Peru’s Panamericana TV on April 18 broadcast an interview with the leader of the Sendero Luminoso guerillas who last week took hostage some 40 Camisea gas pipeline workers in the lowland rainforest of Cuzco—adding further confusion to the already extremely murky affair. In the interview, Martín Quispe Palomino AKA “Comrade Gabriel” boasts that his forces freed the hostages voluntarily and that the abduction served to lure more government troops into the territory so as to heat up the insurgency. A smiling Comrade Gabriel said: “We asked for a ransom but we knew they [the government] wouldn’t pay. We did it so that these hopeless reactionaries would send in the armed forces and we could annihilate them. This was our objective.” He added: “Let them militarize the pipeline. We’d have the upper hand and would annihilate the armed forces, right?”
Contradicting initial accounts, Gabriel also said two National Police agents had been killed in the attempted hostage rescue. The agents “were getting out of a helicopter and we machine-gunned them… Since they resisted, they were annihilated.” In its own account of the April 14 incident, the government only said one police agent was killed.
The group of journalists from Panamericana and the newspapers La Republica and El Comercio were apparently trekking though the jungle in search of a National Police helicopter that had been shot down by the guerillas on April 12—although initial accounts had not said that the Huey had been downed; only that it had been fired upon, killing one crew member. Seemingly by chance, they encountered the guerillas in the Alto Lagunas area, west of the village of Kiteni. Reports continue to refer to the area as part of the Apurímac-Ene River Valley (VRAE, which has become a code word for Sendero territory), despite the fact that it is actually in the basin of the Río Urubamba, the next river to the east of the Apurímac-Ene.
Also at odds with initial accounts, Reuters says the downed helicopter “was flown by local police and owned by the United States…” No other reports have stated that the chopper was US-owned, although it was almost certainly US-supplied.
Comrade Gabriel is said to be the younger brother of Victor Quispe Palomino AKA “Comrade Jose”—purported leader of the VRAE Sendero column. In his interview, Gabriel criticized imprisoned Sendero Luminoso founder Abimael Guzmán AKA “Chairman Gonzalo”— who he accused of genocide and called a traitor. He had similar insults for the leader of a rival Sendero faction, the recently captured “Comrade Artemio,” who commanded a column in the Upper Huallaga Valley. He also had harsh words for the authorities’ labelling of his group as “narcoterrorists”:
They call us terrorists, narco-terrorists, to confuse the people. Lies. You aren’t dealing with a general, with an official educated in Las Palmas, in Chorrillos [Peru’s leading military academy]. You’re dealing with a man of the people. We aren’t manipulated by the CIA or by the Pentagon. And we’re under this tree. And under this tree is the truth. From here, we communists have a better view of the world. From under this tree we have a better view of Peru.
Prime Minister Oscar Valdés—like President Ollanta Humala, a former military officer—continued to assert that the government’s handling of the hostage crisis was “impeccable.” According to Reuters, he warned the guerillas: “We won’t permit any piece of our territory to be a no man’s land where the terrorists do what they please. The government’s position is very clear. He said President Humala has ordered the rebels be captured “dead or alive.”