On 23rd May 2021, a splinter group from the Shining Path killed 16 people in the Valley of the Rivers Apurimac Ene and Matero (VRAEM). Reportedly, pamphlets were found next to the bodies, warning people not to vote in the presidential election on 6 June.
Who are the Shining Path?
The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) is the remnant of a Maoist guerrilla group formed in the 1960s by Abimael Guzmán, a university philosophy professor. It formed as a breakaway faction from the Peruvian Communist Party (PCP). By the 1980s, the group had gained more than 500 members and became one of the most callous terrorist groups in the Western Hemisphere, renowned for its insurgency against the Peruvian government, which almost caused total governmental collapse.
The group employed terror tactics including selective assassinations, ambushes and bombing campaigns. They posed a particular threat due to their range of operations and their capacity to appeal to components of the legal left. This, in hand with the government’s inability to stop the group and provide for the basic needs of its citizens, enhanced the groups success.
In the 1990s the government set out to combat the group, killing many militants and capturing Guzman, sentencing him to life in prison. During this internal conflict an estimated 70,000 people died. Following Guzman’s arrest, group membership rapidly deteriorated and the group split. The Huallaga faction, which was loyal to Guzman, ended once the leader, Comrade Artemio, was captured and admitted defeat in 2011. The remnant active group, also known as the Central Committee of the Militarised Communist Party of Peru is led by brothers Victor and Jorge Quispe Palomino. These current groups have lost much of their ideological foundations and have turned the guerrillas into a criminal gang.
The Existing Threat
The most recent attacks occurred in the Valley of the Rivers Apurimac, Ene and Matero (VRAEM), a remote, mountainous jungle area with little police presence. This is where the remaining Shining Path members hide and reside.
This is a strategic position for the group as the area is renowned for producing the majority of Peru’s coca, the raw ingredient of cocaine, which has caused the Shining Path to resort to drug related activities and to cooperate with local drug-trafficking groups to control the trade. The group has continuously deteriorated over the years, with it now becoming more renowned as a criminal group through drug-trafficking and production activities helping to maintain operations and carry out attacks.
In 2015, the Peruvian army rescued 39 hostages from a farm where the Shining Path held them as slaves for many years. However, there are still nearly 200 people held under captivity. A consequent army raid caused the group to retaliate on a Peruvian Army base, on 5 August 2015, killing one soldier and wounding two others.
Whilst the Shining Path is diminished, the recent attacks show the group is still capable of operating, carrying out dangerous attacks on civilians and posing a threat to development in some regions. Given the unexpected recent attacks, the government responded by sending security personnel into the region to ensure the group’s destruction. However, given the group’s alliances with drug traffickers, its ability to maintain the hold of territory and to resist years of military operations that seek to terminate the group, their termination is problematic. Therefore, they still pose a regional risk of violence, crime and instability.
Travel to the VRAEM region is not recommended due to the group’s ongoing activity in the area combined with drug-trafficking and poor infrastructure which limits the effectiveness of law enforcement and security personnel in the region. This allows the Shining Path to operate relatively freely within the region and to continue to pose a regional threat.
Flora Hawthorn, Security Analyst
The TRIP Group