One faction of Peruvian guerrilla group the Shining Path has issued a call for dialogue with the government, but the odds of the authorities taking them up on the offer are slim.
Investigative journalism website IDL-Reporteros conducted an interview with alias “Comrade Artemio,” the head of one of the two remaining factions of the country’s Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) guerrillas, in which the rebel leader called for a truce with government forces and discussed the potential for demobilization.
In the interview, Comrade Artemio (who officials have identified as Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala) openly admitted that the group’s 31-year war with the Peruvian state has been a military failure. The accompanying video, which is embedded below, shows Artemio looking slightly weary as he explains that the Shining Path’s objective of provoking a mass insurrection remains the same, but “in practice this is no longer possible today.”
He also called for a truce with the security forces,saying that he and his branch of the Shining Path, which is based in the Upper Huallaga Valley in the northern department of San Martin, “have no intention to wield weapons of war in armed struggle.” While Artemio said he would be willing to eventually demobilize, he stressed that this could not happen without a "process of frank and real negotiations" with the government of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, and a general amnesty for Senderista fighters.
Artemio admitted that his guerrilla faction has allowed cocaine production and trafficking in the Huallaga region, but denied that the group has ever profited from drug trafficking organizations. According to him, the rebels turn a blind eye to drug trade because they simply do not have the resources to take on local trafficking groups and the state at the same time. When asked how the group gets its funds, Artemio replied that they received support from coca growers, but “never directly from narco-traffickers.”
This directly contradicts statements made by Peruvian officials, who say that Artemio is an active participant in the trafficking of cocaine. In July 2010 the U.S. State Department put a $5 million ransom on his head, claiming that Artemio “repeatedly invests his own and/or [Shining Path] money in drug trafficking ventures with local drug traffickers.” In December, former army chief General Otto Guibovich even referred to the Huallaga Shining Path as a “drug cartel” in its own right. Meanwhile President Humala has made combating the group a central pillar of his administration, and has repeatedly stressed their alleged involvement in the drug trade.
For this reason the prospects for Artemio’s proposed truce look grim. The guerrilla leader told IDL-Reporteros that he had already sent President Humala two letters proposing negotiations, but both were rejected. This may have been due to the rebels’ lack of credibility than a lack of political will, however. As the Guardian notes, Artemio has announced ceasefires in the past, but each has ended with renewed guerrilla attacks on the security forces. What’s more, Peru is known to look to the conflict in neighboring Colombia for guidance on counterinsurgency, and the precedent it sets for peace is not promising. After agreeing to a ceasefire in 1999, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) used the time to regroup, continuing kidnappings and bombings.
A ceasefire with the Shining Path may not even be a legal option for Humala. Peruvian legal scholar Anibal Quiroga told La Republica that the truce is “legally and constitutionally inviable,” because the Shining Path is not a recognized belligerent group.
The military incentive for a truce is also lacking. Peru's armed forces have had considerable success in targeting the Huallaga-based Shining Path, having captured Artemio's girlfriend and dealt a significant blow to the faction's support base amongst coca growers in recent months. It could be that Artemio is well aware that his group is on the ropes, and this latest move is simply a way for him to try to avoid being captured or killed, as Peruvian Defense Minister Daniel Mora has suggested.
Whatever comes of Artemio’s proposal, it most certainly will not apply to the other major Shining Path wing, which is based in the southeast Apurimac-Ene river valley (VRAE). Led by a “Comrade Jose,” the VRAE Shining Path have a reputation for being less political than their cousins in Huallaga, and are less ideologically close to the imprisoned Shining Path founder, Abimael Guzman. In a 2009 interview with La Republica, Guzman denounced the VRAE-based faction of the guerrillas as mere “mercenaries,” claiming they are actively engaged in cocaine trafficking. The VRAE group, and their alleged involvement in drug trafficking, are the main reason that the government has extended a state of emergency in the region.
A version of this article appeared on the Pan-American Post.