A joint intelligence operation carried out by the Peruvian military and police has yielded major results in the country’s war against the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, or SL), a narco-terrorist movement.On August 11, a firefight broke out between Peruvian security personnel and a group of Shining Path fighters, resulting in the death of two leaders of the terrorist movement: “Alipio” (Alejandro Borda Casafranca), “Gabriel,” (<Marco Antonio Quispe Palomino) and “Alfonso,” Alipio’s second in command.
The Shining Path is a terrorist organization that launched a so-called “people’s war” in the early 1980s. Its aim? To install a Maoist government in Peru, with its leader, Abimael Guzman, as the head of state (he was known among his cadres as Presidente Gonzalo or Comrade Gonzalo, after his self-applied nom de guerre). After a period of terror throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, during which the Shining Path utilized car bombs as its trademark modus operandi, the group lost what little support it had among the Peruvian population, even as a series of successful security operations culminated in the capture or elimination of major leaders. Guzman was captured in 1992 — and will spend the rest of his days in a Peruvian prison. Another high profile prisoner is“Feliciano” (Oscar Ramirez Durand), who assumed control of Shining Path after Guzman was captured in 1999. The group’s last major leader, “Artemio” (Florindo Flores Hala), was captured in 2012. The elimination of Gabriel and a number of other important Shining Path members constitutes yet another major setback for Shining Path, one President Ollanta Humala and his defense cabinet are trying with some justification to portray as a great success resulting from their effective leadership. After the operation,Ollanta declaredto the Peruvian media, “This is a big hit. We have cut the head of the military command of Shining Path’s remnants in the VRAEM.”
This operation could not have come at a better time, as Humala has been critiqued in recent months byopposition parties and has faced protestsagainst some of his government’s decisions. Major popular unrest occurred just prior to the celebrations for Peru’s July 28 independence anniversary, which was an embarrassment for Humala. The government had also stressed the importance of Gabriel’s elimination, portraying him — the second-in-command of his faction of the group — as military commander, one who orchestrated serious missions. This portrayal is in some ways justified, as Gabriel was a high-profile individual who led major actions, such as theApril 2012 kidnappingof over 30 workers in the Camisea region, an incident which brought about a major military deployment in Peru’s Cuzco region. Humala probably hopes that the elimination of Alipio and Gabriel will serve to (temporarily) silence some of his ardent critics.
Shining Path’s future does indeed look grim. The group has been reduced to a few hundred fighters — in aMay 2009 interview with the Peruvian media, a Shining Path leader, “José” said that he had around 300 combatants, and this is the rough number still utilized by Peruvian security analysts (the group had roughly3,000 fightersat the peak of its power by the end of the 1980s).
The group is currently divided into two factions that operate in the Peruvian highlands, one in the Huallaga Valley and another in the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (commonly known by its acronym in Spanish, VRAEM). Gabriel was the second-in-command of the VRAEM faction, whose leader, Víctor Quispe Palomino, is known as“José” – and is Gabriel’s olderbrother. For all that, the SL is still operational and capable of sustaining itself financially through drug trade and other criminal activity.
But it is quickly running out of leaders. According to Peruvian officials, the individuals likely to fill in Gabriel’s and Alipio’s shoes are fighters known as“Olga” (Loyla Vilchez), “Lucio” (Franklin Grover Tello Ichaccaya)or “Dino” (Teodoro Benites Bustamante). And while analysts and scholars in general agree that Shining Path does not any longer pose the direct threat to the Peruvian government that it did in the 1980s, that does not mean the Ollanta government will be backing off. There is still plenty of poverty in Peru’s Andes and Amazon regions, which may serve as an incentive for Peruvians to join the Shining Path. Which means that a true defeat of the group will require a two-pronged strategy. A continued military push is necessary, yes – including search-and-eliminate operations against the Shining Path’s remaining leadership. Additionally, increased security patrols in the VRAEM are expected, as thePeruvian armed forces and police are warythat the Shining Path will carry out violent reprisals against local communities to avenge their fallen leaders. But military operations need to be accompanied by initiatives aiming to improve the social and economic lot of isolated and poor communities, a past breeding ground for Shining Path recruitment.
Back in February,President Humala declared that“to solve the problem of poverty [in Peru], one has to solve the problem of inequality, Peru is a very unequal country.” The head of state asked regional authorities in Peru to focus on improving the quality of life of Peruvians (i.e. building water and sewer pipes), instead of building more monuments. On his side Humala has significant financial resources, as Peru has enjoyed years of economic growth. In addition, agencies likethe Andean Community of Nations and the European Unionare carrying out initiatives to fight poverty in the South American country as well. But the numbers suggest poverty will not be significantly reduced anytime soon in Peru(recent data puts poverty in the nation at 25.8% in 2012) – and certainly not within Humala’s remaining three years in office. Which is going to be major stumbling block in tackling the last remnants of this once-major, but still fierce, terror corps.