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On People’s War in Peru, the betrayal by the leadership of the PCP and the capitulation of Gonzalo

Twenty-five years ago on 12 September 1992, Abimael Guzmán (‘President Gonzalo’), the leader of the Communist Party of Peru which had been waging Peoples’ War for over ten years was arrested.

For a historical overview of the People’s War we recommend the documents published in the 1980s in our Party paper Partisan, an article published in the revue La Cause du Communisme (N° 9, late 1985) entitled Shining Path : What Prospects for the Revolution in Peru ? and above all the brochure published by Voie Prolétarienne in May 1990 entitled 10 Years of People’s War in Peru which includes the position adopted by the OCML VP regarding the PCP in the form of critical support (headed The OCML VP Supports the Communist Party of Peru, resolution by the Steering Committee of VP, available on-line). This document expressed our main support for the PCP (the reference to Maoism and the Cultural Revolution, the democratic phase of the revolution, the importance of the proletarian Party and support for the armed struggle), whilst at the same time criticising several important secondary points (the idea of reformism, the weaknesses regarding the reflection on Socialism, the importance given to the figure of Gonzalo – see below –, internationalism and a flawed analysis of the situation in Europe). A final brochure entitled Questions about the Shining Path published at the end of 1992 responded to the massive smear campaign against the People’s War immediately following Guzmán’s arrest.

We were alone in our support which went against the current at the time.

The years 1993 and 1994 were a time of confusion (see below), marked by the decline of the Peoples’ War lasting until the 2000s. Up until now the OCML VP had failed to take stock of the situation and reappraise its position, which is precisely the aim of the present document made up of three parts :

- The political chronicle of events since 1992 to the present. All of the facts and documents referred to are in our possession (links to those available on the internet are included in the on-line version of this document) : we do not make history up ;
- A denunciation of the betrayal by the leadership of the PCP behind the ‘Peace Agreements ;
- The specific attitude adopted regarding the figure of Abimael Guzmán

