A WORLD TO WIN    #22   (1996)


Newsbriefs from the Battlefield

A countrywide series of guerrilla attacks in late July and August 1996 marked a high point in the People's War in the last several years.

In 1993, in the period of reactionary intoxication following repeated blows against the PCP and the claim that Chairman Gonzalo had asked for peace talks, Peru's President Fujimori swore to completely wipe out the People's War by the beginning of his second term, 28 July 1995. He got it wrong - that month saw a revolutionary offensive against his regime. His speech at the official ceremonies a year later in 1996, amidst another, more extensive PCP campaign, was notable for the absence of any such promises.

As of July 1996, according to the Reuters news agency, the PCP is active in 15 of Peru's 24 departments. The state of emergency granting the Armed Forces full control over all affairs continues to apply to a quarter of the country, where 44% of its people live. This includes most of the shanty towns and factory districts of the capital, and extensive areas of the countryside: the northern mountains parallel to the coast, the north-eastern jungles, the central mountains east of the capital, and the south-eastern highlands and their eastern slopes.

In October 1996, in tacit acknowledgement of the strength of the PCP, the regime mounted a major operation to isolate and capture PCP Central Committee leader Comrade Feliciano. Two thousand soldiers were deployed in the central Andes; however, Peruvian press reports complained that the operation seemed to be failing due in large part, they said, to extensive defensive preparations on the part of the guerrillas.

The following highlights emerge from wire service news reports from mid-1995 through mid-1996:

Huallaga River Valley

Repeated Army offensives along the Huallaga River and the lowlands rising to steep, wooded hills have been unable to force the guerrillas to engage on the enemy's terms. Ambushes have become an especially important form of warfare. The regime may have helicopters to napalm and machinegun people, but its Army could not maintain its ability to fight without being able to move men and equipment on the few roads through the forests. These ambushes have wiped out Army patrols and greatly hindered the Armed Forces' ability to extend their control beyond their strongholds. Assaults on Armed Forces bases, though not on a large scale, have also had the effect of obliging the enemy to keep his forces concentrated and abandon smaller posts. Another complicating factor for the government is that the brief 1995 war with Ecuador and the continuing tense situation at the border has meant that a few Army units have had to be withdrawn from the Huallaga. All this has made it impossible to eradicate the People's Committees that extend far into the forests. In revolutionary base areas on both sides of the Huallaga, political power is held by the peasants and others under Party leadership. This is where the People's Liberation Army draws many of its fighters, its supplies and its military intelligence.

The level on which the PCP is currently able to contend in this area was shown in the August 1996 takeover of Aucayacu. It was the most significant of a several-months-long string of temporary seizures of small towns and villages on the approximately 200 kilometres of highway running alongside the Huallaga in the valley from Tingo María to Tocache, and east of Tingo Maria on the area's only other road, leading to Pucallpa. This was some of the largest-scale fighting in the People's War since the early part of the decade. While the clashes were not the biggest of the People's War to date, they would have been considered major battles at any point.

The government mounted several major offensives in this area in 1993 and again in 1994, involving up to several thousand troops. Each time they advanced and carried out horrible massacres in the villages before the campaign finally became bogged down and petered out. In July 1995, 21 soldiers were killed in the ambush of an Army patrol on a jungle trail near Aucayacu, the most important of several such battles. In all, the government admitted to the loss of 47 men in fighting in the area during the latter part of July '95. Maoist mortars raked the military base near Aucayacu on three successive nights, despite the troops backed by helicopter gunships looking for the guerrillas. In December, a five-hour long firefight took place near the town of Progreso, near Tocache, following the ambush of an Army patrol, leaving 11 soldiers dead, including two officers. The government launched a two-pronged offensive from bases near Tarapoto in the north and Tingo Maria to the south in late December and again in February 1996. Attempts to encircle and close in on the People's Liberation Army were smashed. A military convoy travelling just outside a military base six kilometres from Tocache was attacked and destroyed at noon on 9 February with mines and machinegun fire. There were 15 enemy dead and 10 wounded, with no reported losses among the revolutionaries. The local Armed Forces radio said that the ambush was led by a woman.

