Defend the Political Prisoners of Yanamayo
By the International Emergency Committee to Defend the Life of Dr
Abimael Guzman (PCP Chairman Gonzalo
On Sunday, 6 February 2000, a group of political prisoners and
prisoners of war at Peru's notorious Yanamayo prison in Puno refused
to return to their cells and seized and held the prison guards.
After several hours, the authorities sent in armed squads to put
down the protest. The prisoners, who are charged with belonging
to the Communist Party of Peru (PCP), fought back fiercely, forcing
a retreat after a furious battle in which one of the prisoners was
Although the Peruvian government denies it, news reports give detailed
accounts of negotiations that the government was then forced to
conduct with the prisoners. The prisoners demanded an end to the
isolation of Abimael Guzman (Chairman Gonzalo), that he be presented
publicly and that the special prison at Callao where he and other
leading PCP prisoners are being held be closed. They also demanded
recognition as political prisoners and prisoners of war; an improvement
in the harsh conditions of imprisonment they face and more humane
prison conditions for all prisoners; and the presence of the Red
Cross and human rights officials to ensure their safety.
The conditions in Yanamayo, like all Peru's prisons, are notoriously
cruel. But in addition it is located 4000 metres high in the mountains,
in bitter cold and far from Peru's population centres, making visits
extremely difficult. The cells are 2 x 3 metres, the windows are
tiny and often lack glass, so that the wind sweeps through, and
the water is so cold that prisoners' fingers turn purple when they
wash. The food is rotten, insect-ridden and generally inedible,
and the prisoners have little access to medical care and medications.
[For more information, see the International Emergency Committee
(IEC) Emergency Bulletin 60, the article on Peru's prisons in AWTW
1996/22 and the interview with an ex-prisoner of war in AWTW
For months tension had been gathering in Yanamayo. In November,
the political prisoners had issued a set of demands, but in January
the once-monthly family visits were denied and other punitive measures
taken. The final spark to the rebellion was reported to be an incident
when 60 to 70 guards, armed with teargas and shotguns, stormed a
prison block, killed one prisoner and wounded 20 others, and then
tried to blame the prisoner's death on the prisoners themselves.
After rising up and seizing the prison block, the prisoners repulsed
several attempts to retake it, and held firm in their demands. Eventually,
on Monday 7 Feb, the authorities agreed to take no reprisals against
them and to transmit their demands to the highest level of government.
The following day, although the prison was entirely surrounded by
army reinforcements from "special operations units", journalists
reported that the prisoners raised red flags and, in an organised
fashion, chanted their slogans to get their message out to the world
and demanded that the government comply with the negotiated agreement.
The prisoners' struggle selflessly raised the need to break the
isolation of Chairman Gonzalo, a just and necessary demand raised
by people all over the world. He has been held in complete isolation
for almost seven years now, in violation of international law and
the government's own legal undertakings. The isolation must be ended.
Their demands for an end to the inhuman treatment suffered by Peru's
prisoners also deserve the support of people everywhere. The IEC
has long sought to expose the vicious practices of the Fujimori
regime, which are aimed in particular at breaking the prisoners'
steadfast support for the People's War.
Indeed, their heroic struggle under the extreme conditions they
face gives heart to all those struggling against oppression everywhere
and urgently cries out for support. So does the People's War itself,
which the PCP has continued to lead forward through the twists and
turns of recent years, despite repeated claims that it has been
defeated by Fujimori and his US imperialist backers.
We call on people around the world to back the prisoners' struggle
and to protest against the Fujimori regime and its continued isolation
of Chairman Gonzalo in whatever ways possible. We also call on people
to be alert to further manoeuvres by the regime. As of 13 February,
press and human rights observers have still not been allowed into
the prison, and the regional hospital had been put on alert in case
of casualties "of a great magnitude". Indeed, the political
prisoners have warned against the possibility that the Fujimori
regime might repeat a massacre like the one that took place in 1992
in Canto Grande prison, or the massacre in El Fronton prison in
1986, when three hundred political prisoners were killed after a
heroic struggle. The Fujimori regime has been widely condemned for
its violations of human rights, and it has openly declared that
it refuses to recognise rulings of the Organisation of American
States Inter-American Human Rights Court.