Abimael Guzman

Yes Peru’s most notorious inmate! I hear he wants another ball and chain...

Indeed, Abimael Guzman or “Presidente Gonzalo”, incarcerated leader and ideologue of Peru’s Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) insurgency recently went on hunger strike in protest at the delayed dispatch of license papers for his marriage to former Shining Path No.2 Elena Iparraguirre.

President Alan Garcia, who failed to apprehend Guzman in his first presidency (1985-1990), has now said that an official matrimony is permissible. However Garcia, who condemned Guzman as the ‘most despicable criminal in Peru’s history’, had failed to give any cast-iron guarantees and the requested paperwork was slow in coming.

So the revolutionary is up in arms?

Uhum..not a mere thug I’d have you know…but yes, the Quechua-speaking former professor of philosophy punctiliously observed the beginning of his threatened strike only to end it two days later as Garcia reaffirmed their right to marry under Peruvian law.

Tell me more about Sendero and why Guzman is in jail.

The Maoist group formed after factional splits in the Peruvian communist party in the 1960’s. It carried out a terror campaign against the government of Fernando Belaunde Terry and against ‘liberal-democratic’ (also US funded) institutions such as the accordingly named Institute of Liberty and Democracy throughout the 1980’s and early ‘90’s. Sendero has claimed responsibility for attacks caused tens of thousands of fatalities.

Until Guzman was captured…

In 1992 by a special forces unit commissioned by President Fujimori. It was coordinated by his intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos who is now detained at the same prison as Guzman in Callao, Peru.

What a coincidence – Cellmates can become soulmates you know…

I don't think so... Guzman led an left-wing revolutionary organization that emerged after divisions in the Peruvian Communist party. Montesinos was a minister of a corrupt neo-liberal government, who instilled terror in political opponents through his security services, while his government privatized resources and pocketed the profits. I doubt they are sharing their bath water.

So terror cells, what other cells do they share?

Maybe not a prison cell, but they are being held in the same underground unit.

Underground unit?

Yes, it’s under the ground; subterranean though not clandestine. Infact Montesinos did his dirty business from a government lauded by the US, and then recorded all his bribes and deals in thousands of video tapes. Vanity got the better of him and proved a bit embarrassing for the Americans.

Two terrorists anyway, maybe a budding romance yet

I guess so...one acting for the state the other against it. One formerly a professor of philosophy at the Unversidad San Cristobal de Huamanga in Ayacucho, who learned Quechua, the other a ruthless low-life crook who ‘done well’.

I’ll bank on Guzman being the Che Ghuevara wannabe.

Like Che Guevara, Guzman shared a belief in the revolutionary potential of rural indigenous peoples and advocated their mobilization through guerrilla warfare. However, Sendero were responsible for brutalizing many Andean villagers who did not cooperate with its agenda. Guzman was recently described as “a communist faithful to his ideas” by his lawyer who is defending the publication of his memoirs entitled “De Puño y Letra”. The controversial book is an apologia for violence as a means to meet political ends but it also places the conflict firmly in the past and calls for national reconciliation. Guzman made a ceasefire pact with the government of Fujimori in 1993.

Is that why his face isn’t emblazoned on t-shirts and bedroom walls of students all over the world?

Guzman’s contributed to nearly two decades of civil war that claimed thousands of lives and never culminated in victory for the oppressed...so that kind of deprives him the possibility of a romantic legacy. It’s difficult to romanticize a figure who was captured in no small part by the discovery of prescription psoriasis cream in the rubbish outside his flat.

Another reason why he is no “Che”?

Professor he may be, but alas not the photogenic beau that was Che and although their ideologies converged somewhat, Guzman’s iconic status was precluded by “the Other Path”, a seminal book by Hernando de Soto which argued that Peru’s rural to urban migrants working in the vast informal sector exhibited an entrepreneurial spirit that reflected their natural preference for a free market economy.

So the Shining Path were left high and dry?

Indeed. Orphaned without their father figure the group became less active and with the capture of Guzman’s successor Oscar Ramirez in 1999 it splintered into smaller and less organized groups.

Any chance of a dramatic reproduction?

Barring any unforeseen delays to Guzman’s controversial marriage, with explicit rights to conjugal visits, will go ahead. But Comrade Miriam, as Iparraguirre is sometimes referred to, is now well into her 60’s and already has children from a previous marriage. Adding to her offspring isn’t looking likely.

Obviously that was supposed to be a reference to a repetition of the civil conflict. No matter. So will there be a ‘home sweet home’ for the happy couple then?

Unlikely. Guzman will have to accept that a violent insurgent’s home (not to be confused with that of an Englishman) is his carcel.