The Seizure of Aucayacu

This town of some 15,000 inhabitants is in an area surrounded by military bases and has itself served as a major stronghold from which the Army launched murderous assaults on the countryside. It was last taken over by the guerrillas in June 1991, during a mass peasant upsurge in the region. In June 1996, amidst battles throughout this area, the military withdrew from its base in town. The remaining base in Pucayacu, 20 kilometres away, also came under attack. News reports say that shortly after dusk on 2 August, three contingents, totalling several hundred revolutionaries, suddenly emerged from the woods and entered the provincial capital from the north and south roads and in small boats across the Huallaga River. According to the Lima daily La Republica, about 50 guerrillas carried semi-automatic rifles and rifle-propelled grenades. The rest were lightly-armed peasant men and women of varying ages from nearby villages and hamlets, where militias are organized by the People's Committees to fight in self-defence and help the local and main forces of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

The two dozen policemen stationed in the town were bottled up at gunpoint while a town meeting was held in the main square. No people's trials were held. Every single governmental authority and all the local drug lords had fled to Tingo Maria, 50 kilometres south, or the departmental capital of Huánuco. Like everyone else, they had grasped the meaning of the PCP slogans painted all over the asphalt surface of the road in the weeks before. News accounts speak of impassioned speeches and discussions and a very festive atmosphere lasting far into the night. After overturning a Caterpillar earth-mover and two lorries to block the highway in both directions, the PLA units and the masses supporting them in this action disappeared before government troops could pour in by land and air the next day.

Ayacucho and the South-East

The department of Ayacucho and the neighbouring departments of Huancavelica and Apurímac constitute the region where the first revolutionary base areas arose. This is also where the government has some of its largest concentrations of troops and bases, which it uses to organize rondero paramilitary bands. Lack of cover due to the thin vegetation at high altitude is another specific problem here, so that the PLA most often moves and frequently fights at night. All this has given the war in this region a particularly back-and-forth character for some years now. Many villages are now standing abandoned after repeated Armed Forces bombings and massacres. Hundreds of thousands of people have been "displaced" from the countryside.

Despite government attempts to present the central part of Ayacucho as "pacified", it was recently forced to renew the state of emergency in Huamanga province (south of the city of Ayacucho) and Cangallo (where the People's War began and long a leading concentration of revolutionary base areas). In early August 1996, an important action took place near the town of Lucanamarca, an area in the central part of the department that was the scene of historic battles in the early 1980s.

In the last several years, fighting has been especially fierce in Huanta and La Mar provinces in the northern part of Ayacucho (adjoining Huancavelica/Junín/Cuzco and Cuzco/Apurímac respectively). The government claims that PLA guerrillas are fighting along one axis extending several hundred kilometres from Huancavelica in the northwest through northern Ayacucho and into Apurímac on the southeast, and another reaching north into Junín along the Apurímac and Ene river valleys as far as the jungle around Satipo, where eight soldiers were reported killed in an Army offensive in April and May.

An August 1995 guerrilla campaign in Huanta was followed by a government counter-offensive. In the following months, ronderos from the small cities of Tambo and San Miguel in La Mar sought to drive the People's Liberation Army out of the heights above the villages in this mountainous area. In turn, the guerrillas fought several successful battles against the ronderos, including incursions into towns, where rondero leaders were tried and executed. In March 1996 the PLA launched an offensive. An Army captain was killed in an ambush in Huahuaccana, La Mar province on 17 March. On 21 March 1996, a major firefight followed the ambush of an Armed Forces patrol in the Boca del Mantaro area, in Huanta where the Apurímac River (which serves as the border between Ayacucho and Cuzco) is joined by the Mantaro River and runs into the Ene River in Junín. The government claims that PLA units are able to travel quickly on foot through the dense forests in this system of valleys. Hundreds of special antiterrorist troops were dispatched to the area but attempts to encircle and suppress the guerrillas failed. Another battle occurred simultaneously in Ayacucho's Sello de Oro area, which, the media pointed out, the government had previously declared cleared of guerrillas. The following month the village of Anchahuay in La Mar was temporarily seized to deal a blow to ronderos headquartered there. In May the Armed Forces carried out a counter-offensive in La Mar and Huanta. According to the press, the government feared that the city of Ayacucho itself might be attacked in commemoration of the anniversary of the beginning of the People's War in the village of Chuschi, Ayacucho, on 17 May 1980. At the same time troop manoeuvres took place along the border of the adjoining department of Cuzco to the east, where several small towns had been rocked by armed strikes in November 1995.

