Was Captured Shining Path Boss a Double Agent?

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A new report sets out how, after his capture in 1999, Shining Path leader “Comrade Raul” won the confidence of the Peruvian authorities, before leading them into an ambush and escaping — though some question whether he was in fact playing a more elaborate game.

Jorge Quispe Palomino, alias “Comrade Raul,” was captured in Huancayo in June 1999, and immediately offered to serve as an informant for the military. He helped them capture the group’s top commander, Oscar Ramirez Durand, alias “Feliciano,” in July that year, as Caretas magazine sets out in a report.

This won the confidence of the authorities, and Caretas has photos of the guerrilla at a football game with police officers, playing guitar (see images above and below), and posing in army uniform. The National Intelligence Service (SIN) viewed Raul as its star informant, according to the magazine, and he was given access to the intelligence units of the police, army and SIN.raul_shining_path

However, betraying Feliciano was apparently part of Raul’s plan to allow his brother Victor Quispe Palomino, alias “Comrade Jose,” who headed the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) branch of the rebel movement, to seize control.

Raul convinced the authorities that Jose and the VRAE faction wanted to surrender, and they apparently trusted him enough to allow him to go and meet with Jose and another Shining Path leader, “Comrade Alipio,” in the jungle to negotiate the handover. In September that year a plane with 30 soldiers on board headed for the region of Satipo, in Junin, for the surrender. 

The Shining Path staged an ambush, killing five soldiers, and Raul escaped, rejoining the guerrillas. Caretas reports that Raul organized the attack along with Jose, in what would be an example of an exceptionally well-performed confidence trick.

The reports of Raul’s deception, if accurate, are evidence of the daring and tactical skill of the Quispe Palomino siblings. Jose is the top political commander, while a third brother, Martin, alias “Comrade Gabriel,” is a military leader. Raul is third-in-command, and Jose’s right-hand man. Their sister Melania Sofia, alias “Comrade Rina,” is also thought to be involved with the group.

The Quispe Palomino’s parents are said to have been Shining Path guerrillas. The father, also called Martin, died in a clash with a peasant patrol in the 1980s, while the mother was arrested, according to reports.

Caretas said that police attribute the success of the siblings to their knowledge of the security forces — gained in part through Raul’s time as a double agent — and their “dedicated cultivation of treason to free themselves of their enemies.”

Their ability to trick the security forces and have Feliciano captured, in order to get him out of the way, go some way to explain why the VRAE faction are now the last surviving branch of the Shining Path. The other remaining faction, based further north in the Huallaga region, is thought to have fragmented following the capture of its leader “Comrade Artemio” in February. Meanwhile, the VRAE faction are apparently more confident than ever.

Earlier this month the group invaded a town just outside the VRAE region, spending several hours giving political speeches and buying groceries, before taking 36 gas workers hostage. They released the hostages some days later, amid rumors that the gas companies had made a ransom payment. Gabriel then held an impromtu jungle press conference, boasting about the group’s achievements and showing off bloody police uniforms as trophies from recent clashes with the security forces.

However, a 2011 report on the case by IDL-Reporteros gives another possible version of events. It notes that, if Raul had been able to behave so convincingly with the authorities it would show a remarkable coolness and capacity to dissimulate. Indeed, it would presumably be exceedingly difficult for a high-ranking Shining Path guerrilla to win the trust of experienced military officials, many of whom would have fought the group during the bloody civil conflict. General Eduardo Fournier (pictured, above right, with Raul), head of the intelligence team that worked with the captured guerrilla, argues that the 1999 ambush was ordered by Shining Path boss Alipio, without the knowledge of the Quispe Palominos.

This makes the story far less clear. As IDL-Reporteros puts it in the story’s title; “When Raul collaborated with the SIN — or did the SIN collaborate with him?” It’s possible that Raul will give his version of events at some point, given the fact that the brothers have in recent years seemed willing to talk to the press.

Whether or not Raul intended to lead the army into an ambush, it seems clear that he and his brothers were working to overthrow Feliciano. The commanders’ arrest may have been a crucial step in consolidating the power that the VRAE faction have today — some analysts have argued that the main reason the brothers wanted rid of Feliciano was that the commander opposed getting involved in drug trafficking. It could be, then, that his fall let the VRAE faction get deeply involved in the drug trade, which is today thought to be the main source of funds allowing the group to survive.

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