Guerrilla Kidnappings Put Humala in a Tight Spot

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Peru’s Shining Path guerrillas have released a list of ransom demands for a group of gas workers kidnapped last week, undermining President Ollanta Humala’s claims that the rebel organization is practically defunct.

The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) kidnapped dozens of Peruvian natural gas workers from the village of Kepashiato (pictured) in a southern region near Cusco on Sunday. There are conflicting reports about the number of people being held by the rebels. While some sources claim that 23 of the workers had been released early Monday, local officials maintain that none of the victims have been freed thus far. Meanwhile, El Comercio reports that the guerrilla group released only three individuals, and is holding 36 hostage.

The kidnapping took place in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (known in Spanish as the VRAE), which is known as a rebel outpost. After the February capture of alias “Comrade Artemio,” who led a rival guerrilla bloc in the Upper Huallaga Valley to the north, the VRAE Shining Path are believed to be the last remaining armed front of the Maoist group.

The guerrillas have reportedly released a rather unrealistic list of demands for the hostages. According to El Correo, it includes a $10 million ransom fee, radio equipment to keep in touch with authorities, explosives and detonation devices, as well as an annual “quota” of $1.2 million. The Humala administration has so far not responded to the ransom, although it has declared a 60-day state of emergency in the area.

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The Shining Path is no longer a major threat to the stability of Peru, and their near-absurd demands seem to reflect desperation more than real bargaining power. Still, this incident could create a credibility gap for Humala, who has sought to portray the group as practically defunct. Even if this is true in an ideological sense, with the old guard all seemingly now dead or in prison, the VRAE branch clearly still has the military strength to carry out major attacks.

The president has taken a firm stance against negotiating with the group in the past, and it is likely that he will pursue the VRAE Shining Path determinedly in the coming weeks.

However, this could have its own set of political pitfalls for Humala. As Reuters points out, human rights groups in the country have filed a formal complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alleging that the president ordered the forced disappearance of two civilians during his time as an officer fighting in the country’s brutal civil war. While Peruvian officials are confident that the commission will turn down the case, Humala could be reticent to wage an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign for fear of drawing attention to his military past.

A version of this article was published on the Pan-American Post.

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