Story from Sandro Piedrahita

Comrade Juana

If there were no contradictions in the party and battles to resolve those contradictions, the party’s life would reach an end. Mao Tse-Tung

For Karen Jones, making love to Comrade Carlos had always been to some extent a political act. She delighted in the fact that he was an indigenous man, enjoyed having his copper body bury itself in her flesh, letting his Amerindian soul share in her Anglo-Saxon woman’s passion as she held him with both hands by his coarse black hair. And when she discovered he was a revolutionary, that he was fighting to rid the natives of Peru from a tyrannical government run by the white coastal elites, the ardor of Karen Jones for Comrade Carlos grew exponentially. In his body, she found multitudes of runa people, she communed with thousands of the downtrodden.  She had always wanted to do something, anything, to help liberate the native peoples of Latin America from their oppressors, but had been able to do so little.  At some point, Karen stopped taking the pill because she wanted to be the mother of a mixed-race child.  That would be the ultimate act of protest, the ultimate rebellion.  When she told Comrade Carlos, he didn’t object. He simply warned her that given his clandestine activities, he would soon be imprisoned or killed. “Of that you can be assured,” he told her, as if he was talking about something as certain as the sunrise.

Tonight of all nights, Karen wants to make love to Comrade Carlos, to fall into his sinewy arms, to sink under the weight of his brown muscular body, to succumb to his gentle lover’s embrace as an act of celebration. For the first time since she started living with him – so many months ago – he has finally decided to allow her to join him in one of his “expeditions.” She’s going to take a great leap forward in her defense of the indigenous masses. Such a more important action than when she collected money for CISPES as a senior at Yale College. After all, the most she had done until this moment was to paint red handprints on a Chicago municipal building, representing all the blood spilled due to the American government’s atrocities in El Salvador. Now she would be taking direct revolutionary action, not engaging in a purely symbolic protest. So before going out into the streets with the fuel oil and ammonium nitrate bomb in the trunk of Comrade Carlos’ old white Chevy Impala, Karen makes love to him with relentless abandon, luxuriating in his body as if it were the last time.

The streets are for the most part empty as they begin their trek to the electric power station in Callao. The plan made by the Shining Path guerrillas is to attack multiple transmission towers at the same time, so as to immerse the city of Lima in complete darkness, allowing other rebels to bomb television stations and newspapers deemed sympathetic to the ruling classes. When Comrade Carlos parks the vehicle close to the towering electric tower, there is no one around them and they proceed with the operation safely. Comrade Carlos opens the trunk of the Impala and lifts the seventy-five-pound bomb with both hands. Karen helps him carry it and they leave it at the foot of the high voltage tower, to be detonated at one a.m. exactly. They hear a loud boom in the distance as they drive back. Soon there is no light anywhere in the city of Lima and the couple make their way back to their apartment in the darkness.  

As they approach their apartment in Chama, a police vehicle stops them and asks for their papers. Comrade Carlos hands over his identification – Karen is well aware that they’re falsified documents – and Karen turns over her American passport. The policeman is a stout Amerindian man, probably in his early thirties, who speaks with what Karen considers excessive deference.  She and Comrade Carlos wait in the car for at least thirty minutes, but for Karen it seems much longer.  If they’re caught, she’ll be charged with terrorism, no doubt about it, imprisoned in one of the notorious jails for senderista women.  Then the policeman comes back and says, “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to go with me. There are some irregularities in the documents. And I have to check the trunk of your vehicle.” Comrade Carlos gets out of the car, pretending he’s going to open the trunk, but as the policeman approaches, Comrade Carlos shoots him in the chest.  Karen is horrified. Comrade Carlos turns to the man on the ground to make sure he is dead. Since he’s still alive, he shoots him a second time. Then he searches his pockets, until he finds his papers and Karen’s passport.

“Hurry,” Comrade Carlos says. “We’re going to have to leave Lima, at least for a while. He had your passport and may have reported your name on the radio to the authorities.” 

“Did you have to kill him?” Karen asks, reeling from the gruesome sight of the policeman’s cadaver bleeding on the ground like a bovine carcass. Her eyes are beginning to well up and she mutters to herself: oh my God, oh my God, oh my sweet Jesus… 

“He was a policeman,” Comrade Carlos responds. 

