Sendero Luminoso (SL) (in English: Shining Path) is an extreme left-wing political party and guerrilla group in Peru, of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thought. To distinguish it from other communist parties in Peru, academics call it the Communist Party of Peru – Sendero Luminoso (PCP-SL).
Sendero Luminoso unleashed the so-called “era of terrorism in Peru”, or “internal armed conflict” across the 1980s and early 1990s. During the conflict, SL used terrorist tactics against the democratic order in Peru through the “People’s Guerrilla Army”. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) states that the group caused the deaths of between 31,331 and 37,840 people (source). The 1992 capture of its leader Abimael Guzmán and subsequent peace accords splintered the remaining members into several factions, some of which are still active.
This article analyses the history and organisation of the group, as well as its tactics, weapons, and most relevant criminal activity.
2.0 History and Mission
The Shining Path emerged in 1969, founded by philosophy professor Abimael Guzmán (referred to by his followers as his nom de guerre Presidente Gonzalo). His teachings laid the foundations for the Maoist doctrine of its militants. The SL split from the Communist Party of Peru – Red Flag (PCP-BR). This in turn was a split from the original Peruvian Communist Party (PCP) and an offshoot of the Peruvian Socialist Party founded by José Carlos Mariátegui in 1928.
The group’s slogan was ¡Viva la Guerra Popular! ¡Guerra Popular hasta el comunismo! (“Long live the People’s War! People’s War until communism!”).
2.2 The University as a Breeding Ground
SL first established a recruiting base at the National University of San Cristobal de Huamanga, where Guzman taught philosophy. In 1971, Guzmán created the Centro de Trabajo Intelectual Mariátegui (CTIM), for the study of Marxist works among the students outside class hours. In 1973, it began to build “generated organisms” as a strategy to attract popular sectors outside the university classrooms. After the SL lost several student elections in the universities, the group decided to leave the universities to consolidate the Party.
At that time the organisation was called “Reconstruction” since it sought to re-establish the doctrinal bases of the party with those of José Carlos Mariátegui. It took up his teachings that they believed Peruvian communism had lost. Reconstruction established Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as its fundamental ideological basis, which placed the peasantry instead of the proletariat as its basis.
In March 1977, the organisation decided to start the armed struggle under the slogan “Building the Armed Struggle”, taking the first steps to wage war against the Peruvian state. Later, in May 1977, the 7th Plenary Session of the Central Committee reorganised the cadres to be able to develop an insurrection against the government. A month later, in June, the 2nd Plenary Session of the Central Committee approved the “start of the armed struggle” to seize power. This led to the creation of the First Military School of Sendero Luminoso in Lima a month later. Here the emphasis was placed on developing the tactics of Mao Zedong’s guerrilla wars.
2.3 Expansion and the beginning of violence
When in 1980 the Peruvian military government allowed elections for the first time in twelve years, Shining Path, then about 500 members, was one of the few left-wing political groups that refused to participate. Instead, it chose to launch a guerrilla war in the highlands of the Ayacucho region. On the eve of the May 1980 presidential elections, the SL burned ballot boxes in the town of Chuschi. It was Shining Path’s first “act of war”. The perpetrators were quickly captured by the authorities and sent more ballots to Chuschi. The elections were held without further problems, and the incident received little attention in the Peruvian press.
Throughout the 1980s, the Shining Path’s membership and territorial control grew, mainly in Peru’s central highlands. They assassinated foremen of state-controlled collective farms and well-to-do merchants who were unpopular with the rural poor. These actions generated peasant support for the Shining Path’s actions and some sympathy for their struggle, mainly in the departments of Ayacucho, Apurímac and Huancavelica.
2.4 The People´s War
The Peruvian government’s lukewarm response to the initial stages of the insurgency helped Shining Path’s rise. For a long time, the government ignored the group. Peru’s President Belaúnde was reluctant to reinforce the authority of the armed forces, given that his first government ended in a coup d’état. The result of this distrust was an image of an impotent state to the peasants in the areas where Sendero was active.
