The Shining Path or the Militarized Communist Party of Peru (Militarizado Partido Comunista de Peru - MPCP) is the last remnant of Peru’s guerrilla movement from the end of the 20th Century. Although the group is in decline, it still maintains influence in the VRAEM due to its drug trafficking alliances.
On May 23, 2021, a splinter group from the Shining Path reportedly killed 16 people in the VRAEM and left behind pamphlets warning people not to vote in presidential elections scheduled for June 6, and especially not to vote for right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori.
The Communist Party of Peru - Shining Path (PCP-SL), was formed in 1970 as a breakaway faction from the Peruvian Communist Party (PCP). It had only a few dozen members, led by Abimael Guzman, a philosophy professor at the University of Ayacucho who had visited China and was deeply influenced by the ideas of Mao Zedong. Guzman believed communism required the waging of a "popular war" and criticized members of the PCP who merely wanted to organize the workers.
By 1980 his group had grown to more than 500 members, and was ready to declare war on the Peruvian state, burning several ballot boxes in a small town in Ayacucho province in May, the day before national elections. The group continued to carry out attacks, particularly on police stations, and, in December 1982, the army was sent into the region to fight them.
Though the Shining Path remained small, with around 3,000 members at the peak of its power in 1990, it was responsible for the majority of the victims of the war that followed -- the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that it killed some 31,000 people between 1980 and 2000. The group's methods were particularly brutal, including stoning victims to death, or placing them in boiling water. The Shining Path carried out massacres of peasant communities perceived as being against their struggle, as well as attacking the security forces and other representatives of the state. They quickly gained ground, and were present across vast swathes of Peru by the end of the 1980s.
The tide of the war began to turn when Alberto Fujimori took office in 1990, and launched an assault on the rebels, which included locking up and torturing suspected sympathizers, as well as arming Peasant Patrols (Rondas Campesinas), which were rural self-defense forces who fought the guerrillas.
Guzman was captured in a Lima dance studio in 1992, and later called on his followers to make a peace deal with the government. This precipitated a break in the group, with rebels based in the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM) region declaring Guzman to be a traitor, while another group, based further north in the Huallaga Valley, remained loyal.
The Shining Path’s activity died down significantly until the mid-2000s, when there was a resurgence, including attacks on multinational corporations, particularly from the VRAEM branch.
The Shining Path no longer presents a serious threat to the stability of the Peruvian state, but the guerrillas' continued activities continue to pose a challenge for the government. The Huallaga faction, however, is thought to have been drastically weakened since the capture of its leader, Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, alias "Comrade Artemio," in 2012. He was the last leader in the field who remained loyal to Guzman. Now there is no link between the rebels still in the field and the high commanders in prison.
While the remnants of the Shining Path continue to espouse a Maoist ideology and to launch attacks on security forces, they now prefer to identify themselves as the Militarized Communist Party of Peru (Militarizado Partido Comunista del Perú - MPCP) in order to distance themselves from the history of the guerrilla and receive greater support from the rural farming communities.
The guerrillas' primary revenue sources are offering protection and escort services for drug traffickers. The government describes the group in the VRAEM as nothing more than a drug gang, the situation is more complicated -- this faction continues to carry out propaganda activity and attacks on the security forces independent of protecting the drug business.
On August 11, 2013, Peruvian officials announced the deaths of Orlando Alejandro Borda Casafranca, alias "Alipio," and Marco Antonio Quispe Palomino, alias "Gabriel," the number two and number four, respectively, of the VRAEM branch of the Shining Path. Alipio was the military head of the faction, and Gabriel was the brother of VRAEM faction leader Victor Quispe Palomino, known as "Comrade Jose."
It appears both were killed by security forces during an operation in which a drug trafficker participated. The drug trafficker, who provided the group with logistical support, had become a police informant. Tarcela Loya Vilchez, alias "Olga," became the second in command, taking the place of Alipio while another of Comrade José’s brothers, Jorge, alias “Comrade Raúl,” took charge of the political and ideological aspects of the organization.
In 2008, the Army’s VRAEM Special Command was created as part of a militarization strategy in the fight against drugs and the Shining Path. Eleven years after the implementation of this program, it has still not achieved its objectives and for this reason current presidency of Martín Vizcarra has opted to try a new policy known as the VRAEM 2021 Strategy. The president has called for “pacifying” the country through an intervention in the VRAEM that combines military efforts with crop eradication, economic development, and poverty eradication programs.
In March 2021, Jorge Quispe Palomino was killed in a military operation.
The massacre of 16 people in May 2021 near the village of San Miguel del Ene marks a major return to violent actions by the Shining Path and is likely to be met with a swift response from the government.
Founder of the guerrilla group Abimael Guzman, alias “Gonzalo,” was captured in 1992, causing a division with the group. The Huallaga faction, led by Florindo Eleuterio Flores, alias “Comandante Artemio,” now in prison, remained loyal to Guzmán; the other faction in the VRAEM, led by the Quispe Palomino brothers, headed by Víctor, alias “Camarada José,” with his brother Jorge, also known as “Raúl” as second in command.
Víctor Quispe Palomino was declared responsible by the Peruvian Army for the May 23, 2021 massacre carried out by Shining Path members in the VRAEM.
Currently, the remnant group of the Shining Path finds itself in a narrow but strategic drug trafficking corridor between the departments of Junín, Ayacucho and Huancavelica in the VRAEM, the country’s main drug producing region. The base of the Quispe Palomino brothers is in Vizcatán, in the heart of the jungle of the VRAEM, a strategic location for controlling key drug trafficking routes towards Brazil and Bolivia.
Allies and Enemies
At the beginning of the first decade of the 2000s, the Shining Path established links with the Colombian FARC guerrilla group, from whom they learned some war tactics, like the use of rocket launchers to shoot down military airplanes. Currently, the Shining Path has alliances and businesses with local drug trafficking clans from the VRAEM.
In May 2021, Peru's President Francisco Sagasti ordered the deployment of armed forces into the VRAEM in response to the massacre of at least 16 people in San Miguel del Ene.
Although the Shining Path has announced a new strategy for seizing power in anticipation of the 2021 Bicentennial, it is very unlikely that it manages to do so as it does not have the military or economic strength to do so.
The Shining Path has steadily weakened over the years. But its alliances with drug traffickers, control of strategic territories in the VRAEM and the resilience to years of military operations show that putting an end to this organization will not be an easy task for state security forces.
The surprising massacre of at least 16 people in May 2021, attributed to the Shining Path, is certain to see a swift response from authorities and a crackdown in the VRAEM.