1) Political chronicle of events

- 12 September 1992 : Arrest of Abimael Guzmán and a large part of the Central Committee of the PCP at a house in Lima following a two-year-long investigation carried out by the National Intelligence Service (SIN) aided by the CIA. Many PCP documents are also seized.
- 24 September 1992 : Abimael Guzmán appears on television in a cage, wearing a striped prisoner’s uniform. Clearly defiant and a rage, he makes a fighting speech in front of the cameras, calling for a continuation of the People’s War. This commendable, communist speech even impressed the bourgeois and was applauded around the world. [1]
- During the entire year that followed no more news appeared, to the point where the PCP and people around the world began to fear for President Gonzalo’s life with a summary execution in prison as had already happened with the political prisoners held at Lurigancho, El Fronton and Callao on 19 June 1986.
- Huge dramatic coup in October 1993. At the UN, Fujimori makes public two letters addressed to him allegedly written by Abimael Guzmán calling for political negotiations in order to arrive at a Peace Agreement. The first was a short letter dated 2 June 1993, while the second, more detailed letter was dated 15 September 1993. A third letter dated 6 October was not made public. [2]
It is not a surrender as such but merely a call for negotiations under the pretext that the political period had undergone a major change (there is no need to go into the arguments themselves here), leading to a call for national reconciliation. It is far more nuanced, all the more so as the call clearly remained unanswered. The contradiction is apparent in light of the fact that shortly beforehand in the document ¡Que el equilibrio estratégico remezca más el país ! (‘May the strategic balance shake the country further ! [3]) released in 1991, the Central Committee of the PCP had declared that they had arrived at the phase of a ‘strategic balance’ vis à vis the regime and that henceforth the question of seizing power was at stake.
- These letters allegedly written by Abimael Guzmán were quickly followed by a hundred-page document signed ‘President Gonzalo’ and released by the PCP under the title Asumir y combatir por la Nueva gran Decisión y Definición (‘Accepting and Fighting for the New Great Decision and Definition’) based on a supposedly qualitative change in the political period used to justify this initiative. A summary of this document dated October 1993 is available on line. [4]
- November 1993 : The Central Committee of the PCP followed up with a document entitled Sobre la nueva gran estrategia política (‘On the new great political strategy’) which refers back to the previous document whilst refraining from mentioning Gonzalo directly where it is a question of “Fighting for a Peace Agreement and strengthening the bases, preparing the 2nd Congress”. [5]
- 3 December 1993 : Guzmán appears on television surrounded by all of the imprisoned members of the Central Committee reading out a document signed by them all reiterating his demands for a peace agreement with Fujimori [6]. For those who can read Spanish, the document is enlightening : while it was clearly orchestrated by the SIN and the CIA, the prisoners also went along with the charade.
- In 1994 the PCP began to break-up and fall into decline in the wake of these announcements. We shall return to this point later, but one of the criticisms we levelled against the PCP as early as 1990 involved the personality cult taken to the extreme which effectively led to the depoliticisation of the masses and even the leadership due to the blind trust they placed in a supposedly infallible leader, all of which was theorised under the formula of ‘Gonzalo though’ the higher phase of Marxism. The announcement of the Peace Agreement initiative led to the surrender of many combatants, confusion, disarray and despondency amongst the rest and amongst the masses, etc. Because, given such a context, when the supreme leader calls a halt to the People’s War, then his orders must be obeyed even when failing to understand all of the reasons behind them.
- February 1994 : the Central Committee of the PCP met after being reconstructed in clandestinity under the leadership of Óscar Ramírez, ‘Comrade Feliciano’, who refused to subscribe to the Peace Agreements initiative, disputing the leadership of the Party with the imprisoned members (which was the least they could do), whilst at the same time avoiding openly criticising Gonzalo.
- 17 May 1994 : Felipe Tenorio Barbarán, ‘Comrade Albino’, a member of the new Central Committee, is arrested. Other arrests are to follow using the documents seized at the Guzmán’s hide-out in Lima, including a video with Guzmán surrounded by several members of the Central Committee.
- 22 March 1995 : Margie Clavo Peralta, ‘Comrade Nancy’, a long-standing member of the Central Committee staunchly opposed to the Peace Agreements and in favour of continuing the armed struggle is arrested. She believed that the so-called ‘peace letters’ were a hoax and a ploy by the SIN and the CIA, rightly so as it turned out, because today it has been established that these famous letters were drawn up under the direction of Vladimiro Montesinos abetted by the CIA as a very shrewd political strategy playing precisely on the main weakness of the PCP, namely the exacerbated personality cult. The problem was that Guzmán had fallen into step behind that strategy…
- 17 September 1995 : ‘Comrade Nancy’ appears on the television programme Contrapunto (Memoria de una Guerra by Luis Arce Borja, 2009, p. 207) where she recants. [7] After several months in detention and a meeting with Abimael Guzmán in prison set up by the SIN, she makes a call to “abandon the armed struggle” and to “submit” to Guzmán’s ‘Peace Agreement’ initiative, branding the other leaders as splitters, opportunists and anarchists.
- 20 April 1998 : Pedro Quinteros Ayllón, ‘Comrade Luis’, the right-hand man of ‘Feliciano’ since the arrest of ‘Nancy’ and one of the historical stalwarts of the PCP, is arrested. He dies in prison on 16 October 2008 without renouncing the armed struggle and clearly rejecting the capitulationist line of the Peace Agreements. He is, to our knowledge, one of the few leaders of the PCP to have remained a Communist until his death. [8]
- 14 July 1999 : Óscar Ramírez, ‘Comrade Feliciano’, one of Gonzalo’s closest collaborators since the beginning, responsible for the PCP’s military operations, used to living in hiding and a pillar of the Central Committee, is arrested. Several months after his arrest he is ‘returned’ by the special services and denounces the armed struggle, going on to collaborate with the police and the army, publically insulting Guzmán who he calls a psychopath. [9]
- In 2009 a 400-page autobiography penned by Guzmán himself entitled De puño y letra is published [10]. It is in fact made up of a compilation of documents for his political defence validated by his lawyer, Alfredo Crespo, an old legal member of the PCP who has led his defence since his arrest. In particular, the book contains several letters sent by Guzmán to President Fujimori (the famous ‘peace letters’) and his successor, the Interim President of Peru, Valentín Paniagua, calling for the start of Peace Talks. Alfredo Crespo, who was the only person to see him on a regular basis and who publically defended the ‘Peace Agreements’ initiative, e.g. during the presentation of his book, was never repudiated by Guzmán.
- Early 2010 : a declaration attributed to the clandestine Central Committee of the PCP is released [11] denouncing “Abimael Guzmán’s opportunist and revisionist line”, whilst at the same time criticising a leftist opportunist line within the Party since the mid-1980s leading up to the idea of a “strategic balance” in 1991. Unfortunately, we are unable to testify to the authenticity or the origin of this document, nor to the authors’ true identity.
- 8 February 2012 : ludicrous staged arrest [12] of Florindo Flores, ‘Comrade Artemio’, who, whilst defending the ‘Peace Agreement’ initiative continued to carry out sporadic military actions in the Amazonian areas of upper Huallaga. In an interview granted [13] shortly before on 18 December 2011, he claimed that the People’s War had failed, backed Guzmán’s positions and called for a truce in order to proceed to disarm the guerrilla. The arrest was clearly ‘arranged’ with the government..
- 5 September 2012 : death of Víctor Castro Ramírez, ‘Comrade William’, killed by the police in the VRAEM (Valle de los Ríos Apurímac, Ene y Mantaro), in southeast Peru.
- 11 August 2013 : death of Alejandro Borda, ‘Comrade Alipio’, and Martín Quispe Palomino, ‘Comrade Gabriel’, killed by the police in the VRAEM.
- December 2014 : release of a book by Abimael Guzmán and his partner, Elena Iparraguirre, entitled Memorias desde Némesis, written in October 1996 while in the Callao penitentiary [14]. This almost 400-page-long book recounts the history of the PCP prior to the launch of the armed struggle. The question which remains to be answered is how such a book could have made its way out of prison if Guzmán hadn’t abandoned the People’s War, if he didn’t back the ‘Peace Agreement’ initiative, if some sort of accord hadn’t been reached with the government, etc. Those who ascribe to the idea of a complot against a Gonzalo faithful to the People’s War and kept in hiding have very little on which to base their claims.
- 28 February 2017 : Guzmán reappears in public at the time of his new trial… This time there is no raised fist, no slogans, just a request for a medical examination owing to his state of health. [15]

