The Peruvian Maoist terrorist militia Sendero Luminoso (“Shining Path”), responsible for the death of 25,000 people in the Peruvian countryside in the 1980s and 1990s, may be on the rise again as government officials warn that hundreds remain enslaved and forced to produce food and child soldiers for the group.
“This terrorist group has not been exterminated. They operate, but with reduced capacity, obviously,” Peruvian Minister of Defense Jakke Valakivi told reporters on Wednesday, announcing a new military initiative to finally eradicate the group. Most of Shining Path’s terror operations, he noted, occur in a region known as the VRAEM (Apurímac River Valley, Ene, and Mantaro)– a vast expanse of dense forest that lends itself well as a hiding place for captives and terrorists, much like the Sambisa Forest of Nigeria serves ISIS-affiliated terror group Boko Haram. “A shot from the Path can come from any tree in the forest,” Viceminister of Defense Iván Vega explained to reporters at the same press conference.
Valakivi described the area as an “abandonzed zone to the back of the Andes mountains where no one wants to look.”
Officials stated that it is believed that 80 Shining Path members are hiding in the VRAEM and the group boasts a total membership of 350. In addition to the number of terrorists among them, officials say the Shining Path abuses of between 170-200 slaves at their command, most members of the indigenous Ashaninka ethnic group. Among the captives are believed to be up to 80 children. The terrorists keep their captives by using what officials called the “Pol Pot strategy: divide a family into different camps and threaten to kill them all if any one escapes.”
Since the military has mostly diminished the terrorist group’s capacity to function and commit acts of terror, it is now mostly dedicated to preserving itself. Slaves work to maintain illegal cocaine growing camps to generate revenue and care for cattle and crops so that terrorists may eat. The women are mostly used to breed and raise child soldiers, systematically raped to maximize reproduction. “Children are dedicated to growing and animal breeding and are indoctrinated into the ideology (Maoist) of the Path. When they turn 15, they are incorporated as guerrillas,” Viceminister Vega explained.
Peru’s government has issued some good news to citizens, however, regarding the Shining Path: 54 hostages were freed over the weekend in the VRAEM region. The group consisted of hostages taken in the 1980s and 1990s, many who had been in captivity for upwards of twenty years. The Shining Path captive strategy is so long-term that many of its members were produced from systematic rape taking place throughout decades; many of the resulting children are now old enough to fight.
The Shining Path movement killed more than 25,000 people between the 80s and 90s, with little successful resistance from the Peruvian military. It was not until President Alberto Fujimori took office in 1990 that they began facing rigorous opposition from authorities targeting their leadership. Within two years, Fujimori’s military captured Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán and displayed him to the public in a cage and traditional prisoners’ uniform:
Guzmán was so widely despised that, in the video, cameramen and reporters can be heard yelling jeers of “Imbecil!” and “Clown!” while filming the spectacle for the public. He was sentenced to life in prison and has subsequently been tried for a separate bombing in Lima while he was in charge of the terrorist group.
President Fujimori was also arrested nearly a decade later for alleged assassinations and acts of corruption during his tenure, the President is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence. His daughter, Keiko Fujimori, is currently leading national polls for the 2016 Peruvian presidential election after several unsuccessful presidential campaigns.
The Shining Path’s activities were significantly damaged by Guzmán’s capture. “There is no No. 2. There is only Presidente Gonzalo and then the party,” said a Shining Path official in 1990, referring to Guzmán by his nom de guerre. In a live address announcing his arrest, Fujimori described Guzmán as “a genocidist that has nothing to envy the fascist war criminals of WWII,” and strongly condemned international human rights organizations for not supporting Peru’s efforts to dismantle the terrorist group:
Following Guzmán’s capture, the New York Times reported an end to much of the group’s activity, with only one faction of the group continuing to engage in violent attacks. For some years, sporadic bombings and shootings continued, mostly in rural Peru, until a man known only as “Comrade Artemio” became the de facto head of the terrorist group. He was wounded and captured in 2012, prompting then- and current President Ollanta Humala to declare “mission accomplished” on the elimination of Shining Path.
The group’s resurgence is a reminder that radical Marxist terrorism remains a serious threat in South America. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a violent guerrilla that both commits terrorist attacks and controls a multinational drug trafficking ring, remains the wealthiest non-jihadist terrorist group in the world, wealthier than Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban combined. The FARC continues to operate because its major leadership has been provided safe haven in Havana, from which they engage in routine “peace talks” with the Colombian government that have on multiple occasions ended thanks to FARC attacks leaving Colombian soldiers dead. Despite Havana’s ties to the FARC, President Obama announced the removal of Cuba from the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list earlier this year.
Other Marxist terrorist groups also continue to plague Latin American, including the National Liberation Army and the Bolivarian Liberation Forces. The presence of the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah in Latin American has also been well-documented, particularly in Argentina and Venezuela.