it even started, it cannot be claimed that Chairman
Gonzalo was given the presumption of innocence. The accused must
also be given the right to defend himself.
New York lawyer Leonard Weinglass put it this way, "Fujimori
announced the sentence before the trial began. We found that was
a violation of basic due process. In addition, no witnesses were
allowed to be called. His attorney had 15 minutes to consult with
him before the trial began. And he wasn't even questioned on matters
that were in dispute in the case. He was merely questioned on ideology.
So what you had was a sham proceeding, not even an inquiry, not
even a trial."
Blanchet-Parodi also points out that Fujimori's decrees under which
Chairman Gonzalo was tried, in addition to violating the Peruvian
Constitution and international law, are not even consistent with
themselves. Fujimori's decree that "crimes of treason"
would be tried by a military tribunal was to come into effect September
16th, whereas Chairman Gonzalo was arrested September 12th. His
trial by the military after being arrested by the police also is
an infraction of the Peruvian law that says the police are not authorized
to arrest civilians for military offences.
"We therefore conclude", the four lawyers wrote, "that
the current trial of Dr Abimael Guzmán and the six political prisoners
[arrested with him] is being conducted in violation of international
law to which Peru is bound and must be stopped at once. Any verdict
or sentence in any resulting proceeding should be considered null
and void as a matter of international law."