Counter-Terrorism: A Peruvian Tragedy


August 19, 2013: Since the 1980s Peru has suffered from a leftist terror organization called Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, or Comité Central del Partido Comunista del Perú-Sendero Luminoso). For the last two decades cocaine has been keeping these terrorists, and their violence, going. But for the last two years Peruvian security forces have been particularly successful at putting a dent in the resurgent Shining Path. Recently counter-terrorism police encountered and killed the two top Shining Path leaders of the “jungle (lowland) front.” Both these guys were very big in cocaine operations, which have boomed in the last decade as Colombia succeeded in destroying or driving out (to Peru and Ecuador) many cocaine cartel operations. It took Peru several years to get organized to effectively respond to this. Last year counter-terrorism forces killed or captured so many Shining Path leaders that the government declared the leftist organization destroyed. It wasn’t.

The government had announced the end of Shining Path before, in 1992, when the movement’s founder Abimael Guzman was captured. For a while in the 1990s it appeared that the leftist rebels were out of business. But a few survived and then eventually thrived as part-time (and increasingly full time) drug producers and smugglers. This was a far cry from the hard core Maoist rebels the Shining Path were in the 1980s. Today’s Shining Path is similar to leftist groups like FARC and ELN in Colombia. In fact, Shining Path has increasingly collaborated with FARC, which has moved some of its operations to Peru. Shining Path no longer has much juice in the cities but instead concentrates its efforts in the Alto Huallaga valley and, high in the Andes, the Ene-Apurimac valley (regarded as the source of the Amazon River). Peruvian security forces refer to this region as the VRAE, the Spanish initials for valley of the Ene and Apurimac rivers (Valle de los Ríos Apurímac y Ene). Most of the people in VRAE are Indians and they are largely very poor. The only cash crop is coca plants, whose leaves are processed to produce cocaine.

In the 1980s, Shining Path seemed unstoppable. The leftist movement waged a brutal war against the Peruvian government and the many Peruvians who disagreed with them. During the 1980s, Shining Path claimed to have 20,000 followers. That turned out to be propaganda but the movement had several thousand armed and very dangerous core followers. Left wing media in Peru and throughout the world went along with the romantic idealism spouted by Shining Path and described the group as well-meaning revolutionaries. The reality was different, as some 70,000 people died in the war, over half killed by the Shining Path. The idea was that all this “revolutionary violence” would trigger a massive Indian revolt. Shining Path even went so far as to invoke old Inca legends that predicted "sleeping" Inca kings would rise out of the Andes to kill the Spanish invaders. Naturally, the Shining Path wanted the Indians to conclude that the leftist rebels were that Incan resurrection. Again, the reality was very different. Most Indians thought the leftist intellectuals (who founded and led Shining Path) from the cities were just more Spaniards spouting a different version of the old "you be like us or else" demand that the original colonial conquerors used.  Shining Path no longer considers itself the “savior of the Indians” but does continue to issue leftist manifestos from time to time. Mainly, Shining Path are a bunch of vicious drug gangsters.  




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