Humala court proceedings begin in chaos

Ex-army Maj. Antauro Humala and 173 of his ultra-nationalist followers milled about, chanted, sang and complained bitterly Monday through chaotic court proceedings in their trial for the January 2005 assault on a remote Andean police station.

Problems with the audio system forced the judge to twice suspend the hearing, provoking disorder among the accused, who began reciting nationalistic chants and singing Peru’s national anthem.

The proceedings, held inside a gated patio at the Lurigancho prison in Lima, were packed with defendants and lawyers, as well as interpreters for three of the defendants who are native Quechua-speakers. As delays persisted and temperatures rose, tempers flared.

At one point, lead Judge Carmen Rojassi was asked by one of the myriad defense lawyers to recuse herself because she allegedly owed an outstanding debt to the Lima Bar Association. The motion was eventually rejected. Television cameras showed Antauro Humala ambling in and out of the patio areas as one of his co-defendant’s lawyers complained about the courtroom conditions.

Humala stands accused of leading the group of ultra-nationalist “Etnocaceristas” in the New Year’s Day 2005 siege of a police station in Andahuaylas, a remote town in the Apurímac region in southern Peru. The group took hostages, demanding that then-President Alejandro Toledo resign for selling out Peru to foreign corporate interests –Chilean investors in particular. The group killed four policemen in a roadside ambush during the ensuing three-day standoff. Police snipers killed two of Humala’s men the following day.

Throughout the takeover, Antauro said he was acting at the behest of his brother, with whom he allegedly maintained cell phone contact.

The second hearing of the Andahuaylas trial had to be postponed April 4 due to over 150 of the accused, including Antauro and his brother, Ollanta Humala, failing to turn up. Ollanta, a former presidential candidate who narrowly lost to Alan Garcia in the 2006 election, was charged as intellectual author of the Andahuaylas siege, but he had won a lower court ruling that the charges were improperly lodged.

A writ of habeas corpus was issued, but Judge Rojassi refused to recognize the order, saying it had not been fully ratified, and she threatened to declare Ollanta in contempt of court if he didn’t show up to the subsquent hearing.

Days before the second hearing, the Superior Justice Court of Lima approved the habeas corpus in Ollanta’s favor, lifting the charges against him and removing his obligation to attend the trial.

However, he could still be called as witness and could be open to further investigation following his brother’s trial.

Ollanta, who leads the Peruvian Nationalist Party, was Peru’s military attaché in South Korea at the time of the siege, and was facing forced retirement. During Antauro’s takeover, Ollanta made a public call to army reservists back home to start a “popular insurrection” against Toledo’s government.

But Ollanta quickly backed down and distanced himself from Antauro’s action after the four police were killed. He has steadfastly denied any direct involvement ever since.

In a report published in Caretas magazine, however, a policeman who was hiding in the police station has stated that the Humala brothers were in contact. “Antauro was constantly on his cell phone during the three-day assault and telling his followers “‘the commander says’ such and such,” Aníbal Gómez told Caretas. Gómez, a noncommissioned officer who hid in a tiny attic closet when the Humala followers threw tear gas and took over the station, said he overheard the conversations of Antauro Humala and his followers during the three days he was stuck in the so-called dovecote, without food and with only raindrops for water. Gómez said that when the group ambushed and killed four policemen at dawn on the second day of the assault, Antauro exulted “We have killed four dogs of the State!” Gómez also said the group “got drunk on all the adulterated liquor” and adulterated Christmas panetones that the police had impounded over the holiday season.

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