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Latin America Blog

Peru captures rebel leader. Is this the end of the Shining Path?

President Ollanta Humala declared the Maoist guerrilla group is no longer a threat after the capture of Comrade Artemio, reports guest blogger Hannah Stone.

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He left no clear successor. Gustavo Gorriti, of IDL-Reporteros, told El Comercio that most of Artemio’s comrades are much younger than the commander, who claims to be 47 year old, and that he was the only one with the authority and experience to lead the group.

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The arrest very likely does mean the end for Artemio’s faction of the Shining Path, which is based in the Upper Huallaga region of northern Peru. This group, directly descended from, and still loyal to, founder Abimael Guzman, was already weak before Artemio fell. In December the commander gave interviews to the media in which he admitted that the Shining Path had been militarily defeated, and that, though the group’s political aims remained the same, armed struggle was no longer possible. He called for talks with the government, with the aim of his faction demobilizing and “disabling” their weapons.

The other remaining faction, based in the the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) region further south, operates independently, and some analysts say (in English) it has completely transformed into a drug trafficking organization. The Huallaga-based faction perpetuated this idea. Artemio said he rejected and condemned the rival group, and his forces handed out leaflets accusing them of being anti-Maoists and anti-revolutionaries. Shining Path founder Guzman has also repudiated the VRAE faction, calling them mercenaries.

However, it would be a mistake to completely discard the ideological element of the VRAE-based faction. There are still reports of them carrying out political indoctrination of their recruits, and doing political work and propaganda. Víctor Quispe Palomino, alias “Comrade Jose,” who leads the faction along with his brother, was a member of the Shining Path from a young age, and came from a family that was connected closely to the group. Far from abandoning the Maoist rhetoric, they claim to be the true exponents of the Shining Path’s struggle, and have turned against Guzman, declaring him an enemy of the people.

The VRAE are far stronger militarily than the Huallaga group and have been putting up a tougher fight against the armed forces; they have not asked the government for any truce.

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