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It has been estimated that nearly 70,000 people died in the internal conflict in Perumarker that started in 1980 and, although still ongoing, had greatly wound down by 2000. The principal actors in the war were the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and the government of Peru.

A great many of the victims of the conflict were ordinary civilians. All of the armed actors in the war deliberately targeted and killed civilians, making the conflict more bloody than any other war in Peruvian history.

National situation before the war

Notwithstanding its long historical stability, Peru has had a succession of authoritarian governments and democratic governments. General Juan Velasco Alvarado staged an authoritarian regime in 1968 and led a left-leaning government until 1975. Francisco Morales Bermúdez was installed as the new President of Peru in 1975, and allowed elections to be held in 1980.

Rise of Shining Path

During the authoritarian governments of Velasco and Morales, Shining Path had organized as a Maoist political group based at the San Cristóbal of Huamanga University in Ayacucho Region, Peru. The group was led by Abimael Guzmán, a communist professor of philosophy at the San Cristóbal of Huamanga University. Guzmán had been inspired by the Cultural Revolution, which he had witnessed firsthand during a trip to Chinamarker. Shining Path members engaged in street fights with members of other political groups and painted graffiti exhorting "armed struggle" against the Peruvian state.

Outbreak of hostilities

When Peru's military government allowed elections for the first time in a dozen years in 1980, Shining Path was one of the few leftist political groups that declined to take part, instead opting to launch a guerrilla war against the State of Peru in the highlands of the province of Ayacucho. On May 17, 1980, the eve of the presidential elections, it burned ballot boxes in the town of Chuschimarker, Ayacucho. It was the first "act of war" by Shining Path. Nonetheless, the perpetrators were quickly caught, additional ballots were brought in to replace the burned ballots, the elections proceeded without further incident, and the act received very little attention in the Peruvian press.

Shining Path opted to fight their war in the style taught by Mao Zedong. They would open up "guerrilla zones" in which their guerrillas could operate, drive government forces out of these zones to create "liberated zones", then use these zones to support new guerrilla zones until the entire country was essentially one big "liberated zone." Shining Path also adhered to Mao's teaching that guerrilla war should be fought primarily in the countryside and gradually choke off the cities.

On December 3, 1982, the Shining Path officially formed the "People's Guerrilla Army", its armed wing.

Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement

The flag of the MRTA
In 1982, the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) launched its own guerrilla war against the Peruvian state. The group had been formed by remnants of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left in Peru and identified with Castroite guerrilla movements in Latin America. The MRTA used techniques that were more traditional to Latin American leftist organizations than those used by Shining Path. For example, the MRTA wore uniforms, claimed to be fighting for true democracy, and complained of human rights abuses by the state, while Shining Path did not wear uniforms, abhorred democracy, and rejected the idea of human rights.

During the internal conflict, the MRTA and Shining Path engaged in combat with each other. The MRTA played a small part in the overall internal conflict, being declared by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to have been responsible for 1.5% of deaths accumulated throughout the war. At its height the MRTA was believed to consist of only a few hundred members.

Government response

Gradually the Shining Path made more and more violent attacks on the National Police of Peru, and the Lima-based government could no longer ignore the growing crisis in the Andes. In 1981, Fernando Belaúnde Terry declared a State of Emergency and ordered that the Peruvian Armed Forces fight the Shining Path. Constitutional rights were suspended for 60 days in Huamanga Province, Huanta Province, Cangallo Province, La Mar Province and Víctor Fajardo Province. Later, the Armed Forces created the Ayacucho Emergency Zone, in which military power was superior to civilian power, and many constitutional rights were suspended. The military committed many human rights violations in the area where it had political control, including the famous Accomarca massacre. Scores of peasants were massacred by the armed forces. A special USmarker-trained counterterrorist police battalion known as the "Sinchis" were particularly notorious in the 80s for their human rights violations.

Escalation of the war

The reaction of the Shining Path to the Peruvian government's use of the military in the war was not to back down, but instead to ramp up the level of violence in the countryside. Shining Path attacked police, military, and civilians that it considered to be "class enemies", often using particularly gruesome methods of killing their victims. These killings, along with Shining Path's disrespect for the culture of indigenous peasants it claimed to represent, turned many people in the sierra away from the Shining Path.

Faced with a hostile population, the Shining Path's guerrilla war began to falter. In some areas, peasants formed anti-Shining Path patrols, called rondas. They were generally poorly equipped despite donations of guns from the armed forces. Nevertheless, Shining Path guerrillas were militarily attacked by the rondas. The first such reported attack was in January 1983 near Huata, when some rondas killed 13 senderistas; in February in Sacsamarca, rondas stabbed and killed the Shining Path commanders of that area. In March 1983, rondas brutally killed Olegario Curitomay, one of the commanders of the town of Lucanamarca. They took him to the town square, stoned him, stabbed him, set him on fire, and finally shot him. As a response, in April, Shining Path entered the province of Huancasancos and the towns of Yanaccollpa, Ataccara, Llacchua, Muylacruz and Lucanamarca, and killed 69 peoplemarker, many of whom were children, including one who was only six months old. Also killed were several women, some of them pregnant. Most of them died by machete hacks, and some were shot at close range in the head. This was the first massacre by Shining Path of the peasant community. Other incidents followed, such as the one in Hauyllo, Tambo District, La Mar Province, Ayacucho Department. In that community, Shining Path killed 47 peasants, including 14 children aged four to fifteen.

