Peru's 'dancer upstairs' gets 20 years for helping rebel

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The Independent US

Hers was the explosive story of political intrigue and clandestine activity set to the dainty rhythms of Latin American ballet which, when it came to light in the summer of 1992, sent shock waves through middle-class Peruvian society and inspired a string of artistic re-creations from a best-selling novel, The Dancer Upstairs, to a heart-stopping thriller of the same name directed by John Malkovich.

And, yesterday, the dramatic case took its latest twist with an announcement by Peru's national criminal court that the former ballerina, Maritza Garrido Lecca, had been sentenced after a three-month civilian re-trial to 20 years in prison for her links to the rebel group.

Lecca had already been handed a life sentence by a secret tribunal after her arrest in 1992 - and has been serving time ever since. But, two years ago, the military courts set up under the former president, Alberto Fujimori, were ruled unconstitutional. An array of convicted rebels, including Guzman himself and 11 of his highest commanders, are now facing re-trials expected to continue for the next five months.

The Maoist guerrilla leader stands accused of masterminding a bloody insurgency aimed at overthrowing the government and installing a Communist state that claimed the lives of almost 70,000 people since it began in 1980.

With time already served, Lecca, now 41, who denied being a member of the rebel movement but did not deny having links with it, is due for release in 2012. She is expected to appeal against the ruling after also being ordered yesterday to pay a fine of £10,000.

The dancer was 28 years old when police raided her studio in one of the most respectable, middle-class districts of the Peruvian capital and discovered Guzman, a former philosophy professor, watching a boxing match on television.

Her ballet school had been under observation for months before the arrest in 1992 after police noticed that the amount of rubbish being discarded by Lecca was far more than one person would normally produce. Investigators posing as bin men, meter readers and even a love-struck couple worked for months in order to try to establish what was going on behind the studio's veneer of respectability. When tubes of cream for the treatment of psoriasis - a skin condition Guzman was known to suffer from - were found in the rubbish bins outside, police intensified their investigations, which led, on the evening of 12 September, to his capture.

That the leader of Shining Path, an insurgency which had always been associated with the country's disenfranchised, impoverished mixed-race population, had been discovered at last in the heart of the white elite, came as an enormous shock to much of Peruvian society.

It was this peculiar sense of confounded expectations that inspired the author Nicholas Shakespeare to use Lecca's double life as material for his edgy political thriller, The Dancer Upstairs, which rocketed to the top of the international best-sellers' list in 1995 and was later pounced upon by Malkovich as the perfect plot for a nail-biting film.

Both the novel and the 2002 film starring Javier Bardem as Detective Rejas and the Italian star Laura Morante as Lecca, are set in an unnamed Latin American country where a violent insurgency is claiming countless victims and frustrating security efforts to track down its leader. They follow the real-life story of a policeman who spent 12 years searching for Guzman and who, unaware of her clandestine lodger, became infatuated with his daughter's ballet teacher.