In 1988, Nicholas Shakespeare published an acclaimed article about his search for the leader of Sendero Luminoso, the world’s deadliest revolutionary organisation. He never met Abimael Guzmán. That was the point. Noone did. Then, in September 1992, Guzmán was discovered. One year after his dramatic arrest, Shakespeare returned to Peru to find out what happened.
We’re under full sail, approaching the rocks. Above us a soldier waves his gun. He speaks urgently into a handset. Last week shots were fired at this boat and days before the navy spotted a small craft adrift in the night and dropped depth charges. The reason for the tension is a prisoner in the low orange buildings beyond the watchtowers. Peering into the maginot line of concrete arcs, I try to picture a man from the sierra, a 59 year old philosopher with skin rash and the hillman’s fear of the sea.
Until his capture fifteen months ago, I had spent eight years on the trail of Dr Abimael Guzmán, who in addition styles himself President Gonzalo and the Fourth Sword of Maoist-Marxist-Leninism. I had also written a novel based on his organisation, Sendero Luminoso. But it didn’t lay him to rest. He was still there, growing, inside my head. Noone knew what he was really like, or if he was alive. He had been in hiding since 1980. There was a million dollar reward for his capture, alive or dead. The revolution he had planned for thirty years had resulted in the official deaths of 26,785 people, including 42 journalists. If he was alive, he didn’t want anyone to know about him.
At the same time his organisation was bit by bit reaching a position whereby it might, just conceivably, make the country ungovernable. There were assassinations and the army responded as violently. Noone was safe. No priest, no tourist, no bystander. Not a day passed without a car exploding until in July there was the largest explosion of all, a 1,700 lb bomb which rent apart the Miraflores district of Lima, killing another eighteen people.
A spokesman for Sendero announced, “We are on the point of taking power.”
Then on September 12, 1992 something occurred which offered a wisp of hope. It began as an innocent evening to discuss, of all things, a forthcoming ballet and it involved a couple who had nothing to do with terrorism. Or so they thought.
It is a coolish Saturday night in downtown Lima. Peru’s most prestigious composer, Celso Garrida Lecca, is sitting at the Café Haiti with his lover, the dancer and choreographer, Patricia Awapara. The sixty-two year old Celso, a fashionable Marxist who spent some years exiled in Chile, is discussing a ballet for which he has written the music. The ballet is “Antigone”.
It is Patricia’s idea to choreograph Sophocles’ story. She has been inspired by the escalating number of disappearances. Two months before – that is to say, immediately after the Miraflores car-bomb – the army seized nine students from their hall of residence, suspecting them of terrorist activities. They have been missing ever since.
“I said to Celso, what would a woman think if she’d lost her brother or husband?”
By going back to Sophocles, Patricia hopes to trick an audience which had become immune to registering atrocity. “They’re going to see something they’ll think is taking place a long time ago, but is something they’re living now. I want this dance to demand something be done.”
Patricia’s “Antigone” is to be danced by her great friend, Maritza Garrido Lecca. Maritza, who happens also to be Celso’s niece, is twenty-seven. A beautiful woman from an upper middle-class family, she became a dancer after wanting to be a nun. Excelling as a child at classical ballet, she has developed into one of Peru’s leading contemporary dancers. Now aged twenty-seven, she runs a dance school in the newly prosperous suburb of Los Sauces, and from time to time performs in a group choreographed by Patricia. But of late she has not been turning up to rehearsals. It is difficult to get hold of her, and she has no telephone. Yet she is to be dancing the part of Antigone.
So on this evening, Celso and Patricia say to each other, “Let’s go and see Maritza.” They buy a bottle of wine, set off in Celso’s orange Beetle and they turn up unnannounced at Maritza’s studio.
Maritza is not expecting visitors. They are on the point of going away when she opens the door. They step inside, onto the dance floor, where they chat for half an hour, about her role, whether she should dance in pre-Inca dress, what the part means. Then they leave. “See you next Saturday, maybe,” calls Maritza. But as they return to their car, a man steps forward and they are surrounded by figures who drag them back inside. They are blindfolded and forced to lie on the floor.
“I thought they were robbers,” says Celso.
Immobilised on the dance floor, Celso, Patricia and Maritza hear the sound of a door being smashed upstairs. It leads to an apartment sublet to another family. Still they are made to lie there, unable to see. They spend the night on the parquet and next day they are taken to a police station. When the masks come off Celso is standing beside the most wanted man in the southern hemisphere, Abimael Guzmán. The two of them are surrounded by women ferociously punching the air and screaming “Viva Abimael!.”
