|September 12, 1995; Page 1
Peru's 'Shining Path' Flares Up
By Eric J. Lyman/ Special to The Christian Science Monitor
CALLAO, PERU—Perhaps like the Shining Path insurgency, the doors
leading into the plain prison building at the Callao naval base near
Lima are simple, but deceptively strong.
Inside the Callao naval base is the small room where the man who
aspired to bring a socialist revolution to this country will be held
for the rest of his life. Captured three years ago today, Shining Path
(Sendero Luminoso) leader Abimael Guzman Reynoso is now sickly and
thin, his skin pale from lack of sunlight (he reportedly gets one hour
of light a day to read or exercise).
Guards say that this brilliant former university professor who eluded
authorities for a dozen years is becoming dim-witted: rather than books
of philosophy, he now reads Tom & Jerry and Archie comic books.
But is Shining Path, the Maoist guerrilla organization Mr. Guzman
founded in 1960 that has been responsible for 30,000 deaths in the last
15 years, similarly faltering?
A New Rebellion
Six months ago, most observers said the Shining Path movement was
itself all but dead. Its activities were limited to a few odd bombings
or maneuvers in remote jungle areas. The force that had once terrorized
the nation had shriveled to less than a fifth of its former size.
During elections earlier this year, President Alberto Fujimori, who had
recorded high approval ratings on the strength of severely pruning back
terrorist violence, promised to have the group wiped out by his July 28
As if on cue, the group again rose up violently.
After a two-year absence in Lima, the Shining Path bombed a major
tourist hotel and casino in May, killing four and injuring 40. A month
later, the house of the Congress's vice president was bombed. Then a
police substation was strafed and a water tower destroyed.
Guzman's successor, Oscar Ramirez Duran - best known as Comrade
Feliciano - has vowed to continue the fight. In the provinces, a small
town was occupied overnight, columns of soldiers were attacked and
nearly 350 people killed between April and July in more than
By June, Mr. Fujimori had backed away from his promise to eliminate the
''The Shining Path isn't what it once was, and it may never be, but it
can still cause a great deal of trouble and, more importantly, there's
a lot of potential for much more than that,'' says Lima political
scientist Gerard Maton, an expert on the group.
Like most experts, Mr. Maton attributes the group's early successes,
starting in 1980, to the government's failure to take the terrorist
For many years, he says, the group that was founded at an obscure
agrarian university near the Andean town of Ayacucho limited its
influence to mountain areas. In 1990, the group made its most serious
and successful push for power. Within two years, signature car bombs
were regular occurrences in the best parts of Lima, and many predicted
the government's imminent collapse.
When Guzman was captured late in 1992, Lima's streets flooded with
joyful Peruvians who saw the capture as the beginning of the end of the
violence. And the violence did slow considerably. The death toll, 3,101
in 1992, dropped to 646 last year - a number that may have already been
surpassed this year.
But in the streets of many of the Shining Path's mountain strongholds,
buildings are freshly painted with slogans such as ''Long live the
people's party! Long live the armed struggle!''
Many say that the Shining Path, which, according to local news reports,
has recently stepped up its recruiting campaign in many poorer areas,
can only be completely eliminated with an improved economy.
That is just beginning to happen. President Fujimori, who took office
in 1990, is credited with major improvements in a country on the brink
of economic collapse. In 1992, inflation was above 7,000 percent. This
year, it's projected to be 13 percent.
But Peru has a long way to go. Almost half of its 23 million
inhabitants still live in poverty.
''Kids who were five in 1980 are 20 now, and they've lived their whole
lives poor, hungry, and in a state of war,'' says retired Gen. Sinecio
Jarama, who was charged at one time with fighting the insurgency.
The Next Generation
Young rebels are ready In Ayacucho, the Andean birthplace of Shining
Path, the revolution still shines as brightly as ever in the eyes of
two young foot soldiers.
Cousins German and Eder, who gave only their first names, say the day
will come when the leaders of their movement will sit in power. The two
agreed to talk briefly in a small restaurant near the center of
''The government here and now is forgetting almost all of Peru,'' says
Eder. ''The people who aren't in Lima, who aren't in positions of
power, it's as if to the government they aren't even in Peru.''
''It's easy to find people not pleased with the government,'' he says.
''Just ask a campesino [peasant] how [Fujimori] has helped him. Is he
better off now? Can his children find good jobs in the cities? When you
hear 'no,' that means the revolution [is coming].''
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