Thursday, December 20, 2012

Peru Puts Shining Path Leader on Trial

The trial of captured Shining Path leader “Comrade Artemio” has begun in Peru, with the guerrilla commander denying links to drug trafficking or terrorism.

Florindo Eleuterio Flores, known by the alias “Comrade Artemio,” is standing trial at Callao naval base outside Lima. The first hearing was on Wednesday, and the next is scheduled for December 26. It is expected to last about six months.

Artemio appeared before the court, but did not speak. Via his lawyer, he denied any links to terrorism, drug trafficking, or money laundering, as RPP reports. Artemio’s lawyer Mario Paico stated that the guerrilla leader “is a politician, not a terrorist,” and argued that the solution to the “political violence” of the Shining Path should be “legal, not political.”

He also stated that the case against Artemio was based on the testimony of witnesses who had an interest in incriminating him in order to win reduced sentences. Paico said, however, that Artemio was the leader of the Huallaga-based faction of the Shining Path, and that he took responsibility for what had taken place there. 

Artemio is accused of some 500 terrorist acts, according to RPP, including the murder of 60 police, a prosecutor, and a number of civilians. Counterterrorism prosecutor Julio Galindo told the press that the trial would show Artemio’s involvement in drug trafficking.

Former Congress members Nancy Obregon and Elsa Malpartida will testify. They are both leaders of the coca-growers’ movement, and have been accused of working closely with the Shining Path to build their careers in politics and the in the coca movement.

Shining Path commander Oscar Ramirez Durand, alias "Feliciano," who was captured in 1999, will also be called to testify on the subject of Artemio’s links to the drug trade, reports Diario Correo.

The prosecution is seeking life imprisonment, and wants Artemio to be ordered to pay 13.8 billion soles ($5.3 billion), as Andina reports.

Artemio was captured by the security forces in February. He was the leader of one of the remaining branches of the Shining Path rebel group, which was active in the Huallaga region of northern Peru. That branch is thought to be severely weakened, while the faction in the VRAE region, further south, appears to be gaining strength and has carried out a series of high-impact actions this year, including the kidnap of more than 30 gas workers.

The Washington Post points out that Artemio’s trial comes at a time when some members of the rebel group locked up 20 years ago are due for release, and when a political movement linked to the rebel group is trying to register itself as a party, stirring up painful memories of the conflict.

The political solution that Artemio's lawyer called for is not likely to become a reality. As the Post states:

Unlike neighboring Colombia, which is considering granting political representation to the ... FARC, to end the 50-year armed conflict, the idea of incorporating former insurgents into legitimate political life appears unthinkable in Peru.

News Briefs
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    The Wall Street Journal notes that Nicolas Maduro, the man Chavez has told his supporters to back if he has to step down, lacks the same “direct, emotional connection” with Venezuela's poor, in part because  the president’s intense charisma and personal ruling style have made it hard for his allies to build an independent support base. A survey earlier this year by Datanalisis put Maduro at 23.3 percent support against 33.7 for the opposition’s candidate in October’s elections, Henrique Capriles.
    The Miami Herald has an editorial which criticizes this monopolization of power by Chavez as “irresponsible,” because it means that his departure could cause instability.
  • Andres Oppenheimer at the Miami Herald says that if John Kerry is named as secretary of state US foreign policy might focus more on Latin America, because Cuban-American Senator Bob Menendez would likely take Kerry’s place on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Representative Eliot Engel would become a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He reports that Menendez is likely to push for a hemisphere-wide anti-narcotics strategy, replacing current fragmented efforts. Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas has a piece in the Huffington Post arguing that the appointment of Kerry as secretary of state and former Senator Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense could help liberalize Cuba policy, as both men are “seasoned figures with long histories as Cuba policy reformers,” though she notes that Menendez is against liberalization.
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  • The Argentine government has launched a bid to have the Supreme Court force media company Clarin to comply with a law that would oblige it to sell off many of its assets. The latest move in the case follows Clarin's win of a reprieve from the measure on Tuesday, when a federal judge allowed the company to appeal against a ruling that the law was constitutional.
  • Thousands of people protested against the government’s economic policies in Buenos Aires in a demonstration organized by Hugo Moyano, leader of the General Labor Confederation union and a former ally of President Cristina Kirchner, reports the AP.
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  • IPS reports on a new law in Argentina which establishes a team to make surprise visits to prisons, in order to discourage torture and mistreatment of prisoners.
  • A group of 18 Mexicans detained in Nicaragua have been found guilty of drug trafficking and money laundering. The group entered the country presenting themselves as journalists for Mexican TV station Televisa, and were caught with some $9.2 million in cash which the authorities say they were trying to smuggle to Costa Rica, reports the BBC.
  • The Washington Post has a report on downward social mobility in Mexico, where many of the 17 percent of the population who joined the middle classes between 2000 and 2010 face the prospect of falling back down again, their prospects threatened by crime or by employers who dodge social security programs. With slideshow.
  • Authorities removed all inmates from a prison in Durango state, north Mexico, where some 24 people died in an attempted jailbreak on Wednesday, reports the BBC.

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