In April 1982, a group of SL supporters stormed the Ayacucho prison. They killed several police officers and freed several SL detainees. This assault was the first major attack by the Shining Path and caused the first reaction by the National Police (source). This episode highlighted the fact that the Sendero represented a threat. The government declared the state of emergency in several regions, giving control to the Armed Forces. The difficulty in differentiating peasant and SL members led to the authorities’ repressive actions devastating entire peasant communities.
In some areas, the military trained peasants organising them into anti-rebel militias, called “rondas”. They were generally poorly equipped, although the state provided them with weapons. The rondas started attacking the guerrilla in January 1983, near Huata. The ronderos later killed 13 guerrillas in February 1983, in Sacsamarca.
In March 1983, the ronderos brutally murdered Olegario Curitomay, one of the SL commanders of the village of Lucanamarca. The SL retaliation was one of the worst attacks of the entire conflict, with a group of them entering the town and going house to house, killing dozens of villagers. This action is known as the Lucanamarca massacre (source).
2.5 The era of terrorism in Peru
From 1983 onwards and in the following years, Shining Path attacks were not limited to the countryside. They attacked infrastructure in the cities of Huancayo, Huancavelica, Cerro de Pasco, Huánuco, Andahuaylas, Abancay, Ayacucho and Lima. Their attacks on high-voltage power lines left entire cities without power supply. Shining Path strategies also included placing car bombs in front of high-value targets, such as the Government Palace and the Palace of Justice in 1985. In several cities in the interior of the country, they would take control of the city and suspend all productive activities.
By 1989 (the second year with the most deaths), an economic crisis and the new terrorist escalation plunged Peru into a state of crisis. This period was called Strategic Equilibrium according to Gonzalo’s thinking. It referred to the fact that the Shining Path had come to be on par with the Peruvian state. By then, SL was at its peak.
2.6 Decline and Operation Victoria
As its zone of influence spread over a wider area of Peru, the Shining Path faced serious problems. Its Maoist doctrine met with no response from the population and its violent actions robbed it of the sympathy it had once enjoyed among some sectors of the population. In the late 1980s, almost the entire Peruvian political spectrum, including left-wing Marxist politicians, did not share the Shining Path’s philosophy and rejected the armed struggle that this organisation was waging.
Faced with a hostile population, which was beginning to organise itself to confront them, Shining Path began to weaken. Peasant patrols were reorganised in different regions to confront the group with support from the Armed Forces. His successor, Alan García, restructured the anti-subversive campaign to prioritise intelligence work and achieved important arrests of leaders of the terrorist organisation. García’s successor, Alberto Fujimori, achieved the best results through the effective use of counter-subversive intelligence. Furthermore, Fujimori responded to the SL with repressive force, beginning with the deployment of the military to Shining Path-dominated areas (source). His government also enacted a law in 1991 giving the rondas legal status, which were transformed into Self-Defence Committees (source).
On 12 September 1992, the GEIN (Special Intelligence Group) captured Guzmán in Lima (source). Following his capture, the authorities caught other important figures in the terrorist organisation. Some of these were Elena Iparraguirre, or comrade Miriam, his second wife and the number two in Sendero Luminoso. The others were Laura Zambrano, in charge of collecting the dollars charged to drug traffickers for protection, María Pantoja, third in command of the organisation, and Maritza Garrido (source).
2.7 Peace Accords and Remnants
On 20 October 1992, Abimael Guzmán presented a peace agreement to the Government which included the dissolution of the organisation (source). Finally, in December 1993, Guzmán and 17 Shining Path leaders signed the peace agreement, read by Alberto Fujimori on 1 October 1993 at the UN.
At the same time, and once leaderless, the organisation began to lose military actions to the peasant patrols. Military pressure and a lack of direction caused the organisation to split into various regional fronts under the command of several commanders, many of whom were at loggerheads with each other. Guzmán’s main role was taken over in Huallaga by Eleuterio Flores, alias “Camarada Artemio”, and the VRAEM by Óscar Ramírez Durand “Camarada Feliciano”, alias Feliciano. The Huallaga faction was disbanded in 2012 with the capture of Artemio, while the VRAEM was renamed MPCP and is currently led by “Camarada José”.
