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Prison Riots in Peru

On Monday, Feb. 7, prisoners from the Communist Party of Peru (PCP, or "Shining Path" in the media) led an uprising at the maximum-security prison of Yanamayo in Puno, taking over 30 hostages. Seven guards and police were wounded, and one prisoner was killed, identified as Carlos Celso Ponce Torres.

The next day army troops and police under the command of general José Villenas Arías took over operations. At least six efforts to retake the pavilion by force failed, and negotiations under tight secrecy were begun. It was reported that the PCP prisoners were demanding the presentation of Abimael Guzmán (AKA Chairman Gonzalo), the imprisoned leader of the PCP, because they fear he has been killed by the regime. For some time supporters of the PCP have been raising the demand that Chairman Gonzalo be allowed to appear live on television.The prisoners hung banners and a red flag from the windows, shouting slogans until at least 8:00 PM on Monday.

The hostages were released around midday on Monday, but the prisoners continued their agitation and demanded the presence of Red Cross members to avert a massacre by the army troops surrounding the pavilion. According to unofficial sources, the communist prisoners had signed an agreement with two generals Andrés Bernardo Pineda and Gustavo Bravo Vargas, and Nancy Arias (head ofINPE, the National Prison Institution), in order to release the hostages in exchange for preventing the troops from violently storming the pavilion to crush the uprising.

Peru's President, Alberto Fujimori, stated that the prisoners' had been demanding talks with Abimael Guzmán, to be classified as prisoners of war, and the closing down of the maximum security prison at the naval base in Callao. He denied that any negotiations had occurred. However, this was contradicted by the an INPE report written on February 8 which revealed that the riot was not crushed but ended after an agreement was reached by both parties. The PCP prisoners had been demanding an end to the isolation of Abimael Guzmán and his public presentation; that they be recognized as "political prisoners" and not "terrorist delinquents"; the closing down of the prisons at the naval bases of Callao and Challapallca, in Puno, along with the repeal of Supreme Decree #005-97-JUS, which imposes severe prison conditions for all those convicted of terrorism and "treason to the fatherland".

The prison uprising had been foreshadowed by earlier riots on January 21 when prisoners' relatives were not allowed to visit after reaching the remote prison. Since that time visits had been suspended, and the uprising followed a surprise inspection on Sunday, Feb. 6 by a group of police after they tried to enter the pavilion occupied by the PCP prisoners. After meeting resistance from the PCP prisoners armed with homemade weapons, many of them fled, among them 27 who took refuge in the pavilion occupied by MRTA prisoners.

According to MRTA prisoners, the riot began after around 60-70 anti-riot police, armed with shotguns and tear gas, began their inspection and a fight broke out. PCP prisoner Carlos Ponce Torres was shot in the face and Alberto Ramirez was wounded. At that point hostages were taken and some of the police took refuge in the MRTA's pavilion, who did not support the uprising.Conditions in Peru's prisons are known to be particularly harsh; Yanamayo is located at 3,870 meters above sea level, and it is very difficult for prisoners' relatives to visit. In June 1986, the Peruvian government massacred some 300 prisoners in the prisons of El Fronton, Lurigancho and Callao during a prison revolt by the communist prisoners.

Similarly in May 1992, over 100 prisoners at Canto Grande prison were massacred after a prison uprising was put down.

Sources: La Republica 2/8/2000, 2/9/2000, 2/10/2000, Sol Rojo

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