Wildly, Celso looks around for his niece, the soft-spoken, lovely Maritza who never mouthed a bad word in her life, who never had an enemy. He sees her face among the screaming women. It is contorted with rage and defiance, and her fist is raised. “Viva Abimael!” she shouts.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen this man,” stammers Celso. He tells me later: “It was pure Kafka.”
Maritza’s dance school was a cover for the leadership of Shining Path. Guzmán had been discovered upstairs with his mistress, Elena Iparraguirre, and with two members of the Central Committee. They had convened to discuss their strategy for the Lima offensive. The reason all of them remain alive today – not “six storeys under” as President Fujimori would have preferred – is due to the man who arrested them, the policeman in charge of anti-terrorism: General Antonio Ketín Vidal.
Vidal had been following Guzmán on and off for a decade, ever since Sendero’s leader disappeared from the face of the earth. He tracked him to this house using Anglo-Saxon patience and an attention to detail derived from admiration of “the British school”. He is the hero of this story.
Vidal is partly the reason I’ve returned to this cancer of a city. I want to find out more about this honest policeman in a country of violence and corruption; also to find out how it was that a strikingly attractive and talented ballerina can, unsuspected to her closest friends, become a terrorist. And finally, I’ve come back to satisfy my curiosity about the Kantian philosopher, “President Gonzalo”. Now he is no longer a creature of myth, what is he like?
In Lima everyone is talking of the nine students who disappeared. A head’s been found in the ground and some keys attached to a sandy scrap of jeans which fit a locker belonging to one of the boys.
“The keys of horror,” are the headlines.
I try to piece together Guzmán’s last days. It is not easy. In ten years he gave one newspaper interview, an impenetrable Maoist diatribe accompanied by a blurred photo. But I manage to watch two video tapes which were found in “safe” houses in Lima. After so many years of secrecy, it seems a folly he should have betrayed himself so tritely, to a video-camera. But maybe he was changing. Intoxicated by his ability to paralyse the country, maybe he wanted to leave for posterity the image of his triumph.
One video shows a grub-fat, grey-bearded man in thick spectacles offering neat pisco to the lips of his dead wife. It is the first clear image of the man I’ve been pursuing for eight years. He seems absolutely drunk.
Among “Senderologists” there is speculation of a rift in the movement. This was caused by two powerful women: Guzmán’s wife Augusta, an Andean Maoist who wished Sendero to stay in the sierra – where it had started – and prepare a revolution which might take decades to effect; and Elena Iparraguirre, his second in command, who was to become Guzmán’s mistress. Iparraguirre wished Guzmán to bring the revolution to Lima, where he might live to see power without waiting too long. It is she who wins the argument and soon afterwards Augusta dies, possibly through suicide – or perhaps she is murdered. The result is Guzmán comes to Lima, and he begins thinking like a Lima man.
“How does a Lima man think?” I ask a Senderologist.
The second tape shows Guzmán dancing to “Zorba the Greek” with his mistress, stomping on a floor strewn with flower petals and applauded by followers with moony-eyed faces as if gazing at a political baghwan. Again he appears to be insensible with drink.
His followers, many of them former nuns, loved him as they had loved God, innocently, without the slightest doubt. “Everyone respected him. Everyone loved him. But noone saw him,” said the ex-nun Nelly Evans. Noone, that is, except members of Sendero’s inner circle like Evans, who was speaking from her prison cell.
Evans was typical of the movement. She was a romantic who wished to help the poor and who transferred her adoration of Christ lock, stock and barrel to Guzmán. As someone who might avoid suspicion – she was for a while married to an aristocratic ex-priest – Evans arranged safe houses for Guzmán. Because of her quick reactions he remained at liberty so long. Three years ago, on her way to a reunion with Guzmán in Lima’s Monterrico district, she noticed she was being followed. She led her watchers away, so alerting Guzmán to leave the house. When the police broke in, Guzmán had already left, possibly wearing a wig.
This was in January 1991. Obviously, with Nelly Evans in prison, it was imperative Guzmán find somebody else above suspicion, with no police record. Someone who could move freely in the community, who was, if possible, also elitista. Guzmán had someone in mind. Nelly Evans’ niece – the dancer, Maritza.