2) The Peace Agreements initiative is a betrayal of the People’s War, the fight of the masses, Communism and the liquidation of the PCP

As early as 1993 and 1994, the OCML VP argued against this liquitationist initiative which finally won out over the years in the PCP and after which it needs to be rebuilt yet again.

Let us be clear : political action has its ups and downs, its advances and setbacks. We realise that the arrest of over half of the Central Committee called for a strategic retreat in order to regroup without remaining under enemy fire. We can even understand that in such a context marked by a period of fragility, a Communist party could suspend the armed struggle.
Only doctrinaires and romantic jusqu’auboutists could criticise such choices in an extremely difficult political situation.

But what is unacceptable is conciliation with the enemy, i.e. calling for an accord with the regime fought with arms for over a decade.

Yes, withdrawal is possible, undertaken unilaterally in line with a political, ideological and military agenda suited to the period based on the aims set by the Party for the future, its own future and the future of the class struggle on the revolutionary road towards Communism. But inventing a change in the political context in order to negotiate with the enemy is nothing short of a betrayal and from this point of view, the ploy by the SIN and the CIA proved, unfortunately, particularly successful.

The leadership of the PCP betrayed together. Most of the leaders surrendered, albeit with individual differences, one after the other and fell into line behind the ‘Peace Agreements’ initiative.

What is the situation today ?
- A small legal party, the MOVADEF (Movement for Amnesty and Basic Rights [16]), a fervent admirer of Guzmán and an advocate of the Peace Agreements, continually begs the government to negotiate with them with a view to achieving national reconciliation (clearly without success). It is an opportunist party which presents itself as the new showcase of a legal PCP, seeking to take part in the elections and to make a place for itself in the bourgeois democracy at any cost. This Movement is in favour of amnesty, including for the paramilitaries responsible for the massacres during the years of the People’s War and even including Fujimori himself [17] ! One of its leaders is Alfredo Crespo, Guzmán’s lawyer.
- Several small guerrilla strongholds in the VRAEM area (Valle de los Ríos Apurímac, Ene y Mantaro) led by Víctor Quispe Palomino, ‘Comrade José’, and his bother Jorge, ‘Comrade Raúl’, who no longer have much to do with the PCP. They no longer have a reference or a political and ideological project above and beyond a grandiose discourse and are no longer more than a local armed group with practices similar to the FARC in Colombia.
While it appears that these groups are continually slipping into drug trafficking in an area dominated by coca plantations, it is possible that active political nuclei remain within the grassroots movements in the region, for example in the El Tambo valley (see below).
- Finally, and most interesting of all, the appearance of completely clandestine political slogans painted on walls during the social conflicts in Peru, e.g. against the Tía María mining project in the El Tambo valley and against the Peruvian dairy multinational Laive. Here it is likely that militants survive, albeit scattered or in small groups. Class positions also exist within trade union organisations which also implies that steadfast militants continue to exist. It remains to be seen whether these isolated militants will be politically and ideologically capable of organising, coming together to rebuild the PCP on a class basis. That is the question.

