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Peruvian Prisoners Massacred

On May 5, 1992, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori staged a coup with backing from the Peruvian military which suspended that countries parliament, constitution, writ of habeas corpus and other legal provisions. The reasons he gave for the coup were that he needed greater freedom to implement the economic reforms demanded by Peru's creditors and to better carry out the war against the Communist Party of Peru (PCP), also known in the media as Sendero Luminoso. In past issues of PLN we have reported the persecution and attacks against PCP political prisoners and Prisoners of War (POW's). As the POW's themselves suspected ( PLN , April, 1992), the feared massacre finally happened.

At 2:30 AM on May 6, 1992, over 500 soldiers and policemen surrounded the Canto Grande prison in Lima, Peru, where about 650 POW's were being held. They claimed they were going to transfer the women POW's to another prison. The prisoners feared that once separated they would be tortured, raped and killed individually and thus resisted the incursion. Initially the prisoners killed two policemen and took 2 submachineguns and a rifle from the attackers, using this they were able to drive the security forces out of their pavilion, this encounter left 9 prisoners dead.

After the shooting the POW's sought to negotiate with the government. The InterAmerican Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States (IHRC) was in Lima when the attack occurred and immediately offered to negotiate a peaceful solution to the standoff. The government refused their offers to act as intermediaries and did not allow them to enter the prison to act as observers saying it was "too dangerous." The IHRC lawyer told the government that assessing the risk was a matter for the IHRC and that international law has long established procedures for negotiating difficult and dangerous situations. The Red Cross also volunteered to help negotiate a solution to the stand off and this too was refused by the government.

After the initial shooting on May 6, 1992, the surviving female prisoners evacuated their area of the prison and concentrated themselves on Pavilion 4b where the male prisoners were being held. On May 8, 1992, a group of 5 women POW's left the prison to attempt to negotiate a surrender whereby the prisoners would surrender to an international body such as the red cross or IHRC who would guarantee their safety before being turned over to government forces. The government refused this offer and returned one of the women to the other prisoners to deliver the rejection, the other women were taken into custody.

On Saturday, May 9, 1992, close to 2,000 police and army troops armed with helicopter gunships, armored cars and heavy weapons, attacked pavilion 4b where the prisoners had barricaded themselves. Using explosives the troops blasted their way through the top of the building. As this process was repeated on each floor, the prisoners would evacuate it and retreat to the floor below. When they were finally on the ground floor the decision was made to surrender.

According to the IHRC report, a number of prisoners were shot and killed while surrendering or after they had surrendered, this was the case with several important PCP leaders (all high ranking PCP leaders were killed in the attack). Prisoners who had been wounded in the initial May 6 attack had not been allowed to receive medical treatment and those who survived the May 8 assault did not receive immediate medical attention. The only civilian present during the government attack was a prosecutor.

The final outcome of this brutal massacre is nearly 100 dead POW's and 80 who have "disappeared" since being recaptured by security forces. Many of the casualties are women. This is another bloody chapter in the Peruvian governments brutal campaign against the PCP POW's. On October 4, 1985, 30 POW's were burned alive in Lurigancho prison by government forces. On June 19, 1986, more than 300 POW's were massacred in 3 different prisons in Peru by troops using helicopter gunships, tanks, etc. It is still feared that the remaining POW's may be killed by government forces.

The day after the latest attack President Fujimori toured the prison. Canto Grande was largely in ruins as a result of the attack. All of the government troops who took part in the attack wore masks to conceal their identities.

The PCP's immediate response to the murder of it's POW's has been to escalate the war with more attacks on government forces and the countries economic infrastructure. The PCP has also declared that for each dead POW ten troops or policemen will be annihilated. On May 14, 1992, the PCP occupied the town of Cesar Vialleje, a town only 7 miles from downtown Lima, for 24 hrs. During the occupation they executed a prison officer and left him hanging with the slogan "This is the way torturers die."

As the PCP advances farther in it's goals of overthrowing the current regime in Peru it's expected that the repression against both it's prisoners and the population in general will increase as the government resorts to desperate violence to hold on to power. PLN will continue to report on events affecting the PCP POW's. Readers desiring more information about the situation in Peru should contact: Committee to Support the Revolution in Peru, P.O. Box 1246, Berkeley, CA. The most recent issue of El Diario , the PCP's unofficial voicepiece, is available from the CSRP and deals exclusively with the prison massacre and includes numerous pictures and more detailed information than we can publish in PLN .

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