Additional massacres by Shining Path occurred, such as one in Marcas on 29 August 1985.

The Shining Path, like the government, filled its ranks by conscription. The Shining Path also kidnapped children and forced them to fight as child soldiers in their war.

The administration of Alberto Fujimori

Under the administration of Alberto Fujimori the state began the widespread use of intelligence agencies in its fight against Shining Path. However, some atrocities were committed by the National Intelligence Service, notably the La Cantuta massacre, the Barrios Altos massacre, and the Santa massacre, all of which were committed by Grupo Colina.

On April 5, 1992, Alberto Fujimori dissolved Congress of Peru and abolished the Constitution, initiating the Peruvian Constitutional Crisis of 1992. The pretext for these actions was that the Congress was slow to pass anti-terrorism legislation. Fujimori set up military courts to try suspected members of the Shining Path and MRTA, and ordered that an "iron fist" approach be used. Fujimori also announced that Peru would no longer accept the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

As Shining Path began to lose ground in the Andes to the Peruvian state and the rondas, it decided to speed up its overall strategic plan. Shining Path declared that, in Maoist jargon, it had reached "strategic equilibrium" and was ready to begin its final assault on the cities of Peru. In 1992, Shining Path set off a powerful bomb in the Miraflores District of Limamarker in what became known as the Tarata bombingmarker. This was part of a larger bombing campaign in Lima.

On September 12, 1992, Peruvian police captured Guzmán and several Shining Path leaders in an apartment above a dance studio in the Surquillomarker district of Lima. The police had been monitoring the apartment, as a number of suspected Shining Path militants had visited it. An inspection of the garbage of the apartment produced empty tubes of a skin cream used to treat psoriasis, a condition that Guzmán was known to have. Shortly after the raid that captured Guzmán, most of the remaining Shining Path leadership fell as well. At the same time, Shining Path suffered embarrassing military defeats to campesino self-defense organizations — supposedly its social base — and the organization fractured into splinter groups. Guzmán's role as the leader of Shining Path was taken over by Óscar Ramírez, who himself was captured by Peruvian authorities in 1999. After Ramírez's capture, the group splintered, guerrilla activity diminished sharply, and previous conditions returned to the areas where the Shining Path had been active.

The ranks of the MRTA were decimated by both an amnesty program for its members and the jailing of several of its key leaders. In late 1996, the MRTA seized the residence of the ambassador of Japanmarker to Peru, starting a 126 day-long hostage crisis in Lima during which the MRTA demanded the release of their prisoners. Ultimately, none of the MRTA's demands were met, and the crisis ended when the Peruvian armed forces raided the building and freed the hostages. All of the MRTA members involved in the crisis were reportedly killed during the raid; however, it is alleged that several of the aforesaid members had survived the initial raid and were extrajudicially executed hours after the raid began.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Alberto Fujimori resigned the Presidency in 2000, but Congress declared him "morally unfit", installing to oppositor congressmember Valentín Paniagua into office. He rescinded Fujimori's announcement that Peru would leave the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the war. The Commission found in its 2003 Final Report that 69,280 people died or disappeared between 1980 and 2000 as a result of the armed conflict. A statistical analysis of the available data led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to estimate that the Shining Path was responsible for the death or disappearance of 31,331 people, 46% of the total deaths and disappearances. According to a summary of the report by Human Rights Watch, "Shining Path… killed about half the victims, and roughly one-third died at the hands of government security forces… The commission attributed some of the other slayings to a smaller guerrilla group and local militias. The rest remain unattributed." According to its final report, 75% of the people who were either killed or disappeared spoke Quechua as their native language, despite the fact that the 1993 census found that only 20% of Peruvians speak Quechua or another indigenous language as their native language.

Nevertheless, the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was surrounded by controversy. It was criticized by almost all political parties (including former Presidents Fujimori , García and Paniagua), the military and the Catholic Church, which claimed that many of the Commission members where former members of extreme leftists movements and that the final report wrongfully portrayed Shining Path and the MRTA as "political parties" rather than as terrorist organizations.

The war today

Comrade Artemio makes demands of the Peruvian government
Since the capture of Guzmán, Shining Path has greatly declined in strength. On May 20 of 2002, a bomb exploded at "El Polo", a mall on an upper scale district of Lima near the USA embassy; actually Shining Path no longer conducts any operations in Lima, and has only been able to mount sporadic small-scale attacks. Nevertheless, Shining Path continues to occasionally kill civil and security forces. For example, on June 9, 2003 a Shining Path group attacked a camp in Ayacucho, and took 68 employees of the Argentine company Techint and three police guards as hostages. They had been working in the Camisea gas pipeline project that would take natural gas from Puno to Lima. According to sources from Peru's Interior Ministry, the hostage-takers asked for a sizable ransom to free the hostages. Two days later, after a rapid military response, the hostage-takers abandoned the hostages. According to rumor, the company paid the ransom.

