LIMA, Peru – When the Peruvian government captured Abimael Guzmán, the leader of the terrorist organization Shining Path, it appeared that it would be the end of the notorious gang that has been accused of committing tens of thousands of murders since 1980.
But 30 years after the renegade outfit carried out its first uprising on May 17, 1980 by attacking Chuschi, a small town in Ayacucho province, Shining Path still is very much alive, working with drug traffickers to spread its reign of terror.
The terrorist group is split into two factions, one in the valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers (known as “VRAE”), which is located in the regions of Ayacucho, Cusco and Junín. The other faction operates in the Huallaga valley in the San Martín region.
The leader of the latter faction, however, recently asked the government for a truce, which the government abruptly turned down.
“Comrade Artemio,” as he is known, said on Jan. 27 through the radio station Amistad de Aucayacu that he wanted to engage the Peruvian government in peace talks.
“I would call on the president of the republic, the council of ministers, the joint command of the armed forces, the police front in Huallaga, mediator agencies like the Red Cross to initiate a process of talks to find peace,” he said. “We have to reach an understanding to avoid bloodshed among Peruvians. This is a suspension of our military actions.”
Octavio Salazar, the country’s interior minister, responded: “[Artemio] is a thug who will be caught. There can be no dialogue. If he asks for it, it is because he feels encircled.”
Salazar offered a reward of $1 million nuevos soles (US$349,527) for any information leading to the capture of “Artemio” or any other leader of Shining Path.
Víctor Bustamante, the commanding general of the army and former chief of the joint command of the armed forces, condemned Shining Path.
“It is impossible to give a truce to a delinquent who has killed peasants and Peruvian civilians for years,” he said. “Such a person [like Artemio] and group of people with these characteristics deserve neither truce nor a general amnesty.”
Bustamante said it is integral for the government to keep its war against Shining Path as a top priority because there are 60 terrorists commanded by “Artemio” in the Huallaga valley, and another 600 in the VRAE, led by Víctor Quispe Palomino, known as “Comrade José.”
Guzmán’s lawyer, Alfredo Crespo, said that his client “has separated from the VRAE faction,” indicating that it is “a group of mercenaries who are driven by personal interests, which causes the government to create more repressive laws.”
However, there is growing concern that Shining Path is trying to become involved in politics in the form of the Peruvian Communist Party. Last December, Guzmán’s supporters circulated leaflets that read it was time to “move from the armed struggle to a political struggle without weapons.”
Shining Path’s move into politics is not without precedent. In the late 1980s in Colombia, guerrillas of the M-19 movement traded their weapons for amnesty and formed the political party democratic alliance M-19.
But Fernando Rospigliosi, Peru’s former interior minister who is now a political analyst, said Shining Path can’t be viewed in the same light as M-19.
“The M-19 was a guerrilla movement, but not of the kind of Shining Path, which is very bloody and linked to drug trafficking,” he said. “‘Artemio’ hardly has the ability to negotiate a pact since he only represents the faction of the Huallaga. [The faction] from the VRAE is stronger.”