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At home in Peru’s nastiest cell-block

Abimael Guzman is returning to a special jail for political monsters, says nicholas shakespeare

Shrouded in a soft drizzle, the Callao naval base north of Lima is the unlikely setting for a Pinteresque drama. The plot is well known. On Friday, dressed neatly in a black jacket and white shirt, Abimael Guzman (alias "Presidente Gonzalo", alias "The Fourth Sword of Marxism", alias "The Most Wanted Man in the Southern Hemisphere") returned to his specially-built prison cell to continue his life sentence.

After a year-long retrial, a civilian court had confirmed the 1992 verdict of hooded judges at a secret military court - overturned as unlawful in 2003. The 71-year-old former philosophy professor was indeed guilty of aggravated terrorism and leading a Maoist revolution responsible for 31,300 deaths.

Less well-known are the circumstances of Guzman's incarceration. A friend of the Peruvian Minister of Justice told me that the

The terrorist lives in an underground cell that looks out on an exercise yard the size of a squash-court

ex-Kantian philosopher lives in one of four subterranean cells from which he looks out - at eye level - on an exercise yard the size of a squash-court. The prisoners take their exercise in turns, glared at by the others, who bellow slogans and abuse. The most extraordinary aspect of the story is the identity of the other prisoners.

The first is Victor Pollay, portly leader of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, a more middle-class faction than Guzman's rival Shining Path. The second is the ex-Security Minister responsible for building this prison to house Guzman: Vladimir Montesinos (alias "Rasputinos"). This sinister lawyer was the puppet-master who controlled President Alberto Fujimori. Like Fujimori, Montesinos was charged with corruption and human rights abuses. These doubled the death toll to 70,000.

The fourth cell lies empty, but awaits former President Fujimori, currently a fugitive in Chile where a warrant has been issued for his extradition.

FIRST POSTED OCTOBER 14, 2006
Nicholas Shakespeare's novel about the capture of Guzman, The Dancer Upstairs, is published by Vintage, £7.99

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