Actions took place in the highlands of Huancavelica at the end of July, as part of the countrywide PLA offensive. Here, too, though the dry, brown, rugged mountainous terrain at 4000 meters altitude is very different from the humid, low-lying Huallaga hills, the question of roads is of great military significance. In the earlier part of this year, guerrillas once again began stopping buses on the main motorway through the area to do agitation among the passengers, a practice that had been common until a few years ago. On 29 July PLA fighters intercepted two buses outside the departmental capital city and used them to attack a large encampment north of Huancavelica, towards Izucchaca, maintained by road construction companies working on the road that connects Huancavelica to the city of Huancayo. The buses were used to block the arrival of other vehicles from the nearest police post, about a half hour away, while guerrillas - said in press accounts to number 50 - took over the three company sites and called workers to a rally to speak bitterness against their bosses and the government. "They ask us to sacrifice, to tighten our belts, but we can't take any more. And they say we have been defeated, but here we are. We want you to speak about your problems, about wages and treatment and how you are abused", began a young guerrilla in his speech to the workers, according to press reports. After a three hour meeting, the fighters seized dynamite and communications equipment from warehouses and destroyed the heavy machinery, blocked the roads with trucks and vanished into the mountains. In the city of Huancavelica, journalists noted a heavy police presence on the streets, apparently reflecting the authorities' worries about the town youth and about infiltration from the surrounding mountains.

Northern Mountains

Attacks were reported around Huarmaca, in the mountains of the southern reaches of the department of Piura, adjoining Lambayeque and Cajamarca. On 6 April the PLA seized the village of Capilla, in the district of Olmos northeast of the city of Chiclayo in Lambayeque department. An important battle was reported to have taken place in Piura on 25 April.

PLA attacks have also been reported in Trujillo (notably a mine taken over and dynamite seized in March) and Huaráz (department of Ancash).

Central Mountains

Press dispatches cite the stretch in Pasco department between the city of Cerro de Pasco west to Oxapampa, and south of there, in the countryside around Tarma-Chanchamayo, as areas where the PCP is recruiting after suffering losses. They also report recruitment among unemployed youth in the mountain city of Huancayo, which at a population of 180,000 people is one of the biggest cities in the ­sierra.

On 8 December 1995, guerrillas ambushed a police vehicle near the border between Huánuco and Pasco departments. It was carrying eight prisoners identified by the authorities as PCP "leaders" from the Huallaga to prison in Lima. The fighters and freed prisoners escaped into the hills of Daniel Carron province, Pasco.


During 1995 and the first part of 1996, relatively few major attacks took place in the capital. On 6 March 1996, in the shanty town of Huaycán, Pascuala Rosado was annihilated. She was described in the press as having been working with the director of the police, General Antonio Ketín Vidal, to organize the paramilitary squads that seek out and kill suspected PCP supporters in Huaycán and the nearby shanty town of Raucana, both areas along the Carretera Central highway outside Lima where the PCP has long had very strong support. Rosado had recently returned from self-imposed exile in Chile, with the belief that police and Armed Forces sweeps in these slums had made it safe to resume her activities. News media warned that the recent proliferation of PCP slogans on the walls here and in the enormous Villa El Salvador shanty town south of the city were signs that the Party was rebuilding organizations among the urban poor. Police foot patrols were attacked and their guns snatched on several occasions in March and April.

