Tales from Peru's Prisons of Torture
Revolutionary Worker #1065, August 6, 2000
In December of 1992, Antonio Alejo rode his mule from the mountains to the town of Paucartambo in the central highlands of Peru. On his way to the market, he stopped at a restaurant for a bowl of soup. A group of government soldiers came into the restaurant, looking for guerrillas of the Communist Party of Peru (PCP). This region is one of the areas in the country where the Maoist people's war led by the PCP (usually called Shining Path in the mainstream media) has been very strong.
One soldier asked Antonio Alejo if he had seen any "tucos." To the soliders, "tucos" was a slang term for the PCP guerrillas. But Alejo was unaware of this-to him, "tucos" were a kind of bird that he often observed in the forest. So he told the soldiers that yes, he had seen "tucos."
Alejo was not a revolutionary activist or supporter. But his simple failure to understand a word led to torture and years in jail.
The soldiers demanded to see Alejo's identity papers-which showed he had not voted in the most recent election. Peruvian law makes it illegal to not vote. The government uses this law to threaten people with punishment if they take part in election boycotts organized by the PCP.
The soldiers accused Alejo of connection to the Maoists and hauled him away. For three days, he was tied up in an outhouse-gagging from the fumes and left without food or water. This was only the beginning. Next came eight more days of torture. The soldiers hung Alejo from the ceiling by his wrists, dislocating them, and applied electric shock to his penis.
One night, the soldiers forced Alejo to sleep next to the mutilated corpse of a woman who had been accused of being the girlfriend of a PCP member. When Alejo cried, the soldiers accused him of sympathizing with her.
The torturers told Alejo that they would stop if he signed a confession admitting his connection to the PCP. When he said he could not read or write, the soldiers gave him a blank piece of paper to sign. The paper was later filled in with a fake confession. This fake confession was used as "evidence" against Alejo, and he was sent to prison-where he spent the next six years.
Fujimori's Fascist Crackdown
Several months before Antonio Alejo was taken away by the army troops, Peru's President Alberto Fujimori and the military-backed by the U.S.-staged a "self coup." They suspended the country's constitution, disbanded the Congress, and dismissed most judges. In Lima and other cities, troops occupied college campuses and carried out massive sweeps of shantytowns, arresting thousands at a time. The regime set up military tribunals where judges, wearing hoods for disguise, railroaded thousands of people on "terrorism" and "treason" charges.
The target of the regime's fascist crackdown was the PCP and the Maoist people's war. But many people not involved in the revolutionary movement-mostly very poor-were also swept up in the mass arrests, railroaded, and thrown into jail. This fact underscores the extreme measures taken by the Fujimori regime in its attempts to defeat the PCP.
A recent New York Times article (7/17/00) described several other cases like Alejo's:
• Alicia Zamalloa Cáceres was imprisoned for over two years after police found a raffle ticket she had sold in the house of an alleged PCP member.
• Juan Mallea Tomailla, a taxi driver, was railroaded on charges of "terrorism" after he dropped off a fare at a house once used to edit a newspaper connected to the PCP.
• Juana Quispe Rojas received a 20-year sentence after she was mistakenly arrested on a warrant for a PCP member with the same name.
• Alfredo Márquez, an artist, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after he produced a silk-screen pop art portrait of Mao Tsetung.
Like Alejo-and thousands of others-these people were tried and sentenced by hooded judges. And, like Alejo, they were thrown into Fujimori's dungeons, often in the same cell blocks with PCP prisoners.
In an interview with the internationalist magazine A World to Win, Comrade Inez, who was a revolutionary prisoner at the Corrillos women's prison, described what the prisoners face: "The conditions of confinement are similar to what we know about the conditions of Nazi concentration camps. The cells measure 1.5 x 1.5 meters, built totally of concrete, with two cement platforms that serve as beds, one toilet inside (which is an open well), and a water tap (from a basin). The cells are aligned in groups of eight, and face on to a passageway which is approximately 80 centimeters wide. In each cell there are two or three detainees. Some of the detained are mentally disturbed who remain in isolated cells. The electric lights are controlled by the prison guards. Along the passageway there are florescent lights of very low intensity and light (opaque) that only lights the passageway and just reaches the edges of the bars (this generates serious vision problems, producing mydriasis, in other words, dilation of the pupils)....
"The detainees must remain in their cells 23 hours a day. Throughout the night the prison guards carry out periodic armed patrols in order to 'verify any situation'; their purpose is to harass the prisoners and prevent them from sleeping. During the day the butchers of the health service come by, guards of the National Penitentiary Institute. They work in complicity with the chief-butcher who is supposedly a doctor but carries out the actions of an intelligence officer. These include interrogations, physically abusing women prisoners." (See A World to Win, 1999/25 for the complete interview.)
The U.S. Hand Behind Fujimori
Antonio Alejo was released from prison in 1998-but his life was shattered by his imprisonment and torture. Hundreds of others have been released in recent years, but they, too, had large parts of their lives stolen from them. The stories of Alejo and others are now coming out in the bourgeois press like the New York Times. This is part of the efforts by the U.S. imperialists to distance themselves from the most openly brutal and repressive acts of the Peruvian regime. By criticizing Fujimori for his "undemocratic" ways, the U.S. imperialists are telling their henchman to be a little less blatant in his fascist ways.
But these U.S. maneuvers are marked with deep hypocrisy. After the 1992 "self coup," the U.S. imperialists scolded Fujimori and talked about sanctions-and then continued to back him and help his regime carry out a brutal counter-revolutionary war against the PCP and the people's war. U.S. "expertise" went into the "faceless" courts and intelligence operations against Chairman Gonzalo and other PCP leaders. After Fujimori won last May's presidential election through massive fraud, the U.S. government once again acted shocked and threatened to cut aid. But now, U.S. officials say they will "work with" his regime. Fujimori is a dictator with the "made in the USA" stamp all over him.
The New York Times and the establishment press in Peru call people like Antonio Alejo the "innocents." From their viewpoint, the PCP prisoners are actually "guilty" and should be in prison. The Times article even made the ridiculous claim that Alejo now suffers from insomnia because when he was in prison, he was kept up at nights because of debates among political prisoners in his cell block!)
But what makes the PCP revolutionaries "criminals" in the eyes of the imperialists and reactionaries makes these sisters and brothers heroes to the oppressed people around the world. The PCP has persevered against the savage counter-insurgency war of the U.S.-backed regime and is continuing to carry forward the people's war-aiming to overthrow the oppressors and liberate the people of Peru, as part of the world revolution.
The Committee to Support the Revolution in Peru (CSRP) points out: "Today over 4000 political prisoners remain behind bars on charges of 'terrorism' and 'treason.' PCP Chairman Gonzalo (Abimael Guzman) is serving a life sentence at the El Callao Naval Base in Lima under conditions of isolation that are illegal under international law. All these thousands of prisoners suffer brutal conditions. They are robbed of all due process, tortured, starved, and frozen. Yet despite everything these are revolutionary fighters who maintain their vision and spirit. They are not broken, and they continue to resist and they continue to struggle against injustice. They deserve our strong support."
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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