The Shining Path is an insurgent group in Peru that has declined in recent years, although one faction remains dedicated to drug trafficking activities in Peru’s remote jungle regions.
The Communist Party of Peru – Shining Path (PCP-SL), was formed in 1970 as a breakaway faction from the Peruvian Communist Party (PCP). It had only a few dozen members, led by Abimael Guzman, a philosophy professor at the University of Ayacucho who had visited China and was deeply influenced by the ideas of Mao Zedong. Guzman believed communism required the waging of a “popular war,” and criticized members of the PCP who merely wanted to organize the workers.
By 1980 his group had grown to more than 500 members, and was ready to declare war on the Peruvian state, burning several ballot boxes in a small town in Ayacucho province in May, the day before national elections. The group continued to carry out attacks, particularly on police stations, and in December 1982 the army was sent into the region to fight them.
Though the Shining Path remained small, with around 3,000 members at the peak of its power in 1990, it was responsible for the majority of the victims of the war that followed — the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that it killed some 31,000 people between 1980 and 2000. The group’s methods were particularly brutal, including stoning victims to death, or placing them in boiling water. The Shining Path carried out massacres of peasant communities perceived as being against their struggle, as well as attacking the security forces and other representatives of the state. They quickly gained ground, and were present across vast swathes of Peru by the end of the 1980s.
The tide of the war began to turn when Alberto Fujimori took office in 1990, and launched an assault on the rebels, which included locking up and torturing suspected sympathizers, as well as arming Peasant Patrols (Rondas Campesinas), which were rural self-defense forces who fought the guerrillas.
Guzman was captured in a Lima dance studio in 1992, and later called on his followers to make a peace deal with the government. This precipitated a break in the group, with rebels based in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM) region declaring Guzman to be a traitor, while another group, based further north in the Huallaga Valley, remained loyal. Shining Path activity died down significantly until the mid-2000s, when there was a resurgence, including attacks on multinational corporations, particularly from the VRAEM branch.
The Shining Path no longer presents a serious threat to the stability of the Peruvian state, but the guerrillas’ continued activities continue to pose a challenge for the government. The Huallaga faction, however, is thought to have been drastically weakened since the capture of its leader, Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, alias “Comrade Artemio,” in 2012. He was the last leader in the field who remained loyal to Guzman. Now there is no link between the rebels still in the field and the high command in prison.
In December 2013, Peruvian officials arrested Alexander Dimas Fabian Huaman, alias “Hector,” in the department of Huanuco. Huaman reportedly headed the remnants of the Huallaga faction, and had been working to pull together finances to rebuild the organization. Authorities touted the capture as a death blow to the already weak organization.
While the remnants of the Shining Path continue to espouse a Maoist ideology and to launch attacks on security forces, the group is now deeply enmeshed in drug trafficking. The guerrillas’ primary revenue sources are offering protection and escort services for drug traffickers. In October 2013, a series of 23 arrests of members of a drug trafficking network linked to the Shining Path in the VRAEM region shed light on the nature of the guerrilla group’s links to the drug trade. Arrested traffickers revealed that the Shining Path levied a tax of $5,000, as well as weapons and equipment, for every ton of drugs moving through their territory.
However, while the government describes the VRAEM group as nothing more than a drug gang, the situation is more complicated — this faction continues to carry out propaganda activity and attacks on the security forces independent of protecting the drug business.
The administration of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala shut down the Shining Path’s attempt to convert its political wing, Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (Movadef), into a registered political party. One of Movadef’s main objectives is a general amnesty for those who fought in the armed conflict, including Guzman.
On August 11, 2013, Peruvian officials announced the deaths of Orlando Alejandro Borda Casafranca, alias “Alipio,” and Marco Antonio Quispe Palomino, alias “Gabriel,” the number two and number four, respectively, of the VRAEM branch of the Shining Path. Alipio was the military head of the faction, and Gabriel was the brother of VRAEM faction leader Victor Quispe Palomino, known as “Comrade Jose.” The two were allegedly taken down by security forces in an operation aided by a drug trafficker who provided logistical support to the group and had become a police informant.
In Alipio’s stead, another of Comrade Jose’s brothers, Jorge, alias “Comrade Raul,” became the new second-in-command, while a woman, Tarcela Loya Vilchez, alias “Camarada Olga,” took over as military commander.
The hit on Alipio and Gabriel was part of a strategy by security forces to weaken the military capacity of the faction, with the ultimate goal of bringing down its top leader. A similar strategy was used for the 2012 capture of Comrade Artemio.
In April 2014, Peruvian authorities arrested 28 people connected to the Shining Path’s political wing Movadef on charges of terrorism, drug trafficking, and money laundering.
Founder Abimael Guzman was captured in 1992. The group later split, one faction remaining loyal to Guzman, headed by Artemio, now in prison, and the other, still in the field, led by members of the Quispe Palomino family.
Artemio’s faction, thought to have lost much of its power since his capture, is based in the Huallaga Valley region of northern Peru, while the Quispe Palomino faction is based in the VRAEM region of southeast Peru. The VRAEM has gained still more importance as a drug-producing zone thanks to its location, relatively close to the Bolivian border — this is now a key route for trafficking cocaine to the expanding drug market of Brazil and the Southern Cone countries.
Allies and Enemies
The Shining Path works with local drug trafficking clans in the VRAEM. While drugs from the VRAEM end up in the hands of Mexican drug trafficking groups, principally the Sinaloa Cartel, there is no evidence of a direct relationship between the rebels and Mexican criminal groups.
Despite the captures of top leaders, in 2015 the Peruvian government acknowledged the Shining Path, although weakened, still exists. Most of the group’s operations now occur in the VRAEM region, and it is estimated to number around 350 members and 80 fighters.
The VRAEM branch of the Shining Path is based on a key route for sending cocaine into Bolivia and onward to the growing Brazilian market. By maintaining illicit cocaine production to generate revenue, this group will likely be able to preserve itself at current levels for years to come. The Peruvian government has declared its determination to take control of the remote jungle region, setting up new military and police bases there, but the area’s difficult terrain and reliance on coca makes the task a daunting one.