Although many serious problems bedevil the State and society of Peru, none is more serious than the threat of Sendero Luminoso. Sendero openly strives to destroy the state and its institutions as part of its revolution. Indeed, it requires for its revolution that the Peruvian people shed rivers of blood.
Were Sendero's revolution, led by Chairman Gonzalo, a.k.a. Abimael Guzmán, to succeed in overthrowing the Government, the resulting pariah-hermit state would have to meet demands for food, health, shelter and employment that, in the modern age, cannot be met in such isolation. As a consequence, millions more could die and others become refugees with enormous suffering over an extended period. We have already seen, in Cambodia, from 1975 to 1978, what chaos results when an extremely radical Maoist group, steeped in ideology but inexperienced in government, somehow finds itself in power.
Whether one focuses, as various existing groups do, on maintaining democracy in the hemisphere, or on human rights, or on stemming the flow of cocaine into U.S. cities, Sendero's onslaught threatens to make difficult problems insoluble while raising human and economic costs. The Sendero File will help to focus on the impact and implications of Sendero in all these areas and others.
The Sendero File will provide and put into perspective a regular flow of information and analysis about the situation in Peru, gleaned from news reports, Peruvian publications, concerned organizations, independent research, and in-country reporting. As a node in an incipient, growing network, it will link up resources and contacts which are scattered and not easily accessible.
The Sendero File represents one aspect of an evolving "Project on Peru" of the Federation of American Scientists Fund. The first action was to send a delegation to Peru in mid-May to find out first hand how the Sendero was advancing. A full account will be issued in the _F.A.S. Public Interest Report_ soon. Shortly, the Project on Peru will initiate The Sendero Dossier, a series of research briefs to give timely, in-depth investigations of key issues, strategy and tactics, and underlying causes of political violence in Peru. The Sendero File aims to stimulate a public discussion concerning the threat to Peru posed by Sendero and to support and encourage those institutions and individuals inside and outside Peru that share our concern. The Sendero File invites all interested parties to send relevant information and ideas under any conditions of confidentiality.
JJS & MLS.
Sendero's urban offensive scored advances in the first half of 1992, reflecting the importance which Chairman Gonzalo has assigned to Lima and other urban areas since 1988. Sendero has intensified its use of car bombs in residential areas of Lima. More than 600 kilograms of dynamite, the largest charge so far, went off on June 5 outside a Lima TV broadcasting studio, killing three people and knocking the channel off the air. In April, four car bombs went off and May brought another six. In the past, SL had used smaller charges which knocked out windows, but caused little structural damage. The political message to Lima residents is that the streets, whether in a shanty town or a middle-class shopping district, are no longer safe.
"Security is now the number one problem for everyone," says Isabel Coral, a grass roots organizer with experience in Lima shantytowns and Ayacucho. "The state of war makes the [economic and political] crisis even worse, and people understand that." Interior Minister Army General Juan Briones hinted that the latest car bombs might come from a new terrorist organization, perhaps, an arm of an opposition party like the center-left APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance) or the mainstream left parties, striking back at Fujimori.
Behind the bombings' shockwaves, SL has stepped up its political work in Lima's poor neighborhoods. It has focused on street vendors and micro-businesses, newcomers from the Sierra — where drought, poor farm prices and violence has set loose another wave of migrants to Lima — control of shanty town organizations, and recruitment of experienced militants from other parties.
Sendero Gaining Control: Sendero has targeted its grassroots work at gaining control of communal soup kitchens, school milk programs and community health posts. This step is a striking reversal of Sendero's previous stand because it opposed all food assistance programs as an imperialist ploy to dampen revolutionary fervor in Peru. Today, one Peruvian out of four receives food assistance from international donors, like U.S. AID and the EEC.
Analysts say that this shift is due to several factors: Sendero wants to infiltrate and control grassroots survival organizations to keep them from coalescing into an opposition block against it, and it has to resolve the logistical problem of feeding an increased number of militants in Lima. The life-support system mounted by international organizations to soften the blows of the economic adjustment program may end up feeding Chairman Gonzalo's cadres.
