LIMA — A final victory over Peru’s violent Shining Path guerrilla continues to elude authorities nearly two decades after the arrest of most of the outlawed party’s leadership.
Shining Path’s founder and leader Abimael Guzmán was captured in September 1992. His imprisonment, and that of his closest followers, effectively eliminated the Shining Path — known in Spanish as Sendero Luminoso — as a political and military threat.
Guzmán, 77, began lobbying the government to negotiate with him almost immediately after his arrest, but none of Peru’s five presidents has accepted. Each has vowed to wipe out the remnants without much luck. President Ollanta Humala, inaugurated in July, has pledged to rid the country of terrorism by the end of his term in 2016.
The task will not be simple, given the different forms the Shining Path has taken, but conditions are such that Humala — a retired lieutenant colonel who fought the Shining Path on the battlefield in the early 1990s — may be able to accomplish in five years what his predecessors couldn’t do in 20 years.
Resistance in VRAE, Upper Huallaga Valley
Two pockets of armed resistance deep in the country’s vast jungle region continue to fight. The Joint Chiefs of Staff reported in mid-2011 that about 500 Shining Path members, including armed fighters and logistical operators, are active in the Apurímac-Ene River Valley (VRAE), in the south-central jungle, and the northern Upper Huallaga Valley.
Authorities report that the Huallaga faction killed five people in 2011, each body found with a sign accusing the victim of being an informant. An estimated 50 people have died this way since the valley was put under a state of emergency in December 2005.
That measure, which has been renewed every six months, was announced after eight police officers died in an ambush. The Upper Huallaga group is led by Florindo Flores, or “Comrade Artemio,” the only original member of the Shining Path leadership still at large.
Artemio, 50, has dominated the valley since the heyday of the Shining Path in the early 1990s. His front became a key component in the party’s war, receiving cash from the coca and cocaine trade which was used to finance terrorist activities nationwide. Nearly 75 percent of Peruvian territory was under a state of emergency when Guzmán was arrested in 1992.
Artemio’s forces have dwindled over the years, with authorities picking off many of his top military and logistic coordinators. At least six close collaborators have been killed or arrested in the past two years. In an early December interview with veteran Peruvian journalist Gustavo Gorriti, Artemio said his fighters would stop armed actions, but would not demobilize. He called for the state to accept Guzmán’s proposal for a “political solution to the internal conflict” and negotiate; the demand was soundly rejected.
“There can be no negotiating with the Shining Path. They lost,” said Congressman Octavio Salazar, a retired police general and former interior minister in the previous administration. “The only thing Artemio can do is turn himself over to authorities. He knows his days are numbered.”
In fact, a Dec. 18 survey by Ipsos Apoyo, the leading polling firm, shows that 86 percent of Peruvians reject the idea of negotiation.
Coca production big business for Shining Path
The VRAE faction, which operates in the south-central jungle, is a more lethal force. The leader there, Víctor Quispe Palomino, has been fighting as long as Artemio, but is no longer loyal to Guzmán and rejects the idea of a “peaceful solution.” He has called Guzmán a murderous tyrant; Artemio and lawyers for the Shining Path leader call him “anti-Maoist” and a mercenary.
Quispe’s group has killed 12 soldiers since the start of the year. The most recent was a two-pronged attack on Dec. 12, in which rebels fired on a military convoy and then a helicopter ferrying in reinforcements, killing one soldier and injuring 11 others. Five soldiers have been killed since Humala took office in late July.
The VRAE fraction, like the group in the Upper Huallaga, operates in a coca/cocaine-producing valley. Peru’s VRAE became the country’s top coca-producing valley last year, with 19,723 hectares under cultivation — compared to 13,025 hectares in the Upper Huallaga, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The VRAE has been under a state of emergency since May 2003.
Jaime Antezana, who had studied the Shining Path since the 1990s, agrees that the VRAE fighters are no longer Maoist. He claims they are now drug traffickers who continue to use the Shining Path name because it’s a well-known brand.
“The VRAE faction has no interest in politics. They use the name because people know it and are afraid of it,” Antezana said. “The fighting in the VRAE is not for control of territory for political reasons, but to secure drug trafficking routes.”
Military leaders also recognize the drug connection. Army Gen. Leonardo Longa said after an attack on a military post in November, which took the life of one soldier, that the Shining Path was responding to anti-drug operations that had netted 1.5 tons of cocaine in previous weeks.
The military, while not arresting or killing any Shining Path leader in the VRAE, is slowly making progress. Authorities claim that the Shining Path’s theatre of operations in the VRAE, which covers jungle provinces in the Ayacucho, Cusco, Huancavelica and Junín regions, has been reduced to several remote outposts. There are now 33 anti-subversive bases in the VRAE, up from 20 three years ago.
State rejects Shining Path’s effort to form political party
An unexpected front opened at the end of 2011, but this time it is a political battle. Lawyers for Guzmán and other members of the Shining Path’s jailed hierarchy have formed a legal political party, the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (Movadef). They collected nearly 360,000 signatures, more than double the 164,000 needed to register, and established 75 provincial committees around the country.
The registrar’s office in the National Election Board (JNE), however, rejected the party’s inscription on Nov. 28, arguing that Movadef embraces violence. The party is appealing that decision.
“The decision to reject Movadef is unconstitutional,” said Alfredo Crespo, a Movadef founder. “We were rejected on philosophical grounds and by the JNE, but only the Supreme Court has the right to block a political party that meets all the requirements.”
Crespo, who spent 12 years in prison for his role in the Shining Path and has been Guzmán’s lawyer since his release in 2006, filed an appeal in early December. “We will fight this in Peruvian courts and internationally if necessary. We have the constitution on our side,” he said.
Movadef is walking a fine line, because Peru’s laws include “apology of terrorism” as a crime with a 20-year sentence. The party was rejected because it includes as its guiding philosophy Marxism-Leninism-Maoism-Gonzalo Thought and claims to be working for the creation of the People’s Republic of Peru.
Gonzalo Thought, or Pensamiento Gonzalo, is Guzmán’s interpretation of Maoism and its practical application to Peru. It preaches that violent, armed revolution is the only way to spark change. Guzmán’s nom de guerre was President Gonzalo.
The JNE ruling state the ideology implies “violence, death, destruction … which go against the democratic system.”
Yet Crespo claims that Guzmán’s ideas are only a principle for Movadef, while they are ideology for the Communist Party of Peru, the Shining Path’s formal name.
“The authorities want to classify us as a terrorist organization because we openly say that we are guided by Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, Gonzalo Thought,” he said. “This is only our political orientation. We want to resolve the problems from the internal conflict politically, within the existing system.”
A legal Shining Path party is not something most Peruvians want to see. In the December Ipsos Apoyo poll, 84 percent said Movadef should not be allowed to participate in the country’s political life.