“He was a quechua man just like yourself,” Karen objects, starting to weep out loud. “Sure he was a policeman, sure he was – oh my God, Carlos – but he was hardly to blame for the oppression of the Amerindian. You didn’t have to shoot him that second time!”

“The just pay for the sinners,” Comrade Carlos responds dryly, repeating an old Peruvian saying. “Do you think the revolution can be won merely by bombing electric towers? You begged me to come on this expedition, Karen, so you can’t complain if it didn’t turn out the way you imagined it. Did you want me to let him arrest me and imprison me at Lurigancho?”

“Still, why the second shot?” Karen insists.

“Amerindian or not, he represents the Peruvian state. Get that through your thick head, Karen. As Presidente Gonzalo says, ‘actions are the key, power the objective.’”

“Presidente Gonzalo,” Karen repeats as she leans on the hood of the car to maintain her balance. “Must you always speak about him?”

“Abimael Guzman is one of the greatest figures of Peruvian history, indeed of human history.”

 “And now what are we going to do?” Karen asks. “Where are we going to hide?”  

 “Don’t worry about it,” Comrade Carlos responds. “We’re going to have to escape to the sierra, to a town occupied by the senderistas. We’re no longer safe in Lima. From now on, you’re officially a fugitive, complicit in a murder.”

“So where are we going?” Karen asks.  

“To Cajabamba, in the Andean highlands,” Comrade Carlos responds. “The Shining Path controls it. We’ll be safe there. The Peruvian state has been ousted from Cajabamba.”    

The entire city of Lima is steeped in darkness, since the senderistas have bombed  multiple electric towers feeding from the Mantaro River. Once they arrive at their apartment in Chama, Karen and Comrade Carlos put together a bag with their clothing items and at dawn they immediately depart on their journey to the remote town of Cajabamba in the province of Cajamarca. After several hours on dangerous, unpaved roads hugging the mountains, they finally arrive at the town and knock at the house of one of Comrade Carlos’ co-religionists, Comrade Gustavo, a white man with light brown hair and an orange beard. He is immediately wary of Karen’s presence. 

“¿Y esta quien es?” he asks with a voice full of suspicion.   

“Don’t worry about her,” says Comrade Carlos. “She’s just taken part in a murder, she’s a fugitive just like me, and she’s my lover. Don’t forget what Lenin said. You can trust a person who has committed a crime with you.”


Karen’s love for the Amerindians of Peru probably had its genesis when she was a child growing up in Hancock Park, California, and Juana, a Guatemalan woman, was her nanny, confidant and ally. Karen had always considered the woman a part of the family, despite the uniform she was forced to wear, and Karen was disconsolate when Juana disappeared one day, in the middle of summer. Karen eventually learned she had been deported back to Central America. From that day on, Karen did all she could to help the so-called “illegal” immigrants of California. She participated in marches, she distributed leaflets, she even held fundraisers at Immaculate Heart of Mary High School to raise money for the Central American Resource Center and Catholic Charities. But Karen never felt that what she did was enough. Immigrants continued to be abused and exploited, only to be deported at any moment, and there was nothing she could do about it. 

When Karen told Comrade Carlos that Juana had been part of the family, soon after they started living together, he laughed and said that she was being ridiculous.

“A servant’s never part of the family. I’ve heard many people in Peru say the same thing, that an empleada is loved just like a relative, but that’s not the reality.”

“I can assure you Juana knew how much she was loved,” Karen answered. “She helped raise me since I was an infant. She even had a room in our home. I spent more time with her than with my own mother.”

“Well, doesn’t that tell you something? That she spent more time with you than her own family?”

“She never complained about it.”

“My own mother was a maid for a wealthy family in Monterrico,” Comrade Carlos replied, “cama adentro as they say, meaning she not only worked all day for the family but she also spent the nights with them, ready at any moment to follow their orders. More like a slave than a family member.”

“That was not my Juana,” Karen interjected.

But Comrade Carlos continued.

“My mother could only visit me on Sundays, her day off, and her salary was miniscule. So thanks to this arrangement I was raised without a mother. So don’t delude yourself into thinking Juana was a member of the family. I’m sure she didn’t even sit with you at the table during dinner.”

“You’re right,” Karen confessed.

“I hate to tell you this, Karen, but you’ve always been a beneficiary of white privilege. So much so that you don’t even realize the enormity of the problem, nor how painful the solution must be.”


