Peruvian Journalists Have Chance Jungle Encounter with Shining Path Leader

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A group of Peruvian journalists reporting from a rebel-controlled region in the wake of a mass kidnapping said they were stopped by a Shining Path commander, who took the opportunity to boast about his column’s recent victories and explain his political position.

The journalists and their guide were travelling through the jungle from the town of Kiteni toward Alto Laguna, in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE), to the site where a police helicopter was attacked by the rebels last week. After leaving the village of Incaare, they were stopped by a group of heavily armed guerrillas, led by Martin Quispe Palomino, alias “Comrade Gabriel.”

The rebel leader, younger brother of Victor Quispe Palomino, alias “Comrade Jose,” questioned the journalists and examined their credentials. Then he launched into a long “ideological tirade,” in the words of La Republica’s reporter, even though some 1,200 police and military personnel were in the area to pursue his faction, which had just released 36 gas workers, taken hostage a few days before.

Gabriel criticized Shining Path founder Abimael Guzman, captured in 1992, who he accused of genocide and called a traitor, and insulted the leader of a rival Shining Path faction, the recently captured “Comrade Artemio.” He scoffed at the authorities’ labelling of his group as apolitical “narcoterrorists,” using colorful revolutionary rhetoric:

They call us terrorists, narco-terrorists, to confuse the people. Lies. You aren’t dealing with a general, with an official educated in Las Palmas, in Chorrillos. You’re dealing with a man of the people. We aren’t manipulated by the CIA or by the Pentagon. And we’re under this tree. And under this tree is the truth. From here, we communists have a better view of the world. From under this tree we have a better view of Peru.

Gabriel sent the journalists on their way, but not before showing them a collection of grisly trophies from recent clashes with the army: a crumpled helicopter; bloody, shredded uniforms; and shell casings. Gabriel said the police had been “annihilated.”

InSight Crime Analysis

Comrade Gabriel’s willingness to give a lengthy interview to reporters casts doubt on the claim that his band are no more than drug traffickers. It shows that he has a keen interest in spreading political propaganda, even to the point of risking an encounter with the security forces by spending time talking to the reporters.

His comments about Guzman and Artemio show again how the VRAE-based faction lacks ties with the original rebel movement, and with the rival Huallaga faction. Guzman has dismissed the VRAE faction as unrevolutionary drug traffickers.

Despite more than a thousand soldiers and police officers searching for his band of fighters, Gabriel appears brashly confident in video footage filmed by La Republica. This demonstrates the guerrillas’ strength in the remote jungle stronghold of the VRAE, and suggests it will be hard for the government to root them out.

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