2.8 MPCM and Comité Base Mantaro Rojo
After the disbandment of the Huallaga faction, the Shining Path’s terrorist presence has been practically non-existent. However, two main remnant groups are still operational.
There is a Shining Path cell in the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM), in the south-central part of the country. It is currently called the Militarised Communist Party of Peru (MPCP), (previously known as Sendero Rojo – Red path, or SL-Proseguir) and is led by Victor Quispe Palomino (Camarada José). In June 2018, Quispe formally broke all subordination to the original Shining Path leadership by naming his faction in the VRAEM the MPCP. However, for the Peruvian state and other international entities, the MPCP is the direct continuation of the Communist Party of Peru-Shining Path (PCP-SL). This remnant is involved in activities related to drug trafficking (source). Abimael Guzmán never recognised Víctor Quispe Palomino, nor the other members of the current MPCP as his successors.
2.8.2 Comité Base Mantaro Rojo
The second remnant is the so-called Comité Base Mantaro Rojo (PCP-CBMR). It is an armed Peruvian organisation under the orders of the Popular Movement Peru, an organisation created in Europe by members of the Shining Path leadership who did not surrender their weapons after the capture of Abimael Guzman in 1992. Mantaro Rojo opposes the militarised Communist Party of Peru of the Quispe-Palomino clan and also MOVADEF, considering them revisionist groups and traitors to the ideas of Chairman Gonzalo.
The internal armed conflict caused economic losses of more than 42 billion dollars and one million displaced persons (600 000 internally displaced) (source). According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), out of a total of 69,280 victims and disappeared, Shining Path caused the death of between 31,331 and 37,840 people (source). The conflict has particularly affected rural regions and Quechua populations in the Andean areas (source).
SL has an extreme left ideology, and they declare themselves to be followers of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (MLM). Furthermore, the group follows “Pensamiento Gonzalo” (Gonzalo Thought). This is a system of ideas developed by Abimael Guzmán as an interpretation of Peruvian reality based on the postulates of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism.
As part of this thinking, the SL followed the idea of “cuota de sangre” (blood quota). This concept, elaborated by Guzman, states that the communist militant must sacrifice his life for the world proletarian revolution. As part of the “blood quota”, the communist militant foments hatred to win adherents, instrumentalises the masses in his favour and tolerates cruelty against his opponents to win the obedience of the masses. This ideology sees violence as a necessary element on the road to communism and death as a heroic act.
The ideology and tactics of the Shining Path influenced other Maoist insurgent groups, such as the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and other organisations affiliated with the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM).
The Shining Path followed a “concentric construction” structure. The Communist Party organs occupied the entire centre, followed by the People’s Guerrilla Army (EGP) surrounding it and, finally, the United Front in the outermost circle. This structure ensured that the political party maintained control of its armed and social branches (source).
Guzmán played the role of the all-powerful military and spiritual leader of the organisation. In this sense, Shining Path was organised as a hierarchical sect and not according to a cell-based model (source). While Guzman was at the top of the centrally controlled pyramid, he relied on loyal underlings who controlled different parts of the party as well as regional operations.
4.1 People´s Guerrilla Army (EGP)
The People’s Guerrilla Army (Ejército Guerrillero Popular or EGP), later renamed Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación or EPL), was the armed wing of the Shining Path and the Comité Base Mantaro Rojo.
The EGP was created for combat, mobilisation and income generation for Sendero Luminoso. The army was officially created on 3 December 1982 on the occasion of the First Expanded National Conference of the Shining Path (source).
The structure of the EGP consisted of the following:
- Main Force (FP): Armed mainly with larger calibre weapons, such as AKM and FN FAL rifles, as well as the Heckler & Koch HK21 machine gun. Due to their mastery of weaponry, this group is tasked with ambushing police and soldiers. They do not stay in the localities but often travel through the regions.