In the most dramatic advance, Sendero gained control over the three pillar organizations of Villa El Salvador on the southern outskirts of Lima — the women's federation, the micro-business association and the assembly of community delegates (CUAVES). In February, SL assassinated a respected community leader, Maria Elena Moyano, who had been opposing SL's encroachment into urban organizations. Her murder paralyzed many other leaders, fearful that the police and army would not be able to protect them.
Five years ago, left wing politicians cited Villa El Salvador as a model of grassroots democracy and resistance to SL's appeal and proposed exporting the model to other Lima shanty towns. Now, SL has shown that these defense schemes need to be reevaluated [Quehacer 76, 34-55]. "Sendero strikes against symbols and Villa El Salvador is a paradigm of popular politics," says David Montoya, a social analyst at the DESCO research center.
Sendero's purpose at this stage is to make a dramatic leap in manpower as it shifts into guerrilla warfare's middle phase of strategic parity with the armed forces. With the breakdown of the political parties and social organizations due to Peru's economic and administrative crisis, it sees the field ripe to enlist more people into the People's Guerrilla Army. Sendero needs these reinforcements especially because of reverses in the Central Sierra.
"The urban strategy is a solution for its rural strategy getting bogged down in the countryside," says Carlos Basombrio at the Institute for Legal Defense (IDL), which follows political violence.
Sendero has suffered major setbacks in the Central Sierra, a bloodied theater of operations which has been pivotal in SL's strategy to dominate the countryside militarily. In the departments of Junin, Huancavelica, Ayacucho and Apurimac, a pragmatic coalition between the Peruvian army and peasant civil defense committees has taken away Sendero's initiative in the region for the first time in five years.
"Sendero is starting to lose the peasantry," says Enrique Obando, a Lima military analyst at the Peruvian Center for International Studies.
Because of a ruthless offensive in the Central Sierra beginning in late 1988, the bloodshed set loose an unprecedented dynamic. At first through the army's initiative and later beyond its control, peasant communities began organizing self-defense committees. Between 1988 and 1992, their numbers soared from 100 to 1400. There are now 100,000 peasants organized and armed with 12,000 weapons, mostly shotguns, according to a counterinsurgency specialist Carlos Tapia.
The Central Sierra civil defense committees were originally started in 1984 by the army, but failed repeatedly because they engaged in "seasonal pillaging" and vengeance against rival communities. This time, however, the committees have gained independence and are becoming democratic. However, not all are convinced that self-defense groups are the solution to the problem. Human rights advocates point out that the self-defense committees just increase lawlessness in the region because all parties — Sendero, the military and the civilian population — feel free to use force to achieve their ends, and any abuse can be blamed on others.
However, there are other self-defense organizations in Peru. In the Northern Sierra near the Ecuadorian border, the rondas campesinas started as a community-organized defense against cattle thieves roaming Cajamarca and Piura. There are currently 3,500 rondas campesinas operating. Their presence has kept northernmost Andes free of insurgency activity, except in urban areas.
A mounted SL column attacked the U.S.-owned Northern Peru Mining Company on May 2, killing the mine's superintendent and chief engineer. The mine is located in Quiruvilca, about 25 miles east of Trujillo, in the northern Andes. Mining sources say that NorPeru's security measures were woefully inadequate, given the high risk to foreign companies. Sendero has been active in the remote sierra further to the east since 1984.
Sources in the southern department of Puno say that Sendero has concentrated forces in a 90-man column, which can muster up to 200 combatants for an attack. Since 1984, Puno has been a strategic area for SL to compete its pan-Andean corridor. It provides easy access to Bolivia where SL can purchase contraband weapons and provide a secure site for R&R and guerrilla hospitals.
Organizations that follow events outside of Lima say that there is a marked drop in information from the provinces. It is not clear whether it is due to a decline in subversive activity or difficulties in getting information to Lima.