Karen is immediately astonished by what she sees in Cajabamba on her first day living “underground.”  All the women are gray-haired, and even most of the teenage girls. The Amerindian women walk somberly through the town, putting their produce in front of them on blankets at the central marketplace, but never smiling. Karen notices that there are very few men, and that all of them are old. Unlike the pictures she had seen of other Andean towns, none of the women have wawas strapped to their backs. Cajabamba is a place where there are no infants. In the center of the plaza there is a woman wailing, gray-haired as well, crying as if she had just learned of the death of a loved one. Karen approaches the woman tentatively and asks her in her middling Spanish what is wrong, to see if she can help her. 

“How do you want me not to cry?” the woman asks in quechua-tinged Spanish. “Given that I drowned both my children.”

Karen asks what happened, but the woman repeats, “How do you want me to speak, given that I drowned both my children?”

Karen returns to the house she’s sharing with Comrade Carlos, with nothing but questions and the beginning of a massive headache. 

“This town is haunted,” she says. “All the women look like old women, there are virtually no men, and in the center of the plaza there is a woman wailing, saying she has killed her offspring.”

“They call her la llorona,” Comrade Carlos responds. “She should probably have been hanged for her crime a long time ago. But Comrade Gustavo thought that her guilt over what she had done was punishment enough. In any case, some of the pueblerinos think she’s a specter, that after killing her children she killed herself and is now un alma en pena. The townswomen of Cajabamba point out that la llorona never eats and never ceases weeping, even throughout the night.  They say that’s proof that the woman is a ghost.”

“And what about the gray-haired women? I swear I couldn’t see a single woman with black hair, not even among the teenage girls.”

Comrade Carlos stands up from where he has been sitting and lights a cigarette, taking his time to think about what he’s about to say.

“Do you remember what I told you when I first admitted to you that I am a Shining Path guerrilla? Do you recall what I said that first time?”

“Sure,” Karen responds. “You told me never to ask what you were doing. You told me to ask no questions.”

“All right,” says Comrade Carlos. “I ask you the same thing today. You’re going to witness a lot of spectacular things in Cajabamba. You’re going to see things that cannot be explained. Those things happen in the highlands, especially in times of war. I want to protect you, to protect your innocence. So please don’t go out into the plaza with a lot of questions. Don’t forget that everything happens for a reason. And sometimes it’s best not to ask why.”  


Karen remembers the first time Comrade Carlos told her he was a guerrilla. She had been living with him for some time and had grown accustomed to his frequent absences. And yet she hesitated to ask him what he did, although she knew it was something important and probably something deadly. But one night after a bout of lovemaking, he had confided in her and told her everything – or at least what Karen thought was everything at the time.

“You know how the quechua peoples have been exploited,” Comrade Carlos began. “The misery they’re forced to live through in the distant highlands of the Peruvian sierra and in the shantytowns of Lima. They toil like moles in dangerous mines where they often lose their lives, earning a pittance. Or their backs are broken as they work in the vast farms of the gamonales. Well, I’ve decided to say ‘No,’ Karen.  Did you know Camus once said the rebel is the one who says ‘No’?”

“You’ve read a lot more than I have, Carlos.” 

“Well, I say ‘No’ to the Peruvian state,” Comrade Carlos continued, “a government that does nothing to improve the lot of the native peoples. I say ‘No’ to the wealthy white limeños. And I definitely say ‘No’ to Peru’s political left, which promises the Indians the same thing year after year, decade after decade, never achieving anything more than minor incremental changes.”

“You don’t think things can ever be resolved democratically?”  

 “As Presidente Gonzalo repeatedly proclaims, all the so-called democratic left does is participate in futile electoral illusions. So I have taken up arms, Karen, taken up arms to defeat the Peruvian state and all its lackeys. I am a proud senderista, a member of the Shining Path guerrilla movement.”

And Karen had been swept up by his explanation, had seen in him an authentic revolutionary, had desired more than ever to be possessed by his dark-skinned rebel’s body.


On her first Monday in Cajabamba, during a breakfast of chupe and chicharrones, Karen admits to Comrade Carlos that she is fairly sure she’s pregnant. She has missed three consecutive periods and really has no doubt about it. The news has filled her with joy, the hope that her child will be born in a better world, thanks to the armed struggle. And Comrade Carlos seems to be elated also.