3) Regarding Abimael Guzmán

- The chronicle presented above leaves no room for doubt. Even without THE definitive proof, it seems most unlikely that Guzmán was opposed to the Peace Agreements initiative. He was a prime player. He had surrendered.
- What is missing are his motives and his exact personal position. Is it that laid out in the document published in 1993 Asumir y resistir por la nueva gran Decisión y Definición ? Is it a warped bid by a leader threatened with death trying to save his own skin ? Is it a successful ploy by the intelligence services who were able to manipulate him by playing on his inflated self-importance ? Whatever the reason may be, it is of little consequence in the end.
- The heart of the problem lies with the personality cult which we denounced in the resolution the OCML VP released in 1990 found at the end of the brochure entitled 10 Years of People’s War in Peru available on-line on our website :
“ […] In a class society, consciousness will inevitably arise unevenly which is why in fact only a minority of the proletariat becomes organised into vanguard party and that even within the Party itself leaders emerge who clearly express the great trends in society and set out the aims and orientations of the Party. In that sense, we realise that President Gonzalo may well have played an essential role in establishing the Party’s political line.
For the same reason, it is also inevitable that in the midst of the struggle the masses pin their hopes on a leading figure. But that is nothing more than a sign of their alienation.
The role of the Party is not to exacerbate any such personalisation but, on the contrary, to show that it is the masses who make history through their movement and their spontaneous revolts, and above all by raising their consciousness and their capacity to take the lead.
Communist leaders must play their leadership role to the full by reducing the contradicting between the leaders and the led for the masses themselves to gradually take over the reins of power in the political struggle between the old and the new, before finally disappearing all together.
Personifying the political line excessively in one single individual effectively depoliticises the masses. In Peru, over half of the PCP’s slogans mention President Gonzalo. Outside Peru, the documents of the PCP are published in a book entitled Gonzalo Thought, belying the fact that they are actually documents developed by the Party as a whole regardless of who actually writes them up. We cannot agree with this vision of politics and the place of man in history.”

The results are there to be seen twenty-five years later : building the PCP around ‘Gonzalo Thought’, personalising orientation around an all-knowing leader only serves to depoliticise the masses, rendering the Party fragile and leading the revolution into failure. It is an idealistic and bourgeois view of history revolving around ‘great men’ and explains the collapse of the PCP after Guzmán’s arrest. It is also undermines democratic centralism, involving submission to the leader, not forgetting that the PCP had a ‘Historical Permanent Committee’ made up of Guzmán and his partner beyond all democratic control…
- Guzmán, now aged 83, has been in held in gaol for 25 years. There is not the slightest shadow of a doubt that he is a political prisoner, which is why we defend him and demand his immediate release and a halt to the harassment he suffers (a new trial has begun recently), just as we defend Öcalan in Turkey and all political prisoners around the world.
But Guzmán is no longer a communist. After helping to rebuild the PCP and contributing to the launch and the successes of the People’s War, he underwent a shift in position that was largely responsible for the failure of a revolution which was well under way at the time. While the PCP as a whole is to blame, his individual responsibility remains considerable.

To all of those who seek to vindicate Guzmán we say : History is there and it has spoken. Take the time to consult, read up, understand and form an opinion as we ourselves have done since the beginning of the People’s War in the 1980s, always taking the necessary distance. The way we understand the world is guided by dialectical materialism, not romantic idealism !

“We want no condescending saviors to rule us from a judgment hall ; We must ourselves decide our duty, we must decide, and do it well.”

(From the American version of the Internationale)

Central Committee of the OCML Voie Prolétarienne, 12 September 2017

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