Police SWAT teams, backed up by army troops, retook control of two cellblocks at the Canto Grande maximum security prison after 80 hours resistance on May 9. Sendero inmates had turned their quarters into a kind of graduate school for cadres and built up defensive positions. The inmates had connected the men and women's cellblocks by tunneling through reinforced concrete so they could put up a unified defense. Numbering 660, they fought back with firearms, rudimentary bombs, crossbows, spears and knives. The inmates opposed the prison authorities' demands that they submit to being transferred to other penitentiaries.
The incident cost the lives of 47 inmates and two policemen. Peruvian human rights organizations and the independent press have reports that some inmates were killed after they had surrendered. Authorities transferred the inmates to prisons which offer far less security. SL has threatened to "annihilate ten [people] for each prisoner of war assassinated." [Caretas, May 11 and 19.]
In 1986, the repression of coordinated SL mutinies at three Lima prisons led to 256 deaths. More than 120 inmates were killed after they had surrendered.
Human rights lawyer Carlos Chipoco told the FAS Fund mission, "Canto Grande is nothing compared to what is coming." He warned that the next six months will see a major showdown between Sendero and the military.
Security forces have deprived Sendero of using national university campuses as sanctuary and recruiting ground by stationing troops there permanently. They also closed down the SL clandestine newspaper, El Diario.
President Fujimori has reiterated his promise that "the country will have peace by 1995." Independent sources doubt that he will be able to deliver on this vow because of the deep roots of insurgent groups and drug trafficking, the dire straits of the economy, and the incapacity of security forces and the government to meet the threat. However, it may increase the appeal of fighting a "dirty war."
The National Direction against Terrorism captured the main leader of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), Victor Polay, in a Lima residential neighborhood in early June. Two years ago, Polay and 46 MRTA inmates staged a spectacular escape from the Canto Grande prison. An MRTA team tunneled into the prison. Polay's capture hits MRTA at a crucial time when internal feuding has divided the guerrilla group. Its only stronghold is coca-growing San Martin department in northern Peru and scattered support in urban areas.
The prefect of Lima, Augusto Vega, has launched an initiative to set up security brigades as part of an urban civil defense system [El Peruano, June 15] A few shanty town mayors have suggested joining the issues of pacification and development together, to win more genuine backing from the population.
Military authorities have instituted a vehicle curfew which restricts transit between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., except for public transport and autos with special permits.
In May, there were 128 incidents of political violence, taking the lives of 304 people. The five-month totals for 1992 come to 1,342 killed in 711 incidents [Ideále, June 1992].
The highly polarized confrontation between President Alberto Fujimori's government and the political parties is holding back the search for political consensus on key issues, among them, counterinsurgency policy. President Fujimori's pledge to hold elections for a Democratic Constituent Congress by October 18 conflicted with a Peruvian religious festivity. Fujimori set the elections back to November 22. Municipal and regional elections which should have taken place on November 8, were postponed to March 1993. Fujimori's continual changing of the schedule for a return to full constitution rule since he dissolved Congress on April 5 has made political parties and other governments wary of his plans.
The Democratic Constituent Congress is to draft a new constitution as well as to have the power to legislate and monitor the Executive and the Judiciary. Sources close to political parties say that the opposition will probably participate in the elections, reversing a stand that required Fujimori to step down. It is yet not clear if the opposition will join in a single block or compete separately.
Reports from Lima to the The Sendero File indicate that some hard-line military commanders are disgruntled at Fujimori's concessions on elections and see the OAS supervisory role as an intervention in national sovereignty. This group of army generals thinks that no elections should be held until Sendero has been defeated. Another group of officers wants to return to democratic rule as soon as possible because of the political risk of having the Peruvian armed forces committed to a de facto regime. Retired army colonel Jose Bailetti of the Institute for National Defense Studies told FAS, "The situation is more difficult and complicated after the coup, and the armed forces are now politically engaged, whether they like it or not."