“That’s marvelous news,” he cheers. “Perhaps by the time the child is born, the people’s war will have been won. We’re making wonderful strides, even in Lima.”

“Do you really think so?” Karen asks. “Can it happen quickly?”

 “The Peruvian state and its allies will soon be defeated. Little did they suspect that a ragtag bunch of Indians led by Presidente Gonzalo would launch a millenarian war.” 

“I’d like to give the child a quechua name,” Karen announces. “Can you think of any names that are pretty?

“There are so many to choose from. Chaska, which means star, Coya which means queen, Illary, rainbow… We’ll see if it’s a boy or a girl. Or maybe we should name the child Abimael, in honor of Presidente Gonzalo.”

“Is there a doctor in town? I’d like to be checked out, to be absolutely sure I am pregnant.”

“I don’t know,” Comrade Carlos answers. “Why would you need a doctor?”

“Come on, Carlos, I need to get tested.”

“I don’t know,” Comrade Carlos repeats, as he lights a cigarette.

“Please,” Karen insists.

“The closest thing to a physician is Mama Josefina. She’s a midwife and maybe she can help you. For a while she worked with Doctor Mata.”

“So he left Cajabamba?” Karen inquires.

“The man was a reactionary. A white man who thought he was helping the Indians. The worst kind, according to Presidente Gonzalo, because such men delude the masses.”

“Is that what you think? That a white person can never be of help to the Amerindians?” 

 “I’m not talking about you, Karen. Nor about Comrade Gustavo. In any case, you can see Mama Josefina if you must. She has years and years of experience as a midwife.” 

“Good. I’ll go see her this afternoon.”

“Listen,” Comrade Carlos warns her. “Don’t be shocked if you hear some unpleasant things. I would like to prevent it, but it’s simply impossible given how long we are going to stay in Cajabamba. But don’t forget the revolution has its own logic and that everything done to advance the revolution is moral. We have to follow the directives of Presidente Gonzalo. He explains that there are the laws of peace and then there are the laws of war. And don’t forget I love you.”

“What does my going to a midwife have to do with the laws of war? Why would I forget you love me? I don’t understand.”

Comrade Carlos stands up and leaves, extinguishing his cigarette on the floor as if he were angry.


Mama Josefina is a woman in her late seventies, with a slow gait and mournful eyes. She’s wearing the multi-layered polleron skirts worn by women in the Peruvian highlands when she opens the door to let Karen into her small thatched house. 

“I’ve come because I think I’m pregnant and was told you were the closest thing to a doctor in Cajabamba.”

“So you want to abort the child?” Mama Josefina asks. “If you wish, we can do it this afternoon.”

“Abort it?” Karen repeats. “Who said anything about aborting it? I just want to make sure I’m pregnant and to introduce myself to you so that you can help me in the future, just in case there are any complications. Why do you think I want an abortion?”

Mama Josefina looks at Karen with a look of surprise, knitting her eyebrows together like question marks. 

“It’s just that during the last eight months every woman that has come to see me has asked me to perform an abortion. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed it, but there are no infants in this town. And women were aborting their babies even before the massacre.”

“The massacre?” Karen repeats.

“What brings you here? Haven’t you heard about what the Shining Path has done in this town?”

“I arrived last week. I’m an American. And I’m the partner of Comrade Carlos.”

“Comrade Carlos the butcher? Is that horrible man back in town?”

“The butcher?” Karen asks. “Why do you call Carlos a butcher?”

“Please,” Mama Josefina replies. “Because of what he did during the massacre. At first, it seemed that Comrade Carlos was among the most righteous of the senderistas. When an Indian woman was gang-raped by three of his men, he promptly ordered that the men be hanged. But he couldn’t stop the abuses by his men and a group of about a hundred local peasants formed a ronda campesina to oust the senderistas. And that’s when Comrade Carlos showed exactly how ruthless he could be.”

“What did he do?” Karen doesn’t want to hear Mama Josefina’s response, but she’s drawn to the woman’s words like a moth to the heat of a lightbulb.

“Well, even though only about a hundred men had taken up arms against the senderistas, everyone in town seemed to support them. The Shining Path guerrillas had ordered all the adolescent males to join their movement and had forced them to relocate to other zones of conflict, where they’d have to fight and die. That created a lot of opposition, especially among the parents.”

