Peru: life term for neo-senderista

Peru’s National Penal Chamber on June 7 sentenced one of the last “historic” leaders of the Shining Path guerilla movement to life in prison on terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Florencio Flores Hala AKA “Comrade Artemio” raised his fist in defiance as the sentence was read at a naval base in Callao, where the trial was carried out under tight security. He said that he preferred the death penalty over life imprisonment, adding: “I have nothing to ask forgiveness for, I have nothing to regret.” “Artemio,” 51, was also fined 500 million soles ($183 million) in damages. Attorney Alfredo Crespo called the sentence a “political statement,” and his client a “political prisoner.” After the guerilla movement was crushed in the 1990s, “Artemio” retreated to the high jungles of the Upper Huallaga Valley, where he led remnant Sendero Luminoso forces in a local insurgency.

During the trial, “Artemio” denied being a terrorist or any links to the drug trade, calling himself a “revolutionary” in the “heroic people’s war.” But after his capture last year, local media reported he had accepted responsibility for the death of 56 soldiers, 43 police and 32 civilians. “I accept everything,” Flores Hala is reported to have said after a prosecutor read out the 27 counts against him. “What you have read are facts of war.”

After the sentencing, Judge Clotilde Cavero said: “It was proven that he ordered the execution of a number of civilians, police and soldiers. It was proven that he belonged to the Central Committee of the Shining Path. It was proven that he was the top leader in the Huallaga.”

“Artemio” told reporters at his jungle hideout in late 2011 that the remaining rebels were ready to enter talks with the government. But President Ollanta Humala has been adamant that his government will not “negotiate with terrorists.” Last September, he said of the Shining Path: “They are cold-blooded killers, who kidnap children, don’t respect basic rights, and try to use terror and extortion to change the democratic nature of the country.”

A more intransigent surviving faction of Sendero Luminoso remains active in another pocket of jungle, the Apurímac-Ene River Valley (VRAE), to the south of the Upper Huallaga. (AFP, BBC News, América Noticias, June 7; Peru This Week, La Prensa, June 6)