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
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
Seizure of Aucayacu
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).
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.
and the South-East
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
have also been reported in Trujillo (notably a mine taken over and
dynamite seized in March) and Huaráz (department of Ancash).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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