“That explains it,” Karen says. “Why there are no adolescent males in town. But what about the rest of the men? Why do you only find women in Cajabamba?” 

“That is what I was getting to. The massacre. It all happened in a day.”

“A single day,” Karen repeats. “What did Carlos do in a day?”

“The senderistas quickly overpowered the ronda campesina and Comrade Carlos gave the order. All of the men in town had to be killed, except a few of the oldest men. To teach everybody that there were no gray areas in the people’s war. That you either supported the Shining Path and Presidente Gonzalo or the senderistas would become your implacable enemies.”

“And so native people were killed in the name of the people’s war?”

“Why does that surprise you?” Mama Josefina retorts. “Haven’t you heard what’s happened in other towns?”

“I always thought it was reactionary propaganda, meant to confuse the masses.”

“Well, what your Comrade Carlos did in the town of Cajabamba is no invention. He shot a lot of the men and when he ran out of bullets he killed them with whatever was at hand, pickaxes, knives, even rocks. I think he viewed what he was doing as some sort of religious obligation, as if he was just complying with the demented wishes of his beloved Presidente Gonzalo.”

“And what does all this have to do with the aborted babies?” 

“The women don’t want to give birth to children in this world run by insane people. It’s a war between the Peruvian military and the Shining Path, but the ones that do all the dying are the quechua-speaking natives. And haven’t you realized what has happened to the women of Cajabamba, that they are all gray-haired?”

“That has intrigued me,” Karen assents. “I can think of no logical explanation.”

“Well, why do you think it happened? It was the horror of seeing husbands, lovers, fathers, sons brutally killed by the senderistas. The horrified women aged in a day, even the adolescent girls, because their suffering was extreme.”

“I find it hard to believe that Carlos was involved in all of that.”

“And that’s not the end of it,” Mama Josefina responds. “Saturnina Huaman even killed her own children because of what your lover had done.”

“The wailing woman?” Karen queries.

“Yes, la llorona,” Mama Josefina responds. “Some say she is a ghost.”


Karen walks toward the plaza, needing to talk to la llorona, to find out how Comrade Carlos somehow caused her to engage in such a brutal act. For some reason Karen needs to speak to Saturnina Huaman herself, to hear the story from her own mouth. As she approaches the wailing woman, Karen steels herself, knowing that the conversation won’t be easy. And yet she needs to find out.

“Why are you crying?” Karen asks Saturnina Huaman. 

“Don’t you see that I have killed both my children?” 

“And why did you do it?” Karen inquires. “What could have led you to such an act?”

But the woman does not respond and continues in her wailing.

“I want to know,” Karen insists. “Why did you kill your children?”

“My fourteen-year-old Javier was taken by the senderistas as part of their ‘quota,’ as directed by Presidente Gonzalo. Comrade Carlos said my son had to perform revolutionary incursions in other towns where the Shining Path wanted to establish a foothold. And so my son participated in an attack on a police station in Huamanga.”

The woman suddenly freezes and begins wailing again. 

“I can’t continue,” she cries out. “It’s too painful to remember.”

“What happened to your son Javier. I want to know.”

Then, still wailing, the woman responds. “During the attack on the police station, my son was struck by a bullet. It severed his spinal cord. And that’s how they brought him back to me, a paralytic, his lovely body shriveled and twisted, his elbows jutting out strangely, his mouth drooling, his legs mere bones. Oh, why do you want me to tell you this story? What could be the point?”

But Karen presses her. “Tell me what happened.”  

“Don’t you see that I could not let my son live like that? That it was no longer a life he was living?”

“And so you drowned him,” Karen says.

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” the woman answers and begins to wail again. “What else could I do? I covered his face with a plastic bag and dunked his head in the river. He didn’t struggle. He barely moved. I was ridding him of his misery. But then I took the other…”

“I don’t understand,” Karen responds. 

“My six-year-old son,” the woman wails. “After I killed Javier, I killed him too. I didn’t want him to live in a world ruled by the senderistas. Beneath their flowery prose, there is madness. A mad religion that shows no mercy, proclaimed by Presidente Gonzalo. They say they want to create a new Tahuantinsuyo, an empire at the service of the quechua peoples… What they truly intend is to create a monstrous regime built on the blood of the Indian people. I can’t go on…”

“Go on,” Karen replies.

The woman cleans her nose and keeps on speaking.