I am fascinated by Maritza. I can’t get out of my head the two faces, the innocent, religious ballerina who wanted to dance Antigone, and the screaming revolutionary.
Victor Chacon Vargas photographed her before and after for the magazine “Caretas”. “She was lovely. She wasn’t hard. There was a sweet air about her,” said Vargas. “When I heard, I didn’t believe it. I dug out my photos to see how it was possible. Then I saw Maritza in the police cage. Her character had changed.”
But had it changed? A lover tells me: “She was a born seductress.”
She was born in 1965, the youngest in a family of four brothers. It was a close, well-to-do family, and extremely Catholic. Her mother would ask Maritza: “Now have you been to mass?” She attended church three times a week and went on retreats. From her earliest days she wanted to be a missionary in the jungle, but her father, a construction engineer, discouraged it. Photographs show a chubby father hugging her. This, says a friend, might have been the problem, .
Years later the friend confronted Maritza’s father. “Maritza is sick.”
“She has a pathological relationship with you.”
“Get out of this house.”
From eight years old Maritza’s religious energies were diverted into ballet. I visit a school where she learnt pliés and developpés wearing pink goatskin shoes. In that mirror Maritza watched herself, gripping the bar. She would dance rigorously, with immense discipline, until her feet bled. Her eyes would be lost in some middle distance, blind to the world while she listened to her ballet mistress. Perhaps Señora Telge would be telling Maritza what she tells her pupils now. “The best position for a dancer is the one when you’re hanged, because the hips are over the feet, the shoulders over the hips, and the head is middway.” I watch the ballet mistress stroll among the sweating girls, tapping out time with a white stick, like a march. “Imagine yourself hanged,” she is saying.
The average Peruvian girl does not have a ballet dancer’s body or face. Maritza did. “She was a brilliant interpreter,” recalls a director of the Ballet Naçional, where Maritza danced Prokoviev as a Cinderella fairy.”She could have been the best ballerina in Peru.” But she needed a role, a god.
I find out more. She married very young to an Argentine Jew thirteen years older, everything her father would dislike. Possibly she married to escape his embrace. The marriage was not successful. On a visit to Punta del Este in Uruguay, she complained of her husband’s frivolous friends. One of these, a psychologist, was worried by her. He waited till the marriage was over to tell the husband how worried he had been. This woman, he said, was an actress. She drank little, never spoke loudly, everything was controlled. Yet she was acting all the time. What she was hiding behind her calm, seductress’ mask was hysteria.
Their sexual relationship began to founder. She wasn’t that interested anyway in sex. Her husband disapproved of her friends at the Catholic University – left wing poets who attacked the government of Alan García. The marriage broke down when he found one of the poets in their kitchen. She left the house with a single bag. Two weeks later she staged a ballet in public. She held a suitcase and danced around a table. She opened the case and the only thing inside was a photo and she took it out and put it on the table. It was her father.
“She was always looking for father figures,” agrees another friend, another person who insists on remaining nameless. This is the effect of Sendero. Maritza is in prison a thousand miles away, for life, but her friends are afraid.
In May 1986 she visited Cuba for a congress involving the ballet and came back invigorated. Cuba was the just society she could believe in. She was no longer interested in classical dance. It represented the spirit of repression. It was bourgeois. Only contemporary dance was relevant and liberating. When she separated from her husband she lived with a cousin, Maureen Llewellyn-Jones, who had founded Danza Lima, a group which dressed in Peruvian army masks and simulated the violence perpetrated by soldiers on this society.
In the Danza Lima studio, I sit on the floor and watch a video of Maritza dancing movements choreographed by Maureen. The dance is called “Hexagramma” and subtitled The Conflict. The only sound made by the dancers – there are four of them – is the sound of dogs panting.
No one speaks in ballet, so what was Maritza thinking at this time? I meet a man who was in love with her, a poet with nails bitten to the quick and sad greenish eyes. “She had eyes like mine, green and brown – like coffee,” and he points to his empty cup. He wrote many poems to Maritza, which she danced. He tells me how he lived with her for nine months in Barranco with a blow-up photograph of Lenin above their bed, how he introduced her to other café revolutionaries and to a free-thinking school where she taught. It was a process, he says of her slide into Sendero. But at some point it has dawned on him that perhaps he was the one who unwittingly gave her the impetus. At some moment in her mind his poet’s ideas become real.
