Peru's Sendero Luminoso: From Maoism to Narco-Terrorism
Category: Terrorism Monitor, Global Terrorism Analysis, Latin America, Featured, Home Page
One of the most brutal and destructive terrorist groups worldwide since its emergence in 1980---Peru's "Shining Path" (Sendero Luminoso - SL) ---continues to carry out attacks on Peruvian military, police, and civilian targets in 2008. Almost ten years after the group splintered during a "no-holds barred" offensive by Peruvian security forces, government officials and citizens alike express concern that a return to the past, when almost 70,000 Peruvians and others died, may be in the offing (see Terrorism Focus, September 11, 2007).
After joining the rolls of the worldwide Leftist-Communist revolutionary movement in 1980, SL proceeded to conduct a campaign against not only the government of Peru, but all elements of Peruvian society in general. An outgrowth of the pre-existing Communist Party of Peru, SL's oft-stated objective was the total reordering of Peruvian society along the lines of the People's Republic of China under Mao Tse Tung.
What should be a primary source of concern to a number of neighboring nations, including an incoming U.S. administration, is that SL's apparent resurgence may be viewed fairly as an integral part of a burgeoning wave of leftist ideology in Latin America. Other nations such as Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, as well as sub-state groups such as Colombia's Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC) constitute potential allies in SL's renewed campaign. Peruvian prosecutors are currently involved in seeking a 20-year sentence for the former leader of the Peruvian chapter of the Continental Bolivarian Committee (CCB), which took its inspiration from the "Bolivarian" socialism of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez (IPS, November 27). Even at present, SL's geographical reach and the military force it commands make it a competing and increasingly threatening "state within a state" in Peru.
From Maoism to Narco-Terrorism
Concern over an SL comeback is well founded. In the period of time since the end of SL's last, larger and more widespread terrorist campaign in 1999, the group has added another "weapon" of sorts to its already formidable arsenal: abundant revenues derived from the trafficking of cocaine. In neighboring Colombia, FARC has also been nurtured handsomely by the trafficking of cocaine. FARC, a self-professed Marxist-Leninist group, has grown since its birth in the 1960s from a guerrilla band into a multi-billion-dollar international enterprise, with perhaps as many as 18,000 guerrillas under its command. Initially, FARC, like the Shining Path, was treated as merely another of the numerous Latin American guerrilla groups extant at the time. Now, of course, FARC maintains a presence in perhaps as much as 20 percent of Colombia and, although estimates vary, generates annual revenues estimated at over a quarter of a billion dollars as a result of having reinvented itself through its criminal activities. Unless contested vigorously and successfully by the Government of Peru, the geography and climate of Peru, very favorable for the growing of coca plants, holds promise for the same kind of growth of SL military power.
The Shining Path leadership has been under constant pressure from Peru's security services over the last year. A leader from the top tier of SL, Epifanio Espiritu Acosta (alias JL), was killed by Peruvian authorities on November 27, 2007, during an operation in which eight other SL guerrillas were captured (LivingInPeru.com, March 19).
Following that incident, Peruvian officials announced on March 18 (LivingInPeru.com, March 19) that Felix Mejia Asencio (a.k.a. Comrade Mono), another of the top leaders of SL, was captured. Asencio headed one of the two SL columns, the Comite Regional del Huallaga (CRH), and was closely associated with "Comrade Artemio" (Filomeno Cerrón), the current leader of the SL insurgency. Comrade Artemio is the sole top-level SL leader who has not yet been killed or captured.
Sendero Luminoso Strikes Back
Though government sources have estimated only 150 SL fighters remain in the bush, this small force still continues to mount deadly attacks on Peruvian security forces. In what was described by Peruvian Government sources as the bloodiest SL attack in ten years, Shining Path guerrillas killed approximately 14 Peruvian soldiers and perhaps as many as seven civilians in a carefully planned ambush of a counter-terrorism patrol in Peru's Huancavelica province on October 9 (AFP, October 10). The Shining Path announced the attack was intended to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Peruvian Communist Party (EFE, November 19).
Ominously, an October 22 report stated that SL members had stolen dynamite from the mining camp of the US-based firm Doe Run, likely presaging the form of future attacks by SL in the area. Indicative of the isolated character of the area and the nature of SL's existing and planned activities, the guerrillas also took medical supplies, food and radios (Reuters, October 22).
It is the Peruvian peasantry that finds itself caught in the middle of the conflict between guerrillas and responding police and military units (ipsnews.net, November 6). There are concerns in the Peruvian government that many of these people may begin evacuating the Huallaga region to avoid a resurgence of the brutal warfare that characterized the area in the 1980s and 1990s, when more than 70,000 Peruvians were killed. President Alberto Fujimori's "dirty war" effectively destroyed the SL, leaving only several hundred fighters left in the bush. Despite a widespread impression the movement was finished, the Shining Path's transformation into a group providing security for narcotics traffickers while pursuing its goal of a Maoist state seems to have refueled the conflict.
What should concern the Government of Peru, its neighbors, and the United States most is that Colombia's FARC traveled a very similar path to its present position of being a state within a state because it was not opposed in its nascent phase. Like the FARC in Colombia, Sendero Luminoso has and will continue to have the money to fund its revolutionary aims in Peru through involvement in narcotics