- Local Force (LF): These members are local farm workers who are provided with small arms and periodically assist the FP members, and then return to their work. Qualified LF members join the ranks of the FP.
- Base Force (FB): Some of the peasants from the territories captured by the Shining Path are grouped into the FB, usually serving as reservists armed with hand weapons such as knives, spears and machetes. Members of the FB occasionally serve on guard duty.
4.2 United Front
The United Front is the political and bureaucratic arm of the Shining Path. It has two main branches: the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (MOVADEF) and the Front for the Unity and Defence of the Peruvian People (FUDEPP) (source).
The Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (MOVADEF) was created on 20 November 2009 when Alfredo Crespo, Abimael Guzmán’s defence lawyer, and 15 others met. MOVADEF has three sub-branches: the Historical Central Committee, the Provisional Central Committee and the National Executive Committee (CEN).
In 2015, the Peruvian People’s Unity and Defence Front (FUDEPP) was created. In association with MOVADEF, the group announced that it had 73 provincial committees.
4.2.1 Mass Organisations
Within the United Front, the Shining Path implemented multiple smaller “mass organisations”, usually specified for a particular purpose or issue. Some of them were:
- Shining Trenches of Combat, support bases for Shining Path prisoners.
- Peru People’s Movement (MPP), international relations front.
- Classist Teachers Coordination (CCM), teacher union front.
- Support Committees for the Peruvian Revolution (CARP).
- Pioneers, youth organisation.
- People’s Aid (SOPO), the legal and medical aid group.
- Neighbourhood Class Movement (MCB).
- Popular Women’s Movement (MFP), the main feminist branch of the Shining Path.
- Movement of Classist Workers and Laborers (MOTC).
- Popular Artist Movement (MAP).
- Popular Intellectual Movement (MIP).
- Popular Youth Movement.
- Street Vendors’ Movement.
- Democratic Lawyer’s Association (AAD).
- Poor Peasants’ Movement.
Civilian organizations adhering to Shining Path call themselves “generated organizations.” They act as legitimate and legal means to fund, support members, and recruit volunteers and members.
4.3 People’s Liberation Army (EPL)
The People’s Liberation Army is the current armed wing of the now-extinct Sendero Rojo (Red Path or PCP Pro-Seguir) and the still active Comité Base Mantero Rojo (source). The EPL was founded in 1992 as a successor to the EGP, although when Sendero Rojo fell, the group split into two factions. The first was the People’s Liberation Army of the Comité Base Mantero Rojo and the second was the People’s Guerrilla Army of the Huallaga Faction (source).
5.0 Tactical-Operational Information
The main leaders were:
- Abimael Guzmán, alias “Gonzalo”. Guzmán was the founder of the guerrilla and Secretary General until he was captured in 1992, causing the group to split.
- Osmán Morote, alias “Nicolás”. Military commander, currently in prison.
- Óscar Ramírez Durand, alias “Feliciano”. The military commander of the VRAEM faction is currently in prison.
- Eleuterio flores, alias “Artemio”. The military commander of the Huallaga faction is currently in prison.
After the split of SL, Guzmán’s main role was taken over in Huallaga and the VRAEM.
- The Huallaga faction (Sendero Luminoso del Alto Huallaga) remained loyal to Guzmán, led by Florindo Eleuterio Flores, alias “Comandante Artemio”, now in prison. This faction dissolved in 2012 after his capture.
- The VRAEM faction was led by Óscar Ramírez Durand, alias Feliciano, who was captured in 1999. Following his capture, the group is now called the Militarised Communist Party of Peru (MPCP) originally led by the Quispe Palomino brothers. The head is Víctor, alias “Comrade José”, and his second was his brother Jorge, also known as “Raúl” (killed in 2021).
- The other remnant still active is the Comité Base Mantaro Rojo, which is led by “Camarada Netzel López”.
5.2 Core Purpose
When it launched its “people’s war” in 1980, the objective of the Shining Path was to overthrow the government through guerrilla warfare. The main goal was to replace the institutions of the “old Peruvian state” that they considered “bourgeois” with a revolutionary peasant-communist regime, presumably starting with the Maoist concept of “New Democracy”.
