Shining Path Political Party Opens Old Wounds in Peru

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A movement linked to the Shining Path guerrillas has been blocked from registering as a political party in Peru, stirring up old resentments decades after the end of the civil conflict.

Some 20 years after the capture of Abimael Guzman, whose Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) guerrillas were responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the 1980s and 1990s, a political movement linked to the group is trying to enter mainstream politics. On January 20, Peru’s electoral council blocked the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (Movadef) from becoming a registered political party. The council cited various shortcomings in the application, including doubts about the validity of signatures collected, and said that the group was not committed to democracy.

Movadef launched an appeal against the decision, but the day before the final judgement was to be made it withdrew the case, saying that it was the target of a “political persecution” campaign led by the Peruvian state.

Tensions still run high over the political legacy of the Shining Path and its founder, who remains in prison. After raging for some 12 years, the group’s war against the state began to wind down in 1992 with the capture of Guzman and some of his closest associates. The charismatic former philosophy professor was the lynchpin of the organization, and it split into factions after his arrest. Since then it has operated at a much reduced capacity.

Movadef was founded in 2009 by a group of individuals headed by Alfredo Crespo, a lawyer to Guzman. Crespo was jailed over his work to defend the Shining Path leadership, though he says he was never a member. Introducing his new movement at a conference, Crespo said that it was made up of “leaders of social organizations, intellectuals, the families of jailed subversives, and arists, amongst others.” Elsewhere, Crespo described the movement as 30 percent ex-convicts, and 70 percent “young people.” He said that their political causes included the fight for labor rights, the protection of children, and freedom of expression. One of Movadef’s central policies, which has caused outrage in Peru, is to bring about a general amnesty for all those involved in the armed conflict; soldiers, police, and Shining Path fighters — including the reviled Guzman.

In an interview with Caretas magazine, Crespo listed others involved in its founding, including Manuel Fajardo, Carmen Hualla and Carlos Gamero, all lawyers of Guzman’s; Walter Humala, a cousin of the president, who has declared himself an admirer of Guzman; and Adelina Sedelmayer, who was arrested in January 2011 on charges of terrorism. The magazine reported that Sedelmayar, alias “La Gringa,” a key figure in the movement, is accused by police of carrying messages between Guzman’s wife, Elena Iparraguirre, who is also in prison, and “Comrade Artemio,” leader of one remaining faction of the Shining Path.

Movadef denies being the political arm of the Shining Path. Unsurprisingly, however, they have faced an outcry from the Peruvian political establishment, centering around the idea that the group is merely a cover for the resurgence of the rebel movement. President Ollanta Humala said that the state could not give concessions to violent movements that seek to destroy the country’s institutions, while ombudsman Eduardo Vega called on the electoral council JNE to turn down the application, saying that Movadef was a “front” for the Shining Path. Prime Minister Oscar Valdes said that the state would use “all its tools to prevent the restructuring of a group that has done so much damage.” Most Peruvians also reject the idea of Movadef entering politics: a poll released in January found that some 85 percent of the population were against its registration, and only 7 percent in favor.

A key question is whether the group is in fact being used as a “front” by the Shining Path. One argument that supports this theory is a string of recent armed actions carried out by the guerrillas. On January 31, hours before Movadef renounced its effort to register as a political party, Shining Path guerrillas made an incursion into the town of Campanilla, in the region of San Martin. In an action reminiscent of the days of the conflict, although without hurting anyone, some 50 armed guerrillas arrived in trucks, rounded up the population and forced them to attend a political rally. This lasted about an hour and a half, while the guerrillas made speeches arguing for a “political solution” to the conflict.

They painted some 200 houses with the hammer and sickle, and distributed flyers around the area, calling for a ceasefire with the government and a general amnesty. Hours later, at 3:30 a.m. on February 1, armed guerrillas entered the town of Pucayacu, also in San Martin, and distributed more flyers. The next day, three more villages in the district of Campanilla were targeted, with guerrillas putting up banners calling for a general amnesty.

These actions, coinciding with the withdrawal of Movadef’s appeal, have been interpreted by some as propaganda work on behalf of the political movement. The Shining Path faction responsible is based in the Huallaga region of northern Peru, not far from where the attacks took place, and is considered to be the more ideological branch, and to be closer followers of Guzman. Peruvian analyst Jaime Antezana has argued that the incursions and the political party are both part of a new tack being taken by the guerrillas. He told RPP Noticias that the Shining Path’s new strategy was to strengthen the position of Movadef in order to promote Guzman’s “Gonzalo Thought” ideology, and try to bring about an amnesty to get him out of prison. For Antezana, the relationship between Movadef and the Shining Path is “straightforward, direct, and umbilical.” He presented documents to the Peruvian media which he said were issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Peru – Shining Path (PCP-SL) in 2009, ordering the creation of a party to take part in elections, saying that “since 1993 the party has been living a new and forth stage of the political struggle, without arms.”

But even if Movadef is not a direct outgrowth of the Shining Path, the real issue for many onlookers is that it has not rejected the ideology of the group. It continues to espouse Gonzalo Thought, and its leaders argue that Guzman is not a terrorist, and is being held as a political prisoner. Salomon Lerner Febres, the highly respected former president of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has said that there is an “absolute contradiction between democracy and the ideology of Movadef, which justifies violence and death.”

Even given this, it may be short-sighted to exclude the movement from the political process. Much of the opposition seems to center around the idea that Movadef is trying to enter politics in order to somehow “destroy democracy from within.” This seems unlikely — the party does not appear to have wide support, and would not be able to get unpopular moves, like an amnesty for Guzman, made into law. Antezana told the Associated Press that it was a mistake to exclude Movadef from politics, as the group will only turn to other means to influence politics, attempting to gain a greater following amongst those disillusioned with the political class.

Image, above, shows Alfredo Crespo holding a book by Abimael Guzman.

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