“They didn’t care how many were killed, so long as they accomplished their demented goal – to ‘liberate’ the people of Peru. And now look at what I’ve done!”

“Well, if it happened in a moment of despair, forgive yourself. It’s been a long time since I’ve prayed, but perhaps you should just abandon yourself to God’s Mercy.”

“How can I have access to His Mercy, as I have drowned both my children?”

“God’s Mercy is deep,” Karen tells her.

“I don’t believe it,” the woman answers, wiping her face again with her old brown woman’s hand as she continues to wail. “There is no forgiveness for killing your own children.” 

The truth is that having learned of the horror of the massacre Karen suddenly remembers the faith she had forsaken as an adolescent. As she prepares to confront Comrade Carlos, she mouths the Lord’s Prayer incessantly, repeating again and again its final line. Deliver us, deliver us, deliver us from evil…


Karen makes her way back to the small brick house she’s sharing with Comrade Carlos. The sky is foul, dark clouds without a silver lining. And there’s a smell – Karen can’t pinpoint what it is, but it is also foul. She doesn’t know what she’ll say to Comrade Carlos, nor if she will keep the baby. Mama Josefina had assured her she was pregnant.

When she arrives at the door to the house, she lingers outside for a while, wishing she could somehow avoid Comrade Carlos. After all, she doesn’t know what she is going to say. Shall she tell him their relationship is over? Shall she accuse him of committing atrocities? Karen isn’t quite sure, can’t make sense of her own emotions. But she makes de tripas corazon, as they say in Spanish, and opens the front door. She finds Comrade Carlos in the kitchen and makes a great effort not to cry when she first sees him. His face somehow looks different, angular and hard. Instead of the handsome indigenous revolutionary, Karen now sees an olive-skinned madman. 

“What’s wrong?” he asks, as soon as he notices her expression.

“I need to sit down, Carlos. Let me just sit down. I have discovered something terrible.”

“What is it? What have you found out?”

“Everything,” Karen responds. 

“Did Mama Josefina say something? Is that why you are so distraught?”   

“She told me that you participated in a massacre of the Indians of Cajabamba.”

Karen doesn’t know how Comrade Carlos will respond. Now she fears him, knows he is capable of everything. 

“It’s complicated, Karen,” he says, speaking in a calm voice which surprises her. She had expected anger, perhaps violence. 

“Sometimes the people aren’t ready for the revolution. That’s what Presidente Gonzalo teaches. The natives have been subjugated for so long that they don’t realize a better world is possible. They just want to be left alone. And sometimes they resist those who are fighting for them.”

“That explains nothing,” Karen replies as she swipes her blonde hair from her soft white face. She suddenly realizes that she is gently weeping, but she doesn’t allow herself to give in to the tears. She needs to hear Comrade Carlos’ explanation.

 “You have to understand,” Comrade Carlos continues, “that accomplishing deep change  sometimes involves attacking some of the Indians themselves. I never told you that the revolution was pretty. I don’t know what you learned in America with your university friends, but sometimes bloodshed nourishes the revolution. Presidente Gonzalo teaches us that a cleansing among the peasant classes is something necessary, no matter how brutal, in accordance with the precepts of Chairman Mao.”

“I still don’t understand, Karen says. “What does decimating a town full of Indians have to do with the revolution?” 

 “The people of Cajabamba opposed the revolutionaries’ incursion into the village. And many of the men of the town had to be killed to teach a lesson to all the peasants of the province of Cajamarca.”

“I’m confused,” Karen answers, wiping her tear-filled eyes. “You sound deluded. Are you telling me that to save the Indians, you must kill them?”

“It was out of my hands, Karen,” Comrade Carlos responds. “The order came from Presidente Gonzalo himself. And I couldn’t disobey. He didn’t want the Indians in other sierra towns to engage in similar conduct. If we allow the quechua people to side with the reactionaries, the armed struggle will be lost.”

“And Gonzalo is God, no?” Karen spits at Comrade Carlos, her eyes flashing anger. “Everything he orders must be followed without question, right?”

“Not a god, but the only figure in Peruvian history to have truly fashioned a solution to what Mariategui called the ‘Indian problem’ so many decades ago. The only one to promise a future where the Indian will be master rather than servant.”

“Well, I’m leaving,” Karen says, making a great effort to steel herself. “I’m going back to Lima. I can’t stay with you.”

