In a surprise move, Peru's Shining Path leader, alias "Comrade Artemio," says he will no longer invoke his right to remain silent and will testify in court, after contracting a new lawyer who is also a leader in a political movement linked to the guerrilla group.
Artemio, whose real name is Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, said that, on the advice of his new lawyer, he will now respond to questions as he faces down charges of terrorism, drug trafficking, and money laundering. The lawyer, Alfredo Crespo, is a secretary of the Leaders of the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (Movadef), a political group that has been tied to the Shining Path.
Crespo also represents the Shining Path's top leader, Abimael Guzman, who was arrested in 1992 and is currently serving a life sentence. One of the stated aims of Movadef is Guzman's release, which has caused significant controversy in Peru and sparked accusations that the political movement is a puppet of the Shining Path. Peru's top anti-terrorism prosecutor said that Crespo's decision to defend Artemio is one indication of the "direct relationship" between Movadef and the guerrilla group. Crespo has said that he met Artemio in the courtroom audience.
Artemio has previously accepted responsibility for homicide charges in court, but said he would not accept any drug trafficking charges.
Artemio was captured in February 2012 by the military. His arrest is thought to have to lead to the decimation of his Shining Path faction, which was primarily active in the Upper Huallaga Valley. Another faction remains active in the the mountainous Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) region.
Both groups draw taxes from coca production and cocaine processing in their areas of influence. The VRAE faction is wealthier and has more military might than the group once led by Artemio.
InSight Crime Analysis
Crespo said that his client would speak in court so that the public "would know the truth of what happened in the Upper Huallaga and draw their own conclusions."
However, all of these actions seem more like political than legal maneuvering. Artemio is a hard line ideologue. His earlier decision to remain silent in court was most likely a symbolic move intended to express his rejection of the government. Likewise, his decision to answer questions during the trial will likely be used as an opportunity to reference the Shining Path's political platform.
It is also likely that Crespo's decision to represent Artemio will only add to Movadef's troubles. The political movement was barred from registering as a formal party last year, and the government is currently considering a series of reforms that seem explicitly aimed at further weakening the party.