The Shining Path believed that by establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat, inducing a cultural revolution and finally unleashing a world revolution, they could achieve total communism. Its representatives claimed that the socialist countries of the time were revisionist and that the Shining Path was the vanguard of the world communist movement.
In the areas controlled by them, they established a proto-state regime. Their main goal was to replace the then-weak national state. SL called these territories the “People’s Republic of Peru” or the “People’s Republic of New Democracy”. Adherents to Shining Path had to sign a letter of allegiance to the organisation.
5.3 Recruitment and Training
Its recruitment efforts were directed at the poorest areas of the country and the Quechua-speaking part of the highlands. This was because many peasants felt disenfranchised by the government. In addition, the majority of the population was indigenous and Quechua-speaking, which further disconnected them from the Spanish-speaking government.
Guzmán and Sendero Luminoso exploited this isolation and the economic crisis in this region to gain support for their movement. It was therefore not difficult to foment rebellious sentiment in a population that felt more or less abandoned by the Peruvian government. For instance, Guzmán and Shining Path promised to rid Peru of a “foreign-dominated political system” and replace it with a more nationalist and “Indian” democracy.
Guzmán preferred the quality of personnel to quantity. Therefore, recruits had to go through a rigorous selection process to prove their devotion to the group. They were subjected to increasingly difficult tasks, culminating in the murder of a police officer and the theft of his weapon. This process ensured that only the most loyal and violent became full members of the Shining Path.
The group settled mainly in the rural areas of the country, where it developed the bulk of its activities. This tactic is popular among revolutionary guerrilla groups, such as the Colombian FARC, due to the usual presence of a weak government, as was the case in Peru. The country’s armed forces did not have the necessary physical presence in the area to be able to deploy effectively against the revolutionary cadres.
This lack of military credibility on the ground on the part of the government allowed Shining Path to deploy its forces to wage effective guerrilla warfare against its enemies with near impunity. Shining Path initially based its headquarters in the mountainous region of Ayacucho and Huanta, up to the remote regions around the central jungle and south of Vilcabamba (the site of the last Inca resistance).
The group activities focused on massacres of peasants, terrorist attacks and selective assassinations of soldiers and politicians. Initially, Shining Path targeted local authorities, police headquarters and local political leaders. By 1983, however, the group gradually began to target wealthy peasants and heads of state agencies with violence and the threat of kidnapping. They also started launching attacks against left-wing activists, grassroots organisers, and left-liberal intellectuals.
This change in strategy ultimately backfired on the insurgents because they were unable to win the sympathy of the average Peruvian with their violent tactics. Instead, the villagers were subjected to Shining Path’s relentless brutality and left unprotected by the military and intelligence services.
5.4.1 Current tactics
In 2014, authorities discovered a tactical manual attributed to SL establishing stricter security protocols and calling for targeted attacks against its critics. This appears to be an effort to prevent government forces from taking out more of the group’s leaders after recent defeats. The document, entitled “Manual del Combatiente del Heroico y Militarizado Partido Comunista del Perú” (Combatant’s Manual of the Heroic and Militarised Communist Party of Peru), also stipulates new security protocols.
The manual orders the guerrillas to communicate using various dialects, which according to an analyst consulted by the programme refers to the indigenous Quechua language, and to send written messages instead of voice messages. In addition, the document orders members of the group to cut ties with their families and to change location within three hours of spotting a surveillance plane.
Similar to the FARC in Colombia and other revolutionary insurgencies, the Shining Path financed its operations in part through the process of drug trafficking, kidnapping ransoms and forced taxation of small businesses and individuals. The Shining Path also demanded that Colombian traffickers and buyers operating locally pay higher prices than those prevailing for raw coca in exchange for protection and the opportunity to buy weapons from them.
Currently, the MPCP relies on cocaine trafficking as criminal revenue, taxing growers and providing protection for shipments In exchange for money, weapons and equipment (source). The MPCP controls much of the VRAEM, a region where most of Peru’s coca is grown and a large volume of cocaine is produced.