“Why, Karen?” Comrade Carlos asks. “Why are you so surprised?”

“I believe liberation is achieved through love and not through massacres.”

“And now who’s being deluded?” Comrade Carlos asks. “Nothing will be achieved without violence. Aren’t the black men of your country still oppressed years after the death of Doctor King? The Indians of Peru have been exploited by the white man for more than four centuries. Nothing short of extreme measures can ever remedy that.”

Suddenly Karen can’t contain herself. As she starts to cry out loud, she lunges at Comrade Carlos, pulling at his coarse black hair with both hands in an effort to hurt him.

“Don’t you realize you have killed a thousand Indians?” she exclaims. “How could that ever be justified?” 

“I’m afraid you’ve deceived yourself your whole life, Karen,” Comrade Carlos responds  as he violently pulls himself away from her. “Thinking you were helping the native peoples, but truly only quenching your bottomless guilt, your pampered girl’s idealism. Putting on a Che Guevara t-shirt and thinking you were somehow in solidarity with the oppressed. When in fact you’ve benefited your whole life from their oppression.”

“No, I truly care about justice,” Karen protests. “Truly I do.” And she suddenly buries her face in Comrade Carlos’ chest, letting him put his arms around her, while she doesn’t cease to weep. 

“Hold me, hold me,” she begs. “Tell me that what you did was necessary for the liberation of the quechua peoples, that it’s all for the greater good, that you are not a monster.” 

“There, there,” Comrade Carlos consoles her as he caresses her long blonde hair. “Remember that you love me. And that you love the revolution of Presidente Gonzalo. Those men of Cajabamba had to be killed, just like that policeman in Lima.”

“No, no!” Karen exclaims as she violently recoils from his embrace. “You are sheer evil. The massacre was evil! I must leave you and Cajabamba. I must return to Lima now.”

“I think you’re forgetting something,” Comrade Carlos responds dryly. “That you can’t go back to Lima. You’ll be immediately arrested. You have to stay in Cajabamba regardless of what has happened in this town, regardless of your bourgeois scruples.”

“Aagh!” Karen cries out as she begins to desperately pummel his chest with both hands, as she punches him furiously. “Don’t tell me I can’t leave you! Don’t tell me I am trapped in this horrible town!”

A faint smile glimmers on Comrade Carlos’ face. 

“You can’t leave Cajabamba, Karen. You are doomed to share your bed with me, no matter what I’ve done.  And I think, deep down, that is what you wish. I know that you will ultimately agree with me.”

“Well, I’ll go to another Andean town, far from you,” Karen says, suddenly collecting herself.

“You’ll stick out like a sore thumb,” Comrade Carlos tells her, fixing his eyes on her like two hot coals. “Blonde-haired and blue-eyed, with an accent, don’t you think the local policemen will wonder who you are? You’re only safe in Cajabamba. You are only safe with me.”

And then Karen starts to vomit. She feels like a monkey in a zoo, unable to escape her cage. 

Comrade Carlos then tells her, “You’re already guilty of more than one crime, even if you don’t realize it. After we bombed the transmission tower, what do you think happened when the other senderistas blew up newspapers and television stations? Don’t you think that more than one Amerindian guachiman was killed by their bombs? And the difference between killing a single man and killing a hundred isn’t that great.”

“I think – I don’t know – I think you might be a madman,” Karen mutters in a defeated voice, as she collapses on the floor.

“What did Shakespeare write?” Comrade Carlos asks. “What did Polonius say in Hamlet? There’s a method in my madness… And my method follows the exigencies of the armed struggle. Not your saccharine view of the revolution. I think it’s time for you to embrace one more act in furtherance of the great cause of Presidente Gonzalo.”

“What could that be?” Karen asks. She’s shivering as if it were a very cold night and at the same time she’s sweating. 

“I want you to burn Saturnina Huaman at the stake. I want you to push yourself further.”

“The wailing woman?”

“Yes, la llorona. She deserves such a punishment for having drowned both her children, including a hero in the people’s war. Comrade Gustavo and I have already discussed it. Maybe you can bring the torch that will ultimately incinerate her. And you will lose your scruples forever, truly become a follower of Presidente Gonzalo.”

“I gave you so much love,” Karen answers, “and as a punishment you want to immerse me in your horror.” 

