Who will be next? That is the question gripping members of the government of Alan Garc'ia P'erez in the wake of increasing assassinations by fanatical Maoists rebels called the Shining Path.
Key targets are members of President Garc'ia's American Popular Revolutionary Alliance Party (APRA). On Oct. 1, a Shining Path hit squad machine-gunned and then dynamited Nelson Pozo Calva, a director of the party's Lima headquarters.
Mr. Pozo, a survivor of two previous assassination attempts, was the fourth high-ranking member of the party secretariat in Lima killed by the Shining Path. In late August, rebels killed Rodrigo Franco Montes, head of the government Food Import and Distribution Agency.
Selective assassinations are part of the group's strategy to promote violence and instability. Analysts say the movement clearly lacks the popular support or military capacity necessary to take over the country. But ordinary citizens and government officials alike agree that Shining Path violence is chronic and is the nation's No. 1 problem.
Fifty-four APRA officials have been murdered since the government assumed power 24 months ago, according to government figures.
``Everyone is afraid,'' said one government official recently, adding that party members are increasingly reluctant to take on high visibility jobs. ``They are human beings with families and children. You can find their addresses in the phone book but the Shining Path is invisible. We don't know who they are.''
Government sources say they have dismantled more than a dozen hit squads operating in Lima in recent months, but the Shining Path quickly moves replace them.
In addition to targeting APRA officials, the Shining Path also marks and murders policemen, military officers, mayors, and judges. An estimated 105 civilian authorities have been murdered since August 1985.
The Shining Path began guerrilla warfare in mid-1980 by blowing up a ballot box during the first national elections after years of military rule.
But the roots of the movement go back to 1964, when a philosophy professor from the University of Ayacucho in the Andean highlands, Abimael Guzm'an, split from the Peruvian Communist Party and helped form Red Flag, Peru's first Maoist party. Unhappy with the failure of Red Flag leadership to push armed warfare, Mr. Guzm'an created the movement officially known as the Peruvian Communist Party in the Shining Path of Jos'e Carlos Mari'ategui (an influential Peruvian communist in the 1930s).
They spent the 1970s recruiting and training cadres in Andean towns and the mountainous countryside and structuring the party apparatus. Shining Path sees Peru's impoverished peasants as the principal force for the revolution, but its ranks include professionals such as teachers, sociologists, and nurses.
``A great revolution cannot avoid passing first by civil war. That is a law.'' Guerrilla documents herald this statement of Mao Tse-tung. The movement pursues a five-part plan that includes:
Propaganda and agitation.
Sabotage against the socio-economic system (bombings of electric power stations, telephone lines, bridges, community buildings).
Generalization of violence and the development of guerrilla war (selective assassinations and broader guerrillas actions).
Conquest and expansion of support bases (winning over people to support the revolution morally and financially, though they do not take up arms).
The siege of the cities leading to the total collapse of the state.
Members are organized in a tightly controlled cell structure. The cells have little contact with each other, apart from large-scale operations, making infiltration by intelligence forces difficult. Estimates of the acutal fighting force range from 1,000 to 5,000. Followers are described as extremely dogmatic and highly disciplined. A large number, including leaders, are women.
Though the movement operates out of a main base in the Andes near Ayacucho, intelligence reports now say it has solidly extended its influence to key cities in the north and south and to the capital of Lima.
Six of Peru's 24 states have been put under supervision of the military, which was sent into the Ayacucho area in late 1982 to begin counterinsurgency operations. By that time the group was firmly entrenched in the interior highlands. It now claims to have control of some 591 towns and villages. Thousands of people have migrated to Lima or to main centers in the highlands to avoid rebel and military violence.
So far, there has been no solid evidence that Shining Path is supported by a foreign country. The movement has rejected both Cuban and Soviet Marxism. Dynamite, easily available because of its use in the country's numerous mines, guns stolen from the military, and a strategy that keep authorities guessing are its main weapons.