One day he is jealous of a man she danced with. There are arguments. The poet breaks a plant-pot, then a window. She tells him he has broken not a window but her heart. There are problems with money, with the kitchen – she only likes making puddings, sickly-sweet flans called “sighs of Lima”. There comes a moment too when he suspects what she is up to politically. One year after the broken window she asks him to join her work. “When I said no, I could see her thinking I had no balls. I said, How can you represent the masses if you don’t live with them? Also, I was a poet.”
Some days later she broke off the relationship. She went to live with her aunt, Nelly Evans, and the poet attempted suicide.
The poet, like everyone else, is nervous. As we speak, a man sits down who behaves suspiciously. We move into a park of red carnations. Soon a gardener is digging at our feet. General Vidal had used gardeners to stake out the street where Maritza lived; and lovers kissing – but in reality watching. We move a third time. A woman with a child settle next to us. So we stop speaking. Except I have a question. Could Maritza have killed anyone? I ask because we are sitting very close to where the Miraflores car-bomb exploded in July 1992. Among the buildings to disintegrate was the hotel I had been staying in three days before. Details of the bomb attack were said to have been discovered in Maritza’s ballet studio.
“Could she have killed?”
I am still thinking of his answer that night when I go to hear the poet read out his poems. He distributes a brochure which includes the line: “No one listens to poetry.” The poems are all about Maritza.
How is it possible to live with a terrorist and not know? I speak to an American, now in hiding, who also knew Maritza. He’s in hiding because he had a relationship with a similar girl, from Cuzco. They lived together for a year. She visited London, raising money for the poor by playing in a band and modelling. Her face was photogenic and she appeared on the front of several fashion magazines. One night he was cooking himself dinner in Lima when he looked up and there was her face on television. “She was among the most wanted Senderistas outside Peru.” Next morning he went to the police. They were wrong, he said. He was utterly convinced they were wrong. But they looked at him sadly. Patiently, they explained how every day they dealt with people like him. His girlfriend fitted the profile perfectly. Beautiful, well-educated, idealistic, wanting to do something about the exploited, above all – secretive. Like the tag on an American thriller. “He thought he knew her mind – until he read her diary.” She’s now in hiding in Manchester.
Maritza’s entry into Sendero can best be dated from the time she went to live with the ex-nun Nelly Evans. She had always been much influenced by her aunt. One of the arguments with her husband had been sparked by a telephone conversation he overheard between Maritza and Nelly. This followed the army’s massacre of Sendero prisoners in 1986. Nelly had rung to persuade Maritza to distribute leaflets in the shanty towns, supporting Sendero. He forbade her. There’s something else I discover, a detail. Once in their marriage they visited Nelly in her smart, big house and found builders constructing an extra flat, hidden away. This was meant to be a working area for Nelly’s husband, but it was odd. As if the flat was for someone else, someone needing to be hidden.
As soon as Maritza goes to live with Nelly she disappears from her circle of friends. They hear bits and pieces. She has picked up with an architect her parents don’t approve of. She drives a new green Volkswagen and is a little chubbier. She has started a dance school in Los Sauces where she teaches for $15 an hour.
I watch a video of Maritza teaching; also her performance in Stravinski’s Symphony of the Psalms, choreographed by her friend Patricia Awapara. “She was a little out of shape,” says Patricia. Already Maritza’s face is set with different features, a harder expression than before. Her expression is indistiguishable from the white mask tied to the back of her head. She must already be working for Guzmán.
Her lack of dedication to dance is starting to show. She can never be found. She is teaching in the shanty-towns. Or she has gone to study local rituals at an Andean festival near Cuzco.
Patricia almost despairs. “That Maritza!”
Yet there is one part Maritza wants fervently to dance: Antigone, about a woman who defies a tyrannical state by sprinkling dust over her brother’s body. “She identified with the part,” says Patricia. And Celso, Patricia’s lover and Maritza’s uncle, encourages the project. Because twenty years before, when he was exiled in Chile, he composed music for “Antigone”. He had been commissioned by a friend, the protest singer Victor Jara who filled football stadiums with his guitar playing. In 1973 Jara wished to stage a production of “Antigone” using Celso’s music. Then came Pinochet’s coup. Jara was taken to the football stadium, his hands were smashed, a guitar was given to him and he was ordered “now play”. Then he was shot, 44 times. So Celso’s music for “Antigone”, unplayed till now, buried for twenty years, had this dimension. Which made it all the more frustrating that Maritza was skipping rehearsals. Which brings us to Celso and Patricia sitting at the Café Haiti, eating ice cream on the evening of September 12, 1992.
