One of the world's most secretive guerrilla groups, Sendero Luminoso, is striking out in a bolder, more provocative campaign to promote its Maoist brand of revolution in Peru. The killing of an American agricultural adviser and his Peruvian colleague earlier this week seems the result of the insurgency's new emphasis on such bolder tactics. Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) had never before deliberately targeted an American.
While continuing to sabotage major economic targets and murder government officials, it has begun to carry on public demonstrations in the capital, infiltrate labor unions, and attempt to broaden its appeal to the middle class. In the past eight years, Sendero's insurgency has led to the death of more than 10,000 guerrillas, civilians, and government troops and officials.
As Sendero becomes more provocative, there is increased concern about how it can be fought within the limits of democracy. The military as well as prominent right-wing sectors have been pushing for tougher government action, and there have been repeated calls to introduce capital punishment for terrorists.
The government has said it will announce a new series of tough measures to fight terrorism later this month. Last month, President Alan Garc'ia P'erez raised the possibility of declaring a state of siege. More than 60 percent of the country is already under a state of emergency that gives the military control over security.
``The problem is that the government does not want to recognize there is a war going on,'' one military officer said. ``There is still time for us to win, but if Sendero keeps on expanding in the labor unions, there will come a point that we won't be able to stop them.''
Last week's police occupation of San Marcos University, the country's largest, is being seen as a sign of tougher government action to come. The university is considered a hotbed for Sendero indoctrination and recruitment. Police intervened there even though universities in Latin America are considered autonomous and neutral territory.
Although authorities have made gains in dismantling rebel cells here, they concede that the movement has a psychological edge in the war launched eight years ago in the Andean highlands.
The government gained back a bit of the initiative this week by capturing a man the police claim is Sendero Luminoso's second in command. Osm'an Morote Barrionuevo was caught in a surprise attack early Sunday