Peru: Sendero contests official story in Camisea hostage affair
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."
Sic: incorrect use of quotation marks in the original. (Reuters, InSight Crime, La Republica, El Comercio, Europa Press, April 18)
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Peru hostage rescue operation: "impeccable disaster"
Egg on Ollanta Humala's face. Lima's most prestigious daily La Republica on April 19 and April 22 cites the analysis of Peru's foremost expert on the Shining Path movement, veteran journalist Gustavo Gorriti, to the effect that the supposed hostage rescue mission that Humala boasted of at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena was an "impeccable disaster." Gorriti wrote for IDL Reporters that in one instance, a helicopter pilot fled when Senderistas opened fire on the aircraft—just after it had disgorged three police troops, who were left at the mercy of the guerillas. They did not survive; Gorriti puts the death toll in the operation at three—contradicting earlier accounts that first put it at one, and then two.
Gorriti reported for Carteas on a similar incident in which a group of soliders wounded in a guerilla ambush of an army patrol were left in the jungle for several hours—some gravely injured and bleeding profusely. They were finally recovered only after they had managed to reach a caserío (settlement), having improvised stretchers from tree branches to carry the men who could not walk. One had his ankle shattered when he stepped on a landmine. No helicopter was sent to rescue them until they arrived at the caserío. Finally taken to the military's staging ground at Kiteni village, they were treated there by a Camisea medical team, not an army one.
La Republica, citing Gorriti, also asserts that the hostages were "kidnapped twice"—first by the guerillas, then by the security forces after they had been freed. They were apparently kept waiting in the custody of government troops for hours before Humala finally arrived at the jungle village for a photo op, to portray the "farce of liberation." Gorriti asserts that the bus taking the freed hostages from Chuanquiri, the first settlement they reached, to Kiteni was intercepted by the military. They were transfered to two helicopters which took them to Kiteni, where they were held for Humala's arrival—not even allowed to leave the helicopters for an hour and a half.
Sendero kills three more troops
A joint command of army and National Police troops searching for police agents still missing after what Peru's media call the "rescue operation" was ambushed by presumed Sendero guerillas near Alto Inkaari in Cuzco's La Convención province, leaving three troops dead and three wounded. Peruvian media persist in refering to the area as the VRAE—despite the fact that (as we have repeatedly pointed out) it is not in the Apurímac-Ene River Valley, which is what VRAE stands for. It is in the basin of the Río Urubamba, the next valley east from the VRAE. (See El Correo and even the less "oficialista" Radio Programas del Perú.) Is this just sloppiness, or an intentional strategy to obfuscate the fact that the insurgency is spreading (at least in a geographical sense)?