Peruvian Police Capture Suspected Shining Path Commander
By Dialogo September 21, 2009The suspected "principal coordinator" of the Shining Path guerrilla group has been arrested by the National Police in an operation in the jungles of northeast Peru, the official Andina news agency reported. Brandy Maldonado Vasquez was arrested at a house outside the town of Santa Rosa de Yanajanca, where police found flags bearing the hammer and sickle, a shotgun, leaflets, notebooks and a cell phone. The 35-year-old, known as "Comrade Levi," is believed to have been the group's political chief in Yanajanca, as well as in the towns of Nuevo Progreso, Alto Uchiza and Tocache, all located in Huanuco and San Martin provinces. Maldonado is accused of having participated between 2004 and 2008 in several campaigns led by "Comrade Artemio," the only remaining high-profile fugitive of the guerrilla group that terrorized Peru in the 1980s, committing murders, distributing propaganda and stirring up unrest, Andina said. He allegedly organized strikes and protests by coca growers against crop eradication programs between 2005 and 2007, Andina said. The so-called "remnants" of the Shining Path have been blamed for an increase in violence in Peru's interior in recent months. The Shining Path has a presence in both the Upper Huallaga Valley and the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, known as the VRAE region. The Upper Huallaga Valley is a center of coca cultivation and cocaine production. The guerrilla group's remnants operate in both valleys, working with drug traffickers and staging attacks on the security forces. The Maoist-inspired Shining Path launched its uprising on May 17, 1980, with an attack on Chuschi, a small town in Ayacucho province. A truth commission appointed by former President Alejandro Toledo blamed the Shining Path for most of the nearly 70,000 deaths the panel ascribed to politically motivated violence during the two decades following the group's 1980 uprising. The guerrilla group also caused an estimated $25 billion in economic losses, according to commission estimates. Founder Abimael Guzman, known to his fanatic followers as "President Gonzalo," was captured with his top lieutenants on Sept. 12, 1992, an event that marked the "defeat" of the insurgency. Guzman, who was a professor of philosophy at San Cristobal University before initiating his armed struggle in the Andean city of Ayacucho, once predicted that 1 million Peruvians would probably have to die in the ushering-in of the new state envisioned by Shining Path. The group became notorious for some of its innovations, such as blowing apart with dynamite the bodies of community service workers its members killed, or hanging stray canines from lampposts as warnings to "capitalist dogs." The Shining Path's remnants did not comply with Guzman's order more than a decade ago to end the armed struggle, and he does not recognize them as members of the group. Comrade Artemio called on the government last December for a "political solution" to end the armed conflict. In May, the La Republica newspaper reported that Guzman, who is serving a life sentence for terrorism, called the remaining members of the guerrilla group operating in the VRAE region "mercenaries."