Latin American Report
Shining Path Guerillas Back in Action
By Abraham Lama
LIMA, Jun 20 (IPS) - After being declared ''virtually annihilated'' in 1996 by President Alberto Fujimori, rebels of the Shining Path movement are operating again in the remote jungle areas of Peru.
Dissidents within the guerrilla organisation, calling themselves "Red Path" have refused to comply with the surrender call of Shining Path's founder Abimael Guzman. Since 1993 they have been holed up in remote jungle regions, staging only sporadic incursions. For the past three weeks, however, the dissident group has launched a series of high-profile attacks apparently designed to demonstrate that it is still alive and kicking.
A column of around 80 Red Path combatants appeared in the area of Alto Huallaga in Peru's central jungle region and occupied four towns for short periods. And in Viscatan, in Peru's south-central tropical mountainous region, insurgents have attacked ''peasant patrols,'' - the rural paramilitary units created and armed by the government.
Over the past week, government troops were flown by air to reinforce army posts in the area of the Huallaga river and increase the number of soldiers trying to fence in the column that attacked the four towns. Uchiza, one of the larger towns in the area was occupied on May 28 for nearly one hour by some 50 rebels, who set fire to several banks and public buildings.
A police officer and one guerrilla fighter were killed and four rebels were wounded in the confrontation while a teacher and two students, caught in the crossfire, also died. Police sources said the National Intelligence Service warned in March that rebels in Huallaga were preparing for action again and that they would ''possibly try to conduct large-scale operations to attract international attention.''
Farther south, an army detachment was sent to Viscatan, the starting-point for incursions by armed rebel groups into several highland villages in the area of Ayacucho in May and early this month. The rebel units sought out leaders of the ''peasant patrols,'' a few of whom were killed and their houses burned in a warning to local residents that anyone who provided the army with information or assistance would be killed.
According to sociologist Flavio Solorzano, an analyst with the local non-governmental organisation ''Population and Development,'' each of the two new guerrilla fronts had its own distinct purpose. ''The political leadership of the dissident group of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) which does not accept the party line of peace adopted by Guzman is in Viscatan, while the column operating in Huallaga is to carry out politically-oriented operations and obtain logistical resources,'' said Solorzano. He added that ''it can be deduced that Sendero Rojo (Red Path) is trying to recuperate its social bases in Ayacucho, where the peasant war led by Guzman broke out in 1980''
Since 1994, Viscatan has been considered the refuge of Oscar Feliciano Ramirez, known as ''comrade Feliciano,'' the only member of the Central Committee of Shining Path still at large. Ramirez heads the dissidents who have refused to agree to the surrender called for by Guzman from his prison cell.
But government spokespersons said last week that a new rebel military-political command had emerged in Huallaga, headed by Julio Flores or Filomeno Cerron - authorities are unsure which is his real name - better known as ''comrade Artemio.'' Analysts familiar with the working of the guerrilla movement said Artemio is not following Feliciano's orders, but trying to operate on his own, taking advantage of unrest among impoverished local peasants and a slight recent rise in the price of coca, the raw material of cocaine. Others, like Solorzano, believed he was only a ''regional-level commander'' who bowed to the authority of the head of Red Path.
From 1980 to 1993, the area in which Artemio is now operating was the economic base of Shining Path, which extorted or offered protection to Peruvian and Colombian drug trafficking gangs that exported a weekly average of one tonne of basic cocaine paste out of Huallaga. But the crash in the price of coca leaves and successful air interdiction efforts against clandestine flights carrying drug shipments caused traffickers to move elsewhere, leaving the insurgents without their source of cash.
In Solorzano's opinion, the new outbreak of guerrilla activity in Huallaga and Viscatan was part of a coordinated, unified political plan. Fujimori agreed and described the recent rebel operations as ''the gropings of a drowning person.''
The head of the Fourth Military Region of the Army, Gen. Percy Corrales, also maintained that insurgent operations in the region of Huallaga had been carried out by ''armed gangs that want to relaunch the business of protecting drug trafficking.'' But ''these new subversive outbreaks have scant political possibilities, and will be squashed by the army,'' he charged.
In 1993, after 13 years of warfare that caused more than 28,000 deaths and disappearances, Shining Path controlled a large area of Peru in ''liberated zones'' and undermined the authority of the central government in nearly 30 percent of the country. The apparent belief that conditions were ripe to topple the Fujimori administration led Guzman to Lima to personally head ''the final thrust,'' analysts said. Peru's intelligence services, however, work better in the capital than in the rugged mountain and remote jungle regions where Sendero had grown strong. Guzman and most of the members of the Central Committee of his organisation were captured, which triggered the near total political and military collapse of the insurgent organisation.
But Feliciano escaped to the jungles, where for three years he worked on rebuilding the cells of the group, whose demoralised militants had scattered. In 1995 he announced that he would not lay down arms as urged by the imprisoned Guzman. So far, all efforts to find and capture Feliciano have failed. He is said to be ill and under the protection of a small group of loyal followers in the tropical mountain region of Viscatan.
[LAC Editor's Note: Feliciano was successfully captured in an operation by Peruvian Marines in mid-July 1999. The dazed and ill-looking guerilla was subsequently paraded to the public on television, newspapers and other media. He is currently awaiting trial.]
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News