“Shall we go and see Maritza?”
I stand outside Maritza’s ballet studio in Los Sauces. I picture the orange Beetle bouncing up the street under the jacaranda, looking for the lime-green two-storeyed house. Celso and Partricia are not to know they have arrived at the same time the anti-terrorist police plan to enter. The police await the order of the man sitting in a nearby Datsun, General Vidal.
Vidal, known to colleagues as Little Bird because of his fragile bearing, has been on Guzmán’s trail longer even than I have. Not until 1991 when he took over the DINCOTE (anti-terrorist police) did he have powers to do anything. But one thing has been made clear to him by his superiors. If ever he captures Guzmán, he is to turn him over to them, immediately. On this evening his superiors are attending a cocktail party at the British residence to which he has also been invited. While Vidal sits in his Datsun, the Interior Minister and the Head of the Armed Forces are drinking whisky in honour of Kenneth Clarke. In fact everyone of importance is at the British ambassador’s residence, except Vidal. The guests know nothing of what is about to happen. Nor does President Fujimori, on a fishing holiday in the jungle – although later Fujimori will claim he knew all along. He didn’t. Only Vidal knows, and the men waiting outside No. 459 Calle Uno, waiting to put into operation “Plan Victoria.”
Vidal is an anomaly. If you like he is the same as Guzmán, but his mirror opposite. Where Guzmán likes red wine, a Chilean label known as Cave of the Devil, Vidal prefers German dry white. He is mixed blood, of lower class parents. He went to university. He is an intellectual who for pleasure reads philosophy – Marcuse, Bertrand Russell, Ortega y Gasset. He also loves classical music, Schumann, Beethoven, Bach – exactly the music it turns out that Guzmán likes. But instead of revolution, Vidal works to achieve a democratic state.
Vidal has other virtues: he is astoundingly honest, and modest. He is prepared to listen and learn. What he admires is “the British school”, something he learnt at first hand during a Scotland Yard course.
Soon after taking over DINCOTE, Vidal was also introduced to General Richard Clutterbuck – an expert in counter-insurgency with experience of successfully containing a Maoist insurrection in Malaya. Clutterbuck represents the British doctrine, whereby the army is subservient to the state and works to win over the community, as opposed to the French school where the army goes in and thumps. This may look and feel good, but as Clutterbuck points out , “it’s also the reason why the French haven’t won a war since 1812.” Unfortunately, it’s the French school which is ascendant in Peru.
Clutterbuck reminded Vidal to respect his enemy, to pay attention to the smallest details, to bribe informers and defectors with rewards for information, above all to watch.
Vidal’s men have been surveying this house for months, watching anyone connected with Nelly Evans. He has sent agents disguised as courting couples up and down. He has planted gardeners on the corners to water the African tulips – it’s now the best kept street in Lima! But not until four days before does Vidal realise how big a fish there might be inside No 459. In the rubbish he has found empty packets of Kenacort-E cream for the psoriasis Guzmán was believed to suffer from. He has found Winston cigarette stubs, which Guzmán was known to smoke (from a blow-up of the Monterrico video). And Maritza buys food for several more than the two who occupy the house. She also buys underclothes for an outsized man. Yet her new husband, the architect, is thin. It suggests someone else is living on the first floor where the curtains never part. Guzmán?
At 8pm Celso and Patrica arrive. When half an hour later they leave, Vidal gives the order.
His men enter. They break down the door upstairs. They don’t know if they will find men with machine guns, an escape tunnel. “There was an infinity of possibilities,” says Vidal. Instead, they find Guzmán watching the boxing on Channel 13.
“We’ve got El Cacheton!” they say, using their nickname for him, Fat-Face.
Vidal comes in afterwards. One of his men tells Guzmán, “My general is coming upstairs.” But Guzmán continues sitting there in front of the boxing. Vidal enters and is told,”General, the señor is afraid to get up.”
“No, no, don’t worry,” says Guzmán, getting up. His right leg is stiff with psoriasis.
Vidal introduces himself. He knows what he is going to say, has known for several months. “I didn’t know how it would happen, but in one way or another I thought one day I would come face to face with him.”
“What did you say?”
