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Peru: The Capture of Comrade Artemio

[All links lead to Spanish language pages except when otherwise noted]

In the early morning hours of February 9, 2012, Shining Path leader Comrade Artemio [en] was injured during a confrontation in the San Martín region. Artemio has been a wanted man for some time, being one of the last bosses of the Maoist terrorist group Shining Path [en] to remain at large.

Initial reports did not specify the exact location of the clash with the police, and it was even rumored that he had be captured, which was subsequently denied. It was then said that the fighting had been internal, when a group of Shining Path members and police who had infiltrated the group tried to capture and turn Artemio in to collect the reward offered for him. During the evening of the same day, it emerged that despite the strong showing of force by police, Artemio had successfully escaped with his confidantes.

Nancy Zamora, mayor of the La Pólvora district, where this all occured, pleaded that the human rights of the common man in the face of such strong military and police force be respected. The daily newspaper El Comercio emphasized the seriousness of Artemio's injuries, according to various testimonies, and reported that there was an unidentified terrorist who had been captured.

Meanwhile RPP speculated that if Artemio was killed, Shining Path would not have an adequate successor with its other leaders already in custody. Generacción featured a poll about the possible defeat of terrorism.

After two more days of rumors, the Ministry of Defense confirmed on February 12, that Comrade Artemio had been captured alive, denying previous rumors about his escape and resulting death. According to their account, Artemio was discovered alone and wounded in a hut only a few kilometers away from the small village of Pizana, in Tocache [en], accompanied by two associates who escaped.

President Ollanta Humala later arrived at the Santa Lucía military base, in Tocache, where Artemio had been transferred to receive medical attention. From there he announced that Artemio would be taken to Lima, which he was that same afternoon. Various local politicians hurried to congratulate the government for this action.

President Ollanta Humala and Comrade Artemio. Image from Flickr user Presidencia Perú (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

President Ollanta Humala and Comrade Artemio. Image from Flickr user Presidencia Perú (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The investigative journalism website IDL Reporteros was one of the first to report on the details that lead to Artemio's capture. They published details on how the first leg of the operation ended with Artemio injured but on the run, and later detailed his capture. In December the website had interviewed Artemio, which they published in two parts. In this extract of the interview, Artemio explains his thoughts about the propagation of Shining Path:

Entonces el tipo de acciones que usted lleva a cabo ya no son acciones de una insurrección que busca la victoria sino acciones meramente defensivas. El objetivo político sigue siendo el mismo con que nos levantamos en armas, aunque en la práctica hoy día eso no es posible. Creo que eso es fácil de entender. En segundo lugar, mantenemos una fuerza armada en aras de garantizar la postura nuestra en relación de nuestros camaradas que están presos; y creo que eso es fácilmente comprensible. No tenemos la mínima intención de blandir las armas de la guerra, de la lucha armada. No. Con sinceridad queremos plantear que nosotros queremos una solución política; queremos que termine, pero a través de los métodos de una mesa de negociaciones.

Then the type of actions that you carry out are no longer actions of an insurrection that seek victory but merely defensive actions. The political objective continues to be the same with us answering the call to arms, even though nowadays this is not possible in practice. I believe that is easy to understand. Secondly, we maintain an armed force for the sake of guaranteeing our position in relation to our comrades that are imprisoned; and I believe that is easily understood. We haven't the slightest intention of brandishing weapons for a war, for an armed fight. No. We sincerely want to broadcast that we want a political solution; we want it to end, but at the negotiating table.

The blog Dazibao Rojo, which refers to itself as the “Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Blog”, refered with disdain to Artemio and his capture:

Sus constantes llamados “a una solución política a los problemas derivados de la guerra popular” fueron recogidos ampliamente por la prensa burguesa presentándolo como un autentico dirigente comunista para crear confusión cuando lo cierto es que Artemio y su “Comité Regional” desde hace años no pertenece al clandestino PCP.

His constant calls for “a political solution to the problems derived from the people's war” were widely censored by the bourgeoisie press which presented him as an authentic communist leader in order to create confusion when what is certain is Artemio and his “Regional Committee” for years has not belonged to the clandestine Peruvian Communist Party.

But apart from the media and parties involved, some bloggers have viewed the capture of Artemio with a certain level of distrust, though without detracting from it, having suspicions about the timing of its announcement. Emilio Torres Meléndez of the blog Informativo Codeci-cn said:

Lo que jode del gobierno y su prensa servil es que piensen que el pueblo peruano por ser pobre es idiota como para no darse cuenta que la noticia de la captura del camarada Artemio busca desviar totalmente la atención del público sobre el tema de Conga. Por cierto, no nos sorprende que para paliar los reclamos de la población y capear el temporal, el gobierno este utilizando sin ningún pudor la condena sin pruebas a 30 años de cárcel de Abencia Meza y ahora la captura del camarada Artemio como un operativo psicosocial.

What bothers me about the government and its menial press is that they think that the Peruvian public, by being poor, is stupid enough that it won't realize that the news of Comrade Artemio's capture seeks to totally divert the public's attention from the subject of the Conga mining project. Certainly, it doesn't surprise us that in order to calm the population and to ride out the storm, the government is unabashedly making use of Abencia Meza's prison sentence of 30 years without proof and now the capture of Comrade Artemio as a psychological tool.

