After serving his 25-year prison sentence, Peter Cárdenas Schulte was freed on 22 September. He was first convicted following his capture in Lima in 1992 for being a leading member of the MRTA (Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru). He was accused of being the organisation’s number two. For his part, he denies having held such a prominent position, but accepts he played an important role in the group. In 2003 he asked for forgiveness from those he had wronged in making his declaration to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR).

Inspired by the Cuban Revolution, the MRTA started its activities in Peru in 1982 and had a very different approach from that of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). It concentrated on extortion, targeted killings and taking control of remote areas where the state was largely absent. Unlike Sendero, MRTA members wore uniforms to differentiate themselves from the civilian population and they claimed responsibility for their actions.

Cárdenas Schulte was briefly imprisoned from 1988 to 1989, but was freed for lack of evidence. In 1990 he was in charge of organizing the construction of a tunnel to free several MRTA prisoners from jail, including their leader Víctor Polay Campos. When captured in 1992, he was found with 200,000 US dollars and considerable amounts of ammunition.

In contrast to Sendero, the MRTA did not formally surrender and, in December 1996, it forcibly occupied the residency of the Japanese ambassador, holding as hostages scores of guests to a reception there. Among the demands made at the time was the release of prisoners, including Cárdenas Schulte. He had been convicted by a ‘faceless’ tribunal (one in which the faces of judges were hidden from those they sentenced) to life imprisonment. He was kept in solitary confinement for five years.

In 2006, the Peruvian authorities revised all the judicial cases dating from the Fujimori era, following a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica that those accused of terrorism in this way had not received a fair trial. Cárdenas Schulte’s conviction was revised to 25 years, which he has now served.

His release has led to a barrage of criticism. Many people believe that having been convicted of terrorism he should face life in prison.–existe-la-cadena-perpetua-en-el-peru-para-casos-de-terrorismo-noticia_838601.html The law is nevertheless clear and, having spent more than twenty years locked up in the Naval Base in Callao (next to the leaders of the other subversive groups), he has to be freed. There is still the matter of the 50 million soles of civilian retribution to the Peruvian state that Cárdenas Schulte owes, and there have been reports in the press noting that he should be expected to pay this.

In the coming years, many more members of both the MRTA and Sendero will complete their sentences and be freed, most now in their mid or late fifties. The question that remains, however, is whether Peruvian society is ready to receive them.