“I said: ‘As you know, Dr Guzmán, because you are a dialectic, there are times in life when you win and times when you lose. This time you have lost.’”
“Was he surprised?”
“Extremely. He didn’t have a plan, because he thought it would never happen. To begin with he was petrified. He thought the police would shoot him dead. Then he composed himself. I think he was flattered a general had arrested him. I don’t believe he expected me to be the person he found, treating him with respect.”
“Was he the man you imagined?”
“Physically, yes. His personality weakened after he was detained.”
Vidal gives me a tape of the arrest, badly filmed by a policeman. “He was quite vain. He liked being filmed.” Guzmán is seen tapping his head while his mistress protects him. “You can kill me, but this will live on,” he says tapping his head. But he’s in shock.
Someone asks if he’s armed. “Where would I have a gun?” he says, opening a jacket with wide lapels. Nor does he have documents, although an electoral card with his photo will be found bearing the name Jorge Cervantes Torres. He empties his pockets. There’s nothing except a handkerchief. All this while Elena Iparraguirre fiercely protects him. With one hand she prevents anyone from touching Guzmán, with the other she brandishes a tiny communist flag on a stick. The shock seems to have punched Elena, though noone has hit her. When it’s her turn to be searched, she gives the flag to Guzmán. The Fourth Sword of Marxist-Leninist-Maoism holds it awkwardly while she empties her pocket of tissue paper. That’s all they have on them. A black and white handkerchief and some tissues.
Unsteadily, the camera ranges through the house, picking out a computer; an edition of PC World; an empty red wine bottle; a shelf of books – Guzmán was rebuilding his library from scratch and there are copies of Mao, Clausewitz, Mario Vargas Llosa; and a packed suitcase, which may have been the reason Vidal acted when he did.
“Was it the most important moment in your life?” I ask Vidal.
He reflects, treating the question philosophically. “It was an important moment in my police career. When a son is born, when you marry – they are more important. But I’m pleased to have contributed something to the peace of my country.”
Vidal’s triumph was to capture Guzmán without a bullet fired or a drop of blood spilled. But his triumph was short-lived. Before telling his superiors, he informed the press, thereby ensuring Guzmán would survive to stand trial. “If it hadn’t been for Vidal we’d have been shot,” says Celso, released with Patricia two weeks later.
Vidal had demonstrated how the armed forces could respect life and restore a sense of the nation’s honour. He, a policeman, had shown the democratic and judicial process could work. But he had become too much of a hero, too popular. He declined the government’s personal reward for Guzmán’s capture, donating the money to children orphaned by violence; and he refused to allow the larger prize of $1 million to be distributed among his men. They were doing their job, he said. Vidal’s reward was to be removed from his job. He was “kicked up to Olympus” and made Inspector-General in charge of provisions and “moralisation”.
Guzmán meanwhile was removed from his care and placed in the hands of Fujimori’s security advisors.
The story of what has happened to Guzmán since that night is no less extraordinary. If one believes the evidence, the Fourth Sword of world communism is little more than a mollycoddled theorist who crumbled as soon as he entered the air.
I ask Mario Vargas Llosa, the novelist who ran for president, “How can he collapse like that after preparing a revolution so methodically for almost thirty years?”
Vargas Llosa says, “Because he’s a Peruvian intellectual.”
But there’s another theory which argues Guzmán cannot be weak. Consider all the people who would have liked to take his place during this time: like a choreographer, he’d kept them in line, on their toes, since 1965. According to this theory, Guzmán has nothing to lose, so he might as well look after himself.
So, what has happened?
Guzmán’s first public sighting was a presentation to the press, in a cage. He was undraped like a statue, dressed in a black and white striped uniform. The cage and the uniform were ideas of Fujimori’s security advisors, Sigisfredo Luza and Vladimiro Montesinos. “Sigisfredo and Vladimiro – it sounds incredibly sinister and it probably is,” says one who watched. She says it was not Guzmán who was demeaned by standing in a cage, but the watchers.
Guzmán speaks for fifteen minutes. None of what he says is broadcast and when I manage to see the master tape I understand why not. Much of what he is saying, about the incontravertible triumph of Maoism, is dogma. But there is a fire I’d not believed him capable of. For the first time I understand how he would convince, how he might offer hope to those without it. He ends with a declaration of his love for the oppressed people of Peru.
