Sun, Oct 15, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Peru's Shining Path leader gets life in jail

TIME FOR JUSTICE The founder of the Peruvian organization that terrorized the country during a 12-year campaign has been found guilty of aggravated terrorism


Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman, whose messianic communist vision inspired a 12-year rebellion that cost nearly 70,000 lives, was found guilty of aggravated terrorism by a civilian court and sentenced to life in prison.

The 71-year-old former philosophy professor stood impassively with his hands crossed in front of his waist as a court clerk read the sentence on Friday, ending a yearlong civilian retrial.

Guzman's longtime lover and second-in-command, Elena Iparraguirre, 59, also received a life sentence. Ten other co-defendants from his inner circle received sentences ranging from 24 to 35 years.

After the sentences were announced, Guzman reached over and took Iparraguirre's hand and kissed it tenderly, then gave her a light embrace.

Asked for comment on the trial's outcome, Guzman's lawyer, Manuel Fajardo, said: "The sentence they have imposed on them constitutes a medal."

He said "history will provide their verdict in the end," adding that the court's ruling was based not "strictly on the law, but rather on politics."

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Guzman was known to his followers as "Presidente Gonzalo," inspiring a cultlike obedience among a Maoist guerrilla insurgency that grew to 10,000 armed fighters.

Guzman did not flinch as the court clerk declared him guilty of "aggravated terrorism" against the Peruvian state, following a more than six-hour recitation of the trial evidence.

He refused last month to speak in his own defense when offered a final chance during closing arguments to address the court. He has said very little during the course of the trial.

"I am a revolutionary combatant and totally reject being a terrorist," Guzman declared as the trial -- his third -- began last year at the maximum-security naval base where he has been held since 1993.

A secret military tribunal sentenced Guzman to life in prison in 1992, shortly after his capture in a Lima safehouse. But three years ago, Peru's top court ruled that the closed military justice system was unconstitutional.

A civilian retrial in late 2004 ended in chaos after Guzman and his supporters, with fists raised, chanted communist slogans as television cameras rolled, and two of the three presiding judges stepped down under pressure over conflicts of interest.

Another civilian tribunal, led by Judge Pablo Talavera, president of Peru's national anti-terrorism court, started the third trial in September last year.

During that period, Talavera banned cameras from the courtroom to prevent more political theater -- a policy he lifted for the first time on Friday, allowing Peru's cable news station Canal N to tap into a closed circuit TV system to broadcast Guzman's sentence live.

Most Peruvians have little sympathy for Guzman, whose followers celebrated bloodshed in songs and slogans that declared blood was necessary to "irrigate" their glorious revolution.

The Shining Path bombed electrical towers, bridges and factories, assassinated mayors and massacred villagers, including 69 peasants in Lucanamarca, where nearly two dozen children were among those shot and hacked to death in retaliation for the killings of several rebels.

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