On the 27th anniversary of the Shining Path's first attack against the Peruvian state (May 27, 2007), a homemade bomb in a backpack was set off in a market in the southern Peruvian city of Juliacamarker killing six and wounding 48. Because of the timing of the attack the Shining Path is suspected by the Peruvian authorities of holding responsibility for the attack.

In October 2008, in Huancavelicamarker province, the "senderistas" engaged a military and civil convoy with explosives and firearms, demonstrating their continued ability to strike and inflict casualties on easy targets. The clash resulted in the death of 12 soldiers and two to seven civilians.

On April 9, 2009, Shining Path ambushed and killed 13 Peruvian soldiers in the Apurímac and Ene rivers valleys, in Ayacuchomarker (south-east of Peru), said Peruvian minister of Defense, Antero Flores-Aráoz.

The group now appears to be led by a man known as Comrade Artemio. Rather than attempt to destroy the Peruvian state and replace it with a communist state, Artemio has pledged to carry out attacks until the Peruvian government releases Shining Path prisoners and negotiates an end to the war. These demands have been made in various video statements made by Artemio. The vast majority of Peruvians continue to hold the Shining Path in low regard. On October 13, 2006, Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison for terrorism.

On September 3, 2009, guerrillas shot down a Peruvian Air Force helicopter, killing two airmen and wounding a third, the nation's defense minister has said. The helicopter was trying to evacuate three soldiers wounded in a rebel ambush and was possibly hit by machine-gun fire, Defense Minister Rafael Rey was quoted as saying in the state-run Andina news agency.

See also


  1. The Shining Path: A History of the Millenarian War in Peru. p. 17. Gorriti, Gustavo trans. Robin Kirk, The University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill and London, 1999 (ISBN 0-8078-4676-7).
  2. La Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación. Final Report. "General Conclusions." Available online. Accessed February 3, 2007.
  3. BBC News. "Peruvians seek relatives in mass grave." June 12, 2008. Available online. Accessed June 12, 2008.
  4. La Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación. "La Masacre de Lucanamarca (1983)." August 28, 2003. Available online in Spanish Accessed February 1, 2006.
  5. Amnesty International. "Peru: Human rights in a time of impunity." February 2006. Available online. Accessed September 24, 2006.
  6. La Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación. "Ataque del PCP-SL a la Localidad de Marcas (1985)." Available online in Spanish Accessed February 1, 2006.
  7. La Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación. "Press Release 170." Available online Accessed February 1, 2006.
  8. Rochlin, James F. Vanguard Revolutionaries in Latin America: Peru, Colombia, Mexico. p. 71. Lynne Rienner Publishers: Boulder and London, 2003. (ISBN 1-58826-106-9).
  9. Rochlin, James F. Vanguard Revolutionaries in Latin America: Peru, Colombia, Mexico. pp. 71–72. Lynne Rienner Publishers: Boulder and London, 2003. (ISBN 1-58826-106-9).
  10. Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación. Annex 2 Page 17. Accessed January 14, 2008.
  11. Human Rights Watch. August 28, 2003. "Peru — Prosecutions Should Follow Truth Commission Report". Accessed January 13, 2008.
  12. CVR. Tomo VIII. Chapter 2. "El impacto diferenciado de la violencia" "2.1 VIOLENCIA Y DESIGUALDAD RACIAL Y ÉTNICA" pp. 131–132[1]
  13. Agencia Perú - Reactions to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  14. Frecuencia Latina - Xavier Barrón
  15. BBC Mundo - Fujimori: "Sería ingenuo participar en este circo que la Comisión de la Verdad está montando"
  16. Agencia Perú - Alan García: "Cifras obedecen a un juego de probabilidades"
  17. Agencia Perú - Former President Valentín Paniagua: Shining Path and Political Parties are not the same
  18. Agencia Perú - Cipriani: "No acepto informe de la CVR por no ser la verdad"
  19. Agencia Perú - Macher: Shining Path is a political party
  20. The New York Times. "Pipeline Workers Kidnapped." June 10, 2003. Available online. Accessed September 18, 2006.
  21. "Gas Workers Kidnapped, Freed." Available online.
  22. "Blast kills six in southern Peru" May 20, 2007 BBC
  23. BBC "Peru rebels launch deadly ambush'" Available online. Accessed October 10, 2008.
  24. AP Press "Peru says 14 killed in Shining Path attack" Available online. Accessed October 10, 2008.
  25. BBC "Rebels kill 13 soldiers in Peru" Available online. Accessed April 12, 2009.
  26. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "Shining Path militant leaders given life sentences in Peru." October 13, 2006. Available online. Accessed February 15, 2007.

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