‘MUTATED’ SHINING PATH RESURFACES IN PERU

Wall Street Journal on May 11, 2012, published a report on Peruvian President Ollanta Humala facing an unexpected challenge: the resurgence of the Shining Path, a brutal guerrilla group that many analysts believed all but extinct after its leadership was jailed two decades ago. Excerpts below:

The return of the group, which terrorized Peru during the 1980s, is fast taking a toll on the Humala government. Peru’s defense and interior ministers both resigned after botched police efforts to confront the group resulted in several police deaths and allegations of high-level incompetence.

The Shining Path has killed nine police officers and soldiers since April of 2012, a month in which it also briefly kidnapped 36 natural-gas workers.

During a news conference to announce his resignation, Alberto Otárola, the former defense minister, called for a united front against the rebels.

“This terrorist threat that we need to combat today has a new face,” he said. “The Shining Path of the 1980s and 1990s that our forces successfully fought has mutated.”

The group’s unlikely comeback has been fueled by the resurgence of cocaine manufacturing in Peru. The group is based in remote mountain areas where coca plants—cocaine’s raw material—are grown. The group’s revenue is swelling as it imposes protection taxes on the coca trade, experts say.

During the past decade, a U.S.-sponsored crackdown in Colombia, long the world’s biggest cocaine supplier, has pushed much of the business next door to Peru.

The new group is nowhere near the strength of the 1980s Shining Path. With an estimated 500 members operating in remote areas, it uses guerrilla tactics to operate in coca-growing regions, but so far doesn’t threaten the government’s hold on power as it did 30 years ago.

“The Shining Path has evolved into one of the most powerful drug-trafficking organizations” in key Andean coca-growing regions ,” says Jaime Antezana, an expert on drug trafficking in Peru. “They have control over the territory.”

“The priority is the capture of these criminals and we are going to pursue them nationwide if it is necessary,” Mr. Humala said in a recent speech.

Mr. Humala is racing to strike back. He has sent 1,500 police officers and soldiers to capture the rebels and has promised to increase the state’s presence in the remote and often neglected areas where they operate.

The sudden need to deal with drug-funded insurgents helps explain why the nationalist Mr. Humala has turned to the U.S. for more cooperation on fighting the cocaine trade, even after campaigning on distancing Peru from the U.S. drug war.

The president has public opinion on his side, as many Peruvians blame the group for a conflict that killed an estimated 70,000 people since it launched its insurgency in 1980.

The group’s founder, philosophy professor Abimael Guzmán, created a cultlike following that at its peak included thousands of members across the country.

Rebels called for implementing a Maoist-inspired state that would require the population to pay a “blood toll,” while saying that the “triumph of the revolution would cost a million deaths.

By the early 1990s, the Shining Path had spread to Lima. Rebels exploded car bombs in Lima’s financial district of San Isidro and assassinated political opponents.

In 1992, Mr. Guzmán, who used the nom de guerre Presidente Gonzalo, was captured by police as he hid out in a house in an upper-class Limadistrict. He remains in jail.

A 2003 report by a government-commissioned Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that the Shining Path was responsible for 54% of the 70,000 people killed during the conflict.

Mr. Humala got a win in February by arresting the leader of the Shining Path faction in the Upper Huallaga valley. Florindo Flores, alias “Artemio,” was the last remaining member of the Shining Path’s central committee from the 1980s to be captured.

While the Shining Path was a heavily ideological group with links to universities in Lima, analysts debate whether the current groups are mainly revolutionaries or profiteers—much like Colombia’s cocaine-funded guerrillas, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

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