Dawn of 1 May revealed a large red flag (4 x 2 metres) flying from an enormous flagpole on Purucucho hill in La Molina, overlooking the city's eastern slums. A helicopter was quickly called in and paramilitary police scrambled to tear it down. Explosive booby traps wounded a major and sergeant; the rest of the police came under gunfire from a neighbouring hilltop. Graffiti and posters reappeared on walls of the Carretera Central, which passes through factory districts before penetrating into the mountains east of the city, and the Panamerican highway leading north.

During the night of 17 May, a large car bomb severely damaged a Shell Oil Company vehicle depot in the La Victoria factory area near the centre of Lima. The following day Shell, Mobil Oil and the government were to sign a $2.7 billion agreement for the exploitation of Peru's Camisea gas fields, the biggest deal ever cut between the government and private companies. The following day much of the capital was blacked out, with electricity cut from dawn until late at night. A string of bombings hit government targets in the following weeks.

On 26 July, just before the Independence Day parade, a car bomb blew up a police station used to guard the presidential palace 200 metres away and the Congress on the next block, in the centre of what is supposed to be the most secure area of Lima. On 29 July the Lima home of the general in charge of the Huallaga was completely destroyed. On 31 July, General Carlos Dominguez, head of the DINCOTE "antiterrorist" police, was forced to resign.

Inside Peru's Prisons

According to the New York Times, half a million people in all were detained at some time or another in the 18 months prior to August 1996. This amounts to almost 2% of Peru's population.

At the beginning of 1996, the regime claimed that there were 4,000 people serving sentences for "subversion". In August 1996, the Washington Office on Latin America put the number at upwards of 5,000. A recent bulletin from the International Emergency Committee to Defend the Life of Dr Abimael Guzmán (Chairman Gonzalo) quotes French lawyer Anne-Marie Parodi's estimate that there are currently about 7,000 political prisoners in Peru. The fate of the 4,200 people listed as "disappeared", many of them in police or Armed Forces custody, is still officially unknown.

A report issued in August by the Washington-based Human Rights Watch Americas, denounced the Peruvian police for "regularly" engaging in torture and said that a great many people are being held as a result of either a confession obtained through torture or of being named by someone else who was tortured. A Reuters dispatch of 24 January carried an interview with a woman recently imprisoned for two years as a suspected PCP supporter. She described being blindfolded, beaten, hung from the ceiling, shocked with electricity and nearly drowned to extract a confession, and then beaten daily and raped before trial. "To know the military court is to know hell", the woman said. Those charged with "subversion" continue to be tried in secret military courts by "faceless" hooded judges, a procedure Fujimori introduced as an exceptional emergency measure more than four years ago that has since become standard. These tribunals convict 97% of the prisoners who come before them.

Prisoners at Canto Grande in Lima are locked up three people to a 3 x 3 metre cell, with half an hour a day in the prison yard. The food is poor and tuberculosis and other illnesses are rampant, according to many sources, including the priest who is in charge of the country's prison chaplains, quoted by Reuters. The recently constructed Yanamayo prison in Puno, at an altitude of some 4,000 metres, has no heating, no glass in many of the windows, and no lighting in the 2 x 3 metre cells. The wind sweeps through everywhere and the water is so cold the prisoners' fingers turn purple when they wash. The 500 political prisoners are always hungry and often sick, according to an article in the U.S. daily Rocky Mountain News. Peru's prison regulations call for prisoners convicted of "subversion" to be completely isolated for the first year and then allowed one 15 minute visit a month by immediate family members. The Lima pro-government daily Expreso, in an 18 March article about what it called an "attempted riot" in Chorrillos women's prison in Lima, describes the prisoners as being confined two to a cell for 23½ hours a day.