Equally, Efraín of the blog Cortinas de Humo speculated that although the capture of Artemio is important, it is not the key to ending narco-terrorism:

El terrorista Artemio era un asalariado del narcotráfico. Hablaba de la lucha popular porque el discurso ahuyentaba, y se enfrentaba –o mejor dicho su gente- contra el Ejército para dejar pase libre a la droga.  […] Artemio no es un peligro, pero su captura permite sí -y por eso lo querían vivo- obtener información sobre la organización desintegrada años atrás, y de paso, empujar la imagen de Humala como el militar que logró su captura en medio de serios cuestionamientos al nuevo gabinete, y de pasada congelar la estruendosa Marcha Nacional por el Agua.

The terrorist Artemio was salaried by narcotrafficking. He spoke of the people's struggle because the discourse scared away, and clashed with -or perhaps more so his people- the army in order to grant him free reign with drugs. […] Artemio isn't a danger, but his capture does allow -and for this reason they want him alive- them to get information about the broken organization from years back, and as collateral allows them to push the image of Humala as the soldier who successfully captured him amid serious questions about the new cabinet, as well as to in passing freeze the thunderous National Water March.

Salvador Pariona of the blog Ya lo olvidaron made a similar deduction:

No olvidemos que un presidente con alta popularidad, con el respaldo de los grupos de poder y con una economía saludable puede hacer lo que quiera. […] Ahora con el probable incremento de popularidad y con el respaldo total de la Derecha que antes lo acusaba de terruco, Humala puede imponerse políticamente y remarcar su famosa frase “Conga va”. Si antes la tenían difícil, ahora los defensores del agua están en clara desventaja.

Let us not foret that a president with high popularity, with the backing of powerful groups and with a healthy economy can do what he wants. […] Now with a probable increase in popularity and with the backing of the entirety of the Right, which before accused him of terrorism, Humala can politically impose and emphasize his famous phrase “Conga goes ahead”. If before they had it difficult, now the defenders of water are at a clear disadvantage.

However, Francisco Canaza of Apuntes Peruanos tried to see what is going to pass in light of this capture and noted what to him seemed to be an error in the government's strategy of communication:

¿No deberían los medios haber accedido a declaraciones sea del Presidente o en todo caso del Primer Ministro? Ausencia total y oportunidad perdida. Contra eso, los medios sólo acogen la versión de analistas o de otros periodistas, como fue el caso de Gustavo Gorriti.

Shouldn't the media have been in line with the declarations made by the President or in any case by the Prime Minister? Total absence and lost opportunity. Instead, the media only took in the version of analysts and of other journalists, such as was the case of Gustavo Gorriti.

On another topic, a photocomposition that circulated a fair amount on Twitter shows three presidents of Peru in three moments in the fight against insurgency.

Three presidents of Peru in three moments in the fight against insurgency.

Three presidents of Peru in three moments in the fight against insurgency.

Javier Puente Valdivia posted as a guest on the blog Historia Global Online about his reflections on the images:

En estas tres imágenes, un tenor en común se encuentra en la estructura de todas ellas: la producción de una representación del líder triunfante sobre los enemigos de la nación abatidos. Los matices que se ofrecen a partir de esa línea compartida son los que resultan particularmente susceptibles de una lectura histórica. […]

In these three images, a common quality can be found within their structures: the production of a representation of the triumphant leader over his dejected enemies of the state. The nuances that are drawn from that shared position are those that become particularly susceptible to a historical reading. […]

And he arrived at a particular conclusion:

el mensaje subliminal parece obvio: se obtiene un triunfo militar dentro de un estado de derecho y con pleno respeto a los derechos humanos. Con ello, seguramente se va a pretender usar la instantánea a favor un discurso que deslegitima la vigencia y validez de estas organizaciones [defensoras de DDHH] en asuntos críticos como al ya mencionado eventual (al parecer inexorable) juicio del Estado ante la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos.

the subliminal message seems obvious: a triumphant soldier is obtained within the framework of rights and with plenty of respect for human rights. With that, surely we can attempt to use this instance in favor of a discourse that delegitimizes the relevance and validity of these organizations [defenders of human rights] in critical matters such as, what was mentioned before, the eventual (and seemingly inexorable) trial of the State before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Finally, President Humala announced that they would continue operations in the Apurímac and Ene River Valley (VRAE), where other remenents of Shining Path terrorism persists. Also it has emerged that Artemio will be transferred from the military hospital where he is, to the Dircote (the Counter-Terrorism Directorate of the National Police), and from there likely to the Naval Base penitentiary once he recovers from an operation. Also it was reported from the Attorney General's office that there might be sufficient evidence to try Artemio for narcotics trafficking. It is speculated that he might be sentenced to life in prison.

Post originally published on Juan Arellano's personal blog.

The first photo used in this post was from Flickr user Presidencia Perú under a Creative Commons Attribution licence: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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