Former President Alan Garcia took political asylum in the Colombian Embassy in Lima in early June. Since the April 5 presidential coup, Garcia had been in hiding. The Fujimori government accused him of illegally holding weapons in his house and planned to reopen charges of corruption, which had been dismissed by the Supreme Court after Congress removed his presidential immunity.
Following the presidential coup, the U.S. government has given the international lead to the Organization of American States (OAS) in dealing with President Fujimori as its hands have been tied by commitments to policies, like the Andean strategy on cocaine trafficking, and the U.S. Congress's concerns about the Fujimori government's respect for human rights and democratic institutions.
To complicate bilateral relations even more, in late May, Peruvian Air Force fighter jets intercepted and fired upon a U.S. C-130 cargo plane off the Peruvian coast. The U.S. plane had flown out of Panama as a DEA overflight to monitor cocaine trafficking. A passenger was killed and two others were wounded. The incident is currently under investigation to determine its causes and responsibility.
In June, U.S. President George Bush signed into law spending cuts of $39.9 million on military assistance and training for Peru for fiscal year 1992 as part of larger cuts to Department of Defenses budget allocations. The military assistance for Peru was part of the Bush Administration's Andean anti-drug strategy. In addition, the legislation prohibits future military assistance to Peru. About $14 million in military assistance to Peru remains to be spent from FY '91 allocations. The Executive has requested $34.7 million for FY 93, but this future spending remains doubtful as long as the Fujimori government does not meet Congressional requirements for human rights, a viable anti-drug policy, and the restoration of democratically elected government.
The U.S. government suspended all assistance to Peru except for humanitarian aid after the presidential coup. Alvin Adams, currently the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, has been designated to replace Ambassador Anthony Quainton, who has been serving in Peru since 1989. His nomination is expected to go before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this fall. In another staff change, Steven McFarland is to become the chief of the political section. After serving in El Salvador and Bolivia, McFarland is returning to Peru where he earned high marks from human rights groups and politicians in the mid-1980s.
The need to underwrite major investments in public infrastructure for Peruvian development got a recent boost when the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) disbursed a first $21 million from a $210 million loan to rebuild Peru's highway infrastructure. Only 15 percent of the country's 15,700 kilometers of highways are in good shape. Following the presidential coup, multilateral lenders and the membercountry governments of the Support Group, which pulled Peru back from economic collapse, signaled their reservations about the presidential coup and suspended their backing [El Peruano, June 11]. The IDB, however, does not have authority to put Peru's borrowing on hold, but its president, Enrique Iglesias, stretched the rules to keep Peru in financial limbo until the Fujimori government gave commitments of a return to a constitutional regime.
According to a continuing study by Prisma, a non-governmental organization working on health issues in Lima, nutrition among Lima shanty town children fell to its worst level in five years. The field work was carried out in San Juan de Lurigancho district by community health workers.
The Partido Comunista del Peru (PCP), as Sendero Luminoso calls itself, has maintained international links through a scattering of support committees in the United States and Europe and an ongoing relationship with the Revolutionary International Movement (RIM), a grouping of Maoist parties and factions around the world. RIM publishes a glossy magazine, called A World to Win, in London.
In the U.S., SL has been associated with the Revolutionary Communist Party, headed by Bob Avakian. Its most visible collaboration has been the sale of pro-Sendero literature at its 10-city bookstore chain, Revolution Books. Sympathizers also painted walls in these cities and elsewhere.