After years of refusing to take a stand against the Fujimori regime in the case of Chairman Gonzalo, Amnesty International representative Peter Archard finally held a press conference in Lima on 16 May. He said that "at least 900" people had been unjustly imprisoned in Peru since 1992 as a result of judicial irregularities. "We will not rest until those prisoners get out free," Archard declared. Implicit was a stand he has long held - that the thousands of other prisoners he considers "guilty" of revolutionary activity are getting what they deserve. Fujimori concurred that "mistakes have been made" in his State of the Nation address 28 July, a minor concession meant to reduce political pressure and basically allow him to maintain the present situation. No concrete measures have been taken and appeals courts have released only about 150 people in the last year - many of whom face rearrest and retrial.

Narco-terrorism in Peru

In July 1995, the US signed a new treaty pledging to "coordinate policies and carry out specific programmes" with the Fujimori regime, replacing an earlier "anti-drug" agreement. Troops under the US Southern Command in Florida are on the ground in the Huallaga, Marañon, Aguaytía and Ucayali river valleys, all areas where the People's War has raged. The US refuses to comment, other than to say that they are providing logistical support for the so-called "war on drugs".

However, no such war is being waged in Peru. There is only armed conflict between government drug dealers and private sector drug dealers, and war against the peasants by both.

Coca leaf production still accounts for the equivalent of 40% of Peru's legal exports. Although its share of the country's overall economy has fallen in relative terms in recent years, due to the rapid growth of a handful of other industries that are just as directly tied to foreign investment, the amount of money involved has not decreased. In fact, as prices have dropped, the total amount of coca produced has gone up. The remittance of drug profits from abroad to Peruvian banks is said to bring in about $1 billion a year, without taking into account the dollars paid in Peru itself (Latin America Weekly Report, 2 May 1996). This has been going on for well over a decade, but Washington has apparently failed to lodge any complaints about the fact that money laundering is legal in Peru.

Peruvian Armed Forces shoot-downs of small aircraft bound for Colombia and Brazil in the last year have not led to a reduction in the amount of drugs being sold for the world market. These civilian flights have been replaced by military planes. At the signing of the treaty, US ambassador Alvin Adams assured the Peruvian Foreign Minister that the US would not reduce aid just because recently 220 pounds of cocaine turned up in Peruvian Navy ships searched abroad, 174 kilos of cocaine slipped onto an Air Force plane being sent to pick up spare parts in Russia, and 383 pounds of cocaine were discovered in Fujimori's personal aircraft. Demetrio Chavez Peñaherrera ("el Vaticano"), said to be the kingpin of the drug trade in the Huallaga, was charged with "treason" in 1994 so that his trial could be kept under wraps by the military. Recently he sent reporters a communication in which he gave names, dates and documents to back up his claim that he had operated with the protection of the Armed Forces and had bought the "franchise" for the trade from Vladimiro Montesinos himself at the price of $50,000 a month. Montesinos was a lawyer for the drug cartels before becoming Fujimori's closest adviser and head of the military intelligence services.

In December 1995, Fujimori announced that what he called the "infiltration" of the Armed Forces by drug dealers had made it necessary to replace them with the police in anti-drug operations. Then, police head General Victor Alva Plascencia, who is considered close to the President, was publicly accused of running a racket with properties confiscated in connection with cocaine arrests and the Interior Minister himself was brought under suspicion. Fujimori was obliged to replace Plascencia with Antonio Ketín Vidal, who was in charge of the operation that resulted in the capture of Chairman Gonzalo and was later banished to the traffic department because of conflicts with Montesinos. This may have pleased the US, with whom Ketín Vidal has strong ties, but is unlikely to reduce the regime's reliance on the drug trade with which Ketín Vidal has also been linked and in no way has it changed the role of the Armed Forces on the ground, according to all reports. Fujimori recently reconfirmed his support for Montesinos.

The US government is Fujimori's strongest backer. It is the regime's biggest direct and indirect source of funds, through loans and grants, and through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that operate at its behest and in turn set the terms for private capital. Under US control, Peru has accumulated one of the highest per capita foreign debts in the world. This debt has jumped from $22 billion to more than $33 billion since Fujimori became President. The Fujimori regime is a narco-terrorist dictatorship - a wholly-owned US narco-terrorist dictatorship.