“You’re part of a cadre now, not just my lover. Ever since you helped me bomb that transmission tower in Lima. This moment was going to come at some point anyway. I have to train you just like any other recruit. It’s no longer time for you to choose. You’ve already made your choice. And there’s no exit, Karen.”

Karen feels like a cornered rat, but no longer has the energy to lash out. She sees a steak knife on the kitchen table, but decides not to use it.

“It’s normal to feel qualms at the beginning, happens to every rebel,” says Comrade Carlos. “I still remember how hard it was when I first killed, even though it was a public stoning and I only threw one rock. The next time it was easier, I was part of a firing squad and we shot the mayor of Macachacra. I was finally putting all I had read of Gonzalo Thought into practice. And habit hardens the soul. By the time I slashed a reactionary’s throat with a knife, I felt no scruples, wasn’t even horrified by his blood on my shirt.”

“It’s all for the greater good, right?” Karen asks, as she focuses her eyes on those of Comrade Carlos. He’s not sure if she’s being ironic or if she means it.

“Let me ask you one last question,” says Comrade Carlos, as he sits on a stool. “Would you be willing to die for the revolution?”

Karen lowers her eyes, pauses for a moment. 

“Yes,” she answers, then looks up at her lover with defiance. “Yes! Yes! Yes! I would be willing to die for the native peoples.”

“If you’re willing to die,” Comrade Carlos answers, “then you must be willing to kill.”

“Well, make love to me then,” Karen says, as she pulls his face towards hers, starts to kiss him, begins to disrobe him. She has made a choice, accepted a fork in the road from which there will be no return.

“Right here on the kitchen floor,” she adds. “If I am to stay with you in Cajabamba, let us make the best of it. Make love to me dangerously, Carlos, as if it were the last time. And I shall follow you wherever you may lead me.” 


Comrade Juana is sitting in the front row of the courtroom as the judge is about to render his verdict. To her right is her attorney, Mercedes Cruz Soldan, member of a storied Lima family and one of the best senderista lawyers. The cowardly military judge has a hood over his face and he speaks through a voice distortion apparatus, in order to conceal his identity so that the Shining Path guerrillas cannot engage in retaliatory assassination.

“Karen Jones,” he announces. “Please stand up for the declaration of the verdict.”

Comrade Juana rises to her feet, a woman with closely cropped black hair and a macerated face. 

“I am not Karen Jones,” she announces. “My name is Comrade Juana, widow of the legendary Comrade Carlos. Karen Jones died a long time ago.”

“Well, you have quite a police record, but you also have an excellent lawyer. As she has set forth, most of your alleged crimes cannot be established under the requisite standard of proof. 1982, the killing of policeman Genaro Huaman in Lima; 1983, the bombing of a police station in Huancavelica, as well as the assassination of reporter Guillermo Townsend; 1984, the kidnapping of diputado Juan Carlos Garcia and the attack on the women’s prison in Chorrillos, where more than twenty guards were killed; 1985, three assassinations and the burning of a courthouse in Cajamarca; 1986, multiple bank robberies and the bombing of an American restaurant in San Isidro… I could go on, but it would be useless.”

“What is your verdict?” Comrade Juana asks him in a calm voice.

“Suffice it to say that although your attorney has adequately defended you on many charges, the evidence that you participated in the bombing of an apartment building in Miraflores last year is abundant and irrefutable.  The apartment building had cameras and you were filmed while committing the crime. And more than forty innocents were killed.”  

“Those people weren’t innocent,” Comrade Juana replies in a loud voice. “They were guilty because they benefited from Peru’s institutionalized violence. Either you support the revolution or you support the oppressive government of the white limeños. Everything that I have done over the years has been done because of my love for the Peruvian people.”

“That is nonsense,” the judge replies. Comrade Juana realizes his hands are those of an Amerindian. “Don’t you realize that a lot of Indian nannies were murdered along with the so-called white people you so detest?”

“I detest nobody. I love the armed struggle. And sometimes the just pay for the sinners.”

“Well, I am sentencing you to life in prison. You shall serve your term at the Yanamayo facility in southern Peru, where you shall have abundant time to ponder your crimes. May the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

As the guards move to handcuff her, Comrade Juana cries out defiantly as she lifts her left fist in the air: “¡Viva el Camarada Carlos! ¡Viva el Presidente Gonzalo! ¡Viva Mao!”