In Europe, Sendero has developed contacts with other Maoist groups, especially those with ties to migrant workers. It also plays off a lingering romanticism over heroic guerrillas in third world countries, at a time when most insurgent groups are entering into mainstream politics. Sendero has an international edition of El Diario in Spanish, English and French. The paper is edited by Luis Arce, the former editor of the Lima edition, who fled Peru in 1989 and now resides in Brussels, Belgium. Bill Tupman, a British expert on China and international terrorism, says, "Sendero Luminoso is quite right. The young revolutionary has only one place to run to. Maoism gives people something to do... I see it coming back in a big way. Maoism has all the bits of popular appeal: a step-by-step guide to action, a sophisticated model for the study of revolutionary struggle in your own country." [Simon Strong, "Where the Shining Path Leads," The New York Times Magazine, May 24, 1991 and other reports]
New Books and Articles: The Shining Path of Peru (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992), edited by David Scott Palmer, contains 13 essays written by scholars, journalists and development consultants who have followed Sendero's steps over the past 25 years. In his introduction, Palmer writes, "Should SL beat the odds and succeed after all, it will do so by running against the grain of theories of revolution once again. That is to say, a Sendero victory would probably not result from the collapse of the Peruvian government or society or from the upsurge of popular support. Rather it would come about primarily through Shining Path's superior strategy and tactics for waging revolution." [p. 13-14]
From the Sierra to the Cities: The Urban Campaign of the Shining Path (Rand Corporation, 1992) is the latest analysis by Gordon McCormick. It focuses on Sendero's shift towards operating in Lima: "This strategy would not end with Sendero 'taking Lima,' which the magnitude of the problem and its own relative weakness would be unlikely to permit it to do, but with the creation of the conditions of political disintegration." [p. vii]
Carlos E. Paredes and Jeffrey D. Sachs, eds., Peru's Path to Recovery: A Plan for Economic Stabilization and Growth (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1991) maps out the economic dilemmas facing Peru and proposes policy options. The editors note the dramatic shrinkage of the Peruvian state by writing, "Present levels of per capita government spending have declined by 83 percent from a peak of $1,059 per person in 1975 to $178 in 1990 (in 1990 dollars)." [p. 2]
Gustavo Gorriti was interviewed extensively in the June 25 issue of The New York Review of Books. "The Shining Path has acted with a combination of what could be called tactical simplicity and strategic sophistication. Since the war began in 1980 it has had long-range goals, and has taken immediate, specific action, all carefully, centrally planned by Guzman and the politiburo he dominates." [p. 20] Gorriti also narrates his experience of being detained by military intelligence during the Fujimori coup in The New Republic, May 4.
Spanish: Peru Hoy: En el oscuro sendero de la guerra (Lima: Instituto de Defensa Legal, 1992) is the latest edition of an annual series which summarizes events, trends and analysis on political violence in Peru over a 12-month period. It is a useful reference in Spanish. Referring to SL's claim to have reached a "strategic parity" with government forces, the authors state, "In effect, Sendero Luminoso believes it is able to continue consolidating its military, political and administrative authority in this stage while ungovernability, economic crisis, militarization of political power, extreme poverty, corruption, institutional crisis take hold in the country. The 'new power' will arise as the `old order' continues to crumble." [p.67]
Previous yearly editions were Peru 1989: en la espiral de la violencia, and Peru 1990: la oportunidad perdida. The Instituto also brings out a monthly magazine, Ide‚le, which focuses on political violence and the response of the government and society. Contact: IDL, Toribio Polo 248, Lima 18, Peru.
Seminars, Past and Future: The North-South Center held a seminar, "The Peruvian Crisis: International Response and Internal Reaction," on May 28-29 at the University of Miami in Florida. The conference drew prominent Peruvian politicians, academics and journalists who discussed the roles to be played by political parties, civilian institutions and the armed forces in the transition back to a fully democratic government, following the Fujimori coup. (Attended by the FAS Project on Peru.)
The U.S. Army War College held a one-day roundtable discussion on "Strategy For Peru: A Political-Military Dialogue" in June. The focus was on recent political events and the response of the U.S. government. (Attended by the FAS Project on Peru.)
The U.S. Institute of Peace will hold a conference, called "Dialogues on Conflict Resolution: Bridging Theory and Practice," in Washington, D.C. on July 13-15. Peru will be one of five case studies with workshops and plenary discussions.