An opinion poll afterwards asked “Which of the following words best describe what you feel towards him?”
22.9% felt revulsion, 0.7% indifference, but 20.4% felt compassion.
It’s the last we are permitted to see of Guzmán’s passion. Afterwards he is taken to the island of San Lorenzo. When he next appears on television, the story will be different.
From the sailing boat, I can see the red-roofed bungalow. It’s a four mile sail from the naval base. Here only the pelicans glide without agitating the guards. The bungalow lies near the sea, in front of a house used by President Fujimori who comes here on his fishing trips. The island is utterly bleak, a rock covered in brown sand with a view over the grey, grinding water to Lima. In this bungalow Guzmán was debriefed by Sigisfredo Luza and Vladimiro Montesinos from the Servicio de Intelligencia Naçional.
Luza, an upper-class pyschologist, is popularly supposed to be a psychopath after he shot dead a rival for his mistress. He pleaded madness and in public appeared with boggle-eyes. Following a short stint in hospital, he rejoined the intelligence services.
Montesinos is more sinister and manipulative. Known as agent 002, he acted as a lawyer for Fujimori and knows more than is necessarily healthy about the president. Because of this he is supposed to have greater influence over the country’s affairs than he should. There exists only one photograph of Montesinos, rather like Guzmán before his capture. Since that event an odd thing has occurred. Montesinos has replaced Guzmán as a figure of myth. But with an important difference: Montesinos lurks at the heart of state.
I gather what happens is this. Montesinos treats Guzmán with enormous respect, addressing him as President Gonzalo. They are two potentates together. They talk about Arequipa, where both men come from. Montesinos asks Guzmán to sign Guzmán’s confiscated copy of Mao’s works. They sit on the terrace talking, drinking, eating. They eat a cake sent by President Fujimori in celebration of Elena Iparraguirre’s 45th birthday. It is odd, this state of affairs, when a President sends a terrorist a birthday cake.
Encouraged to talk about himself, Guzmán talks about his health. The humidity on this island is exacerbating his psoriasis and the skin is peeling in white fleckmarks from his arms, legs and buttocks.
“A prison’s not a clinic,” observes another member of the team, Rafael Merino, who is photographed with Guzmán (“so I can show my grandchildren”). Merino is astonished by the First Sword’s unsure grasp of communist essentials. “But Dr Guzmán,” he says, “surely that was Engels, not Marx.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Guzmán strikes his interrogators as a provincial intellectual. He offers a coherence beyond the facts. He reminds them of a Trotskyist politician from the seventies, a man nicknamed “Geranium” because he was difficult to take seriously. In other words, a clown.
After two weeks of interrogation, it is decided to execute him. The date is set for October 15 at 8.00am and a firing squad is selected. Merino is asked to draw up reasons why he must be shot: the “Decree Law” will be signed by the Council of Ministers. “Do you have any requests?” asks Merinos, omitting the word “last”.
Guzmán rubs his psoriatic hands. “Yes,” he says and Merino thinks maybe he will ask for the complete works of Marx.
But Guzmán wants a visit from his mistress, Elena Iparraguirrre. He looks up, rubbing his hands. “The sexual factor, you understand.”
This, at least, is Merino’s version, demythologizing Guzmán to a mediocre womaniser. Frankly, I find it hard to credit. Is it likely he would make love before the cameras? And when he does meet his mistress he behaves like a small boy looking for a mother, not a seducer. Concerned, Elena asks: “Have they treated you well? Have you taken your medecine? There’s a lot of humidity here. Can I give you my shawl?”
In the event the Council refuses to sign the execution order. Guzmán is condemned to life imprisonment and in April he is caged again and transported by boat to the naval base at Callao. There he lives undergound with no direct light. He is allowed to walk for thirty minutes around a sandy compound the size of a squash-court, and once a month receive a visit from a family friend. He lives in a cell nine feet by six, with a rough bed, a chair, and a washbasin. He is refused newspapers, television, pencil, paper and books. He asks for a book, any book, “even a history of the navy”. The only book permitted is the Bible.
All this might explain the events that follow. Because what do you do all day? Think of it. No privacy. Noone to talk to. Only the Bible to read. You’d go mad, and Guzmán would go madder than anyone would go mad. Not just because he’s a Marxist and he doesn’t believe in God, but because he’s been used to power, to controlling people, to using his brain.