A publication on the Convoca portal reports that the military apparatus of the MPCP guards the gangs of young people in charge of transporting drugs, known as ‘mochileros’. They charge US$ 4 or US$ 5 for the passage of each one of them, US$ 50 for each kilo they transport and US$ 40 for the passage of chemical inputs. To reduce the risks, SL makes a study of the route that the ‘backpackers’ will take.
While it is difficult to know how many combatants, the group numbered about 500 fighters in 1980. By 1992, this number grew to 4,000 to 5,000 fighters, which represented its peak. According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, some estimates have indicated that in the early years of the revolution, Shining Path could have been between ten and fifteen thousand members.
After the capture of its leader Abimael Guzman in 1992 during Operation Victoria, the group lost influence and power, falling to according to the CIA, 500 fighters in 2000 (source). By 2020, the authorities estimated between 250 and 450 fighters. On the other hand, the SL as a party had 50,000 militants in 1990. The organisation was characterised by a high proportion of women. In Sendero Luminoso, 50 % of the fighters and 40 % of the commanders were women.
6.0 Criminal Activity
The group’s activity consisted of massacres, terrorist attacks and targeted assassinations:
- 17th May. Sendero began its terrorist activity burning ballot boxes in Chuschi (Ayacucho).
- 3rd March. Sendero takes the Ayacucho prison by assault, kills policemen and frees 304 terrorists.
- 3rd April. Sendero killed 69 peasants in Lucanamarca (Ayacucho).
- Car bombs were set off outside the Palace of Government and Justice during the visit of Argentine President Raúl Alfonsín.
- On the eve of the presidential elections, Sendero wounded the president of the National Jury of Elections, Domingo Garcia.
- Constantin Gregory, an official of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), was assassinated.
- 15th February. Popular leader María Elena is murdered in Lima, days after receiving an award for her work.
- 16 July a car bomb exploded in Miraflores, Lima, leaving 25 dead, 17 missing and more than 200 injured.
- 10th October. Attack on a military convoy in which 19 people were killed, 12 of them military personnel.
- On 9 April 2009, 13 soldiers were killed in two ambushes against two military patrols.
- On 9 April, insurgents entered Kepashiato, kidnapping 36 workers of the Camisea gas company.
- On Saturday 9 April, the day before the presidential elections, a military patrol is ambushed, leaving 10 soldiers and two civilians dead and several wounded.
- In 2017, three ambushes against the police in the VRAEM left seven policemen dead and two wounded.
- In 2018, 4 policemen were killed while patrolling a road in a pick-up truck.
- 26th March. A family was tortured and massacred, and 4 were killed for being CAD.
- 23rd May. Massacre of 16 people, including two children, in the Vraem.
- 11th February. Seven police officers were killed and one injured in an ambush in La Convención, Cusco.
The Shining Path has used a wide variety of weaponry in its operations. Weapons that have been observed on video, or weapons seized by Peruvian authorities, include:
- Browning CZ 83, 9 mm made in the Czech Republic.
- Other 9 mm without mark and serial number.
- AK-47 and AKM.
- FN FAL.
- Heckler & Koch HK21.
- Sticks of dynamite.
- 40 mm grenades (pepas).
- Hand grenades.
- 60 mm rifle grenades.
- Rocket-propelled grenade launcher (RPG).
- Rifle grenade launchers.
The Shining Path enjoyed a geographical advantage during the initial phases of the insurgency. The jungle and mountainous terrain of the highlands made it very difficult for the Peruvian government to reach and successfully exert control over the population. Both the Shining Path’s relatively small size and its isolated base caused the Peruvian government to severely underestimate its power at the beginning of the insurgency (source).
The Shining Path came to control large parts of the country and even managed to take control of cities such as Jauja, Yurimaguas, Juliaca and Tingo María, as well as various districts such as Ayacucho, Apurímac and Huancavelica (source).
