Home > Peru >

Internal conflict in Peru

Topics: Internal conflict in Peru

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

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

Peruvian history has long been plagued by coup d'etats and military dictatorships. General Juan Velasco Alvarado staged a coup in 1968 and led a left-leaning military government until he was thrown out of power by another coup in 1975. Francisco Morales Bermudez was installed as the new President of Peru in 1975, and allowed elections to be held in 1980.

Rise of Shining Path

During the dictatorships of Velasco and Morales, Shining Path had organized as a Maoist political group based at the San Cristobal of Huamanga University in Ayacucho Region, Peru. The group was led by Abimael Guzman, a communist professor of philosophy at the San Cristobal of Huamanga University. Guzman had been inspired by the Cultural Revolution, which he had witnessed firsthand during a trip to China. 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 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 Chuschi, 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.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).

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.

Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement

In 1982, the Tupac 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.La Comision de la Verdad y Reconciliacion. Final Report. "General Conclusions." Available online. Accessed February 3, 2007.

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.La Comision de la Verdad y Reconciliacion. Final Report. "General Conclusions." Available online. Accessed February 3, 2007.

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 Belaunde 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 Victor 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. Scores of peasants were massacred by the armed forces. A special US-trained counterterrorist police battalion known as the "Sinchis" were particularly notorious 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 people, 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 pace at which the armed forces committed widespread atrocities such as massacres was slowed. Additionally, the state began the widespread use of intelligence agencies in its fight against Shining Path. However, atrocities were committed by the National Intelligence Service, notably the La Cantuta massacre and the Barrios Altos massacre, both of which were committed by Grupo Colina.

On April 5, 1992, Alberto Fujimori ordered the military to occupy the Congress of Peru, declaring the Congress dissolved and the Constitution abolished, 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 Lima in what became known as the Tarata bombing. This was part of a larger bombing campaign in Lima.

On September 12, 1992, Peruvian police captured Guzman and several Shining Path leaders in an apartment above a dance studio in the Surquillo 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 Guzman was known to have. Shortly after the raid that captured Guzman, most of the remaining Shining Path leadership fell as well.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). 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. Guzman's role as the leader of Shining Path was taken over by Oscar Ramirez, who himself was captured by Peruvian authorities in 1999. After Ramirez's capture, the group splintered, guerrilla activity diminished sharply, and previous conditions returned to the areas where the Shining Path had been active.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).

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 Japan 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 Valentin 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. 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 , 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

Since the capture of Guzman, Shining Path has greatly declined in strength. It 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 Peruvian security forces. For example, on June 9, 2003 a Shining Path group attacked a camp in Ayacucho, and took 68 employees of the Argentinean company Techint and three police guards as hostages. They had been working in the Camisea gas pipeline project that would take natural gas from Cusco to Lima.The New York Times. "Pipeline Workers Kidnapped." June 10, 2003. Available online. Accessed September 18, 2006. 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.

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, Guzman was sentenced to life in prison for terrorism.

On the 27th anniversary of the Shining Path's first attack against the Peruvian state a homemade bomb in a backpack was set off in a market in the southern Peruvian city of Juliaca killing 6 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. "Blast kills six in southern Peru" May 20, 2007 BBC

External links

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Internal conflict in Peru