Peru's Shining Path Leaders to Hear Terror Trial Verdicts

Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman, whose messianic communist vision inspired a 12-year rebellion that cost nearly 70,000 lives, still considers himself a rebel — not a terrorist deserving a life sentence in prison.

The 71-year-old former philosophy professor and his top commanders were to hear verdicts Friday on charges of aggravated terrorism.

Prosecutors recommended life sentences for Guzman, his longtime lover and second-in-command Elena Iparraguirre, and eight others from his inner circle. Two other defendants faced possible 25-year terms.

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.

"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.

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But 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 the Andean village of Lucanamarca, where nearly two dozen children were among those shot and hacked to death in retaliation for the killings of several rebels.

Guzman gloated about the massacre in a 1988 interview in the rebels' newspaper El Diario, saying: "Faced with reactionary military action, we responded with action: Lucanamarca."

Survivors from the village protested outside the naval base Friday.

"They killed them with machetes, stones, axes — and for those who did not die in agony in this way, they even put them into a vat of boiling water," said Ignacio Tacas, a 35-year-old farmer.

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The state's anti-terrorism attorney, Guillermo Cabala, said anything less than life sentences would be a "mockery" of justice. Guzman's lawyer, Manuel Fajardo, noted as he entered the naval base that "in any case, 30 or 35 years or life means those who are accused will die in prison."

A government-appointed truth commission in 2003 blamed the Shining Path for 54 percent of nearly 70,000 estimated deaths and disappearances caused by rebel violence and a brutal state backlash between 1980 and 2000.

Guzman tolerated no alternative vision — whether from the political right or left — for solving Peru's deep problems of poverty and unemployment. The Shining Path drove that message home by shooting activists, hacking them to death or blowing up their bodies with dynamite.

By the time Guzman called for peace talks a year after his 1992 arrest — turning the tide of the insurgency — guerrilla violence had displaced at least 600,000 people and caused an estimated $22 billion in damage.

Fajardo says Guzman should be granted amnesty or be released outright because of due process violations. "There are deaths in every war. The basic rule of war is to annihilate the forces of the enemy," Fajardo told The Associated Press.

The lawyer said Guzman was "tranquil" in the face of a near-certain guilty verdict.

"We will exhaust everything in our reach for Abimael to go free," Fajardo said. He said appeals were planned both in Peru and internationally.

A secret military tribunal sentenced Guzman to life in prison in 1992, but Peru's top court ruled the trial unconstitutional three years ago.

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

When the latest trial began in September 2005, Pablo Talavera, president of Peru's anti-terrorism court, prevented more political theater by banning cameras and tape recorders from the courtroom.

The Shining Path faded after Guzman's capture, and for five years Peru has enjoyed relative political stability and sustained economic growth.

But rebel factions continue to operate in the coca-growing jungle region, where several hundred guerrillas provide protection for cocaine traffickers.

"At this point what we have in our country are the remnants of the terrorist organizations," Interior Minister Pilar Mazzetti said recently. She described them as disparate groups of several dozen rebels each that "have lost the insurgency capacity they had before."