So perhaps, knowing he had nothing to lose, he bargained for nothing more than some visits from Elena Iparraguirre and a history of the Peruvian navy.
I mention this because last October Guzmán is trotted out, clean-shaven, thinner, with darker hair, and televised reading aloud two letters he has written to President Fujimori. The letters solicit peace, commend President Fujimori on the stalwart efforts of his security forces, also his success in defeating his political rivals. The delivery is mechanical, the words appearing to be spoken if not under duress at least under dictation. The similarities they bear to Fujimori’s own prose, and the timing – shortly before a crucial referendum – suggest Guzmán is being used as an election ploy. It doesn’t work. It reminds some of Stalin’s show trials. If Guzmán would sign that, goes the feeling, he would sign anything. He would sign a laundry list.
There are rumours Guzmán has been drugged. That the letters contain coded signals for Sendero to continue their actions. That he genuinely has seen the error of his ways.
But if this is the case why can’t anyone speak to him?
Removed like his quarry from the picture, General Vidal cannot conceal his discomfort. “All this – it’s just games. Guzmán hasn’t changed his thoughts at all.”
Her parents were on holiday in Miami when they heard she had been captured with Sendero’s leader. Noone could believe it. They thought she was investigating popular dance in some Andean town. “It can’t be,” they said. But it was. The poet said, opening a book, “it was as if you had opened this book and it had exploded.”
The person they knew so well was presented in the same striped costume as her leader. She denounced the press conference as a circus and was led away shouting about the black vomit of President Fujimori.
In Arequipa she was given a summary trial in a secret military location. It happened so rapidly her lawyer could not prepare a proper defence. She was placed on front of mirrors so she could not see her judges, only hear them. She would have seen the image of herself, as when on the dance floor she stood on tip-toe correcting her body. The voices condemned her to life imprisonment in a freezing penitentiary near Lake Titicaca.
I wonder if she will have changed her mind. But everyone doubts it. The ballet gave her a discipline. “She will be even stronger,” says the poet.
This is confirmed by a story I hear, of how not long ago Maritza’s mother paid a visit to the prison, bringing an electric blanket and some jumpers against the cold. “Tell her I love her, her father sends greetings, that we’re very worried and we’re trying to help her.” The message came back: “Tell my mother I’m dead. I live only for the revolution.”
It reminds me of the poet’s reply when I asked if she could have killed. Slowly, deliberately, he said, “Perhaps, if she was convinced. When I knew her she couldn’t bear killing our chickens. But her mentality is: we may kill a child in a car-bomb, but we’re working for a society where no child dies – and at the moment thousands die. It’s a war. There’s no other way.”
I am in Lima when the magazine “Caretas” names the officer responsible for abducting, killing and burying the nine students. The news that it might be Santiago Martín Rivas, nicknamed the “Führer”, is greeted with indifference.
This indifference is beyond me and I mention it in the car to Celso Garrido Lecca. The composer agrees. It was why Patricia Awapara wanted to stage “Antigone”, to waken people into seeing what was taking place around them.
We drive to Patricia’s house in the same orange Beetle in which Celso drove her to the ballet studio. Even now, neither feel comfortable talking of that night. Instead we watch a video of Patricia dancing Antigone to Celso’s clashing, moaning music.
She performed the ballet last August in a small, rickety theatre. “I decided to play all the parts,” says Patricia. Hesitantly she comes on stage, holding a terracotta pot with her brothers ashes. She hoists up her yellow dress and gallops in his character, fleeing in tears from battle. Then she steps on clogs and become the tyrant, her uncle Creon. In the last movement she suddenly raises the pot above her head, and overturns it – burying her brother, the state, herself. The earth sticks to her face with the effect of a Greek mask. “I was thinking of Maritza, of her face in the police station.” Everyone says Patricia has never danced so well.
The video ends and she tells me something else. When she lay blindfolded that night on the dancefloor, Patricia overheard General Vidal speaking to Maritza. They were talking about ballet. The moment is poignant:
Vidal would later tell me how, as a young man, he had been in love with a classical ballerina. They wanted to marry, but she said “only if you leave the police force.” He thought for many days, then decided he could not abandon his vocation. They separated. He took a long while to recover, marrying twenty years later. He never heard from the ballerina again until the day after he captured Guzmán when he received a telephone call. “You were right,” she said.
Nicholas Shakespeare’s novel based on Sendero Luminoso, The Vision of Elena Silves, is published by Vintage