Clashes between Peruvian armed forces and a faction of the Shining Path have left over a dozen people dead in 2023, with the guerrilla group’s latest resurgence showcasing its staying power.
Six people were killed during an unsuccessful operation to capture Shining Path leader Victor Quispe Palomino, alias “Comrade José,” including five members of the group and one soldier, the Peruvian armed forces announced in a March 18 statement.
The clash came near Vizcatán del Ene, a town in the Valley of the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers (Valle de los Ríos Apurímac, Ene y Mantaro – VRAEM), a coca-growing hub and the nerve center of the Shining Path’s activities.
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Another soldier was killed on March 13 in the same town when a military patrol came under fire from members of the Militarized Communist Party of Peru (Militarizado Partido Comunista de Perú – MPCP), the leading Shining Path faction, according to a Ministry of Defense press release.
On February 12, a separate MPCP ambush in the VRAEM had left seven police officers dead. That attack came just days after guerrillas shot down an army helicopter, wounding both crew members.
“The self-designated MPCP is the only faction that ambushes the armed forces and the police,” Pedro Yaranga, a Peruvian security analyst, told InSight Crime.
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While the Shining Path is far weaker than in the 1990s, when it was blamed for tens of thousands of deaths, these latest attacks prove it continues to likely be Peru’s foremost national security threat.
The MPCP controls much of the VRAEM, where most of Peru’s coca is grown, and much of its cocaine is produced. Peru remains the world’s second-largest cocaine producer, with an estimated 785 metric tons of the drug manufactured in 2021, behind Colombia with 972 tons, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
The MPCP’s cycles of violence have often coincided with political unrest in Peru. In May 2021, the MPCP killed 16 civilians, leaving behind pamphlets calling for a boycott of the upcoming election. And the violence in February and March 2023 has come as the country is wracked by anti-government protests, which have left at least 70 people dead. With seven presidents in seven years, many of them falling due to alleged corruption or criminal connections, Peru has also been unable to mount a coordinated security response to the Shining Path.
The group has also survived internal and external challenges. Its founder Abimael Guzmán called for a peace deal with the Peruvian government after his arrest in 1993, but VRAEM-based members rejected the idea and cut ties with him.
However, the Shining Path has been weakened by internal factionalism after the deaths of several key leaders. The core of the Shining Path renamed themselves the MPCP following Guzmán's arrest, while Guzmán’s supporters founded the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (Movimiento por Amnistía y los Derechos Fundamentales – Movadef).
The existence of three separate splinter groups, the MPCP led by Quispe Palomino, a group known as the New Red Fraction (Nueva Fracción Roja – NFR), and an unnamed third faction was recently revealed by the Peruvian newspaper, La República, citing police reports. According to Yaranga, the NFR is a descendant of the Movadef.
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The MPCP, led by the Quispe Palomino brothers, Victor, and Jorge, rely on cocaine trafficking for their criminal income, taxing coca growers and protecting shipments. The group has become more violent as it has weakened, especially since second-in-command Jorge Quispe Palomino, alias “Raúl,” was killed by the Peruvian Army in March 2021.
Security forces are not their only targets. Yaranga says they also target civilians.
“Without a doubt, it is the fiercest faction that murders…members of small communities in the Amazon under their domain, in case they are presumed to be collaborating with the armed forces or the police,” he said.