Today, its remnants are confined to a narrow but strategic drug trafficking corridor between the departments of Junín, Ayacucho and Huancavelica in the VRAEM, the country’s main cocaine-producing region. According to Insight Crime, the stronghold of the Quispe Palomino brothers is Vizcatán in the heart of the VRAEM jungle. This is a strategic location for the control of key drug trafficking routes to Brazil and Bolivia (source).
9.0 Allies and Enemies
The group was mainly supported by other communist organisations. The most important non-state allies were:
- Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (MRTA) (sometimes until 1997).
- FARC-EP (1980-2016). In the early 2000s, Sendero Luminoso established links with the Colombian FARC guerrillas, from whom they learned some war tactics such as the use of rocket launchers to shoot down military aircraft.
- Communist Party of Ecuador – Red Sun.
- Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (MRI) (until 2012).
Today, the remnants of the Shining Path have alliances and businesses with local drug trafficking clans in the VRAEM (source).
The group’s biggest opponent was the Peruvian government. The MRTA also clashed with the SL on certain occasions. The SL was also confronted by communal defence organisations in rural areas of Peru. These were:
- “Rondas Campesinas” or Peasant patrols (1983-present). Their main functions were to patrol the trails, roads, pastures and fields. They were autonomous organisations, designed for the protection of rights in peacetime, based on democratic principles in their functioning.
- “Comités de Autodefensa” or Self-Defence Committees (CAD) (1984-present). Unlike the peasant patrols, these groups, whose members were called “ronderos”, were promoted by the armed forces during the period of terrorism in Peru. The Self-Defence Committees, Civil Defence Committees or Counter-Subversive Peasant Patrols were armed civilian organisations whose aim was to fight terrorism, crime, and drug trafficking in conjunction with the armed forces.
During Fujimori’s government, the Committees were officially armed, usually with 12-gauge shotguns, and trained by the Peruvian army. According to the government, in 2005 there were approximately 7,226 self-defence committees. Of these, almost 4,000 were in central Peru, a Shining Path stronghold (source).
Besides Peru, the SL was also declared a terrorist group by the following countries:
- European Union.
- United Kingdom.
- United States.
10.0 The Future
The progressive weakening of the Shining Path as a guerrilla group, its confinement to a single reserved area in the jungle and its considerable reduction in support and personnel is good news. However, to claim that the fight against this group is over is too optimistic. The Shining Path is much weaker than in the 1990s when the group caused tens of thousands of deaths. Nevertheless, the attacks of recent years show that it is likely to remain the biggest threat to Peru’s national security. In addition, the MPCP controls a large part of the VRAEM, where a large volume of cocaine is produced, allowing for constant funding. Overall, the group has shown great flexibility, having survived multiple internal and external challenges.
Although in the past years, Shining Path has announced new strategies to regain control, it is unlikely to succeed as it does not have the military or economic strength to do so. However, their alliance with drug traffickers, their control of strategic territories in the VRAEM and the resilience they have shown after years of military operations against them reveal that putting an end to this organisation will not be an easy or quick task for the state security forces.
To further weaken the group, it is essential to implement anti-drug plans, such as the reuse of land to replace coca crops. With this, the group is cut off from its main funding source. It is also necessary to support rural populations, to avoid local support for the group. Finally, it is necessary to maintain and strengthen the police and military forces in the area of activity. These troops must be motivated and trained, especially in mountain and jungle combat. Well-armed and prepared public forces have been and will be essential to contain and eradicate the group.
Shining Path has been the scourge of Peru for more than 20 years. The use of terrorist tactics and the thousands of deaths derived from it have left a great wound in the country, especially the rural population. Its structure, recruiting capacity, and financing allowed it to control large areas of the country. The group was favoured by the government’s late reaction and the country’s geography. Although the group is currently divided and very weakened, it still poses a serious challenge to the government.
The recent attacks and the lucrative coca business indicate that the group could regain relevance once again. Although it is difficult for the remnants to have the support and power that they had in the 80s, the Government and the civilian population must take measures to corner and weaken the group. Once financially suffocated, without support, and leaders, it is likely to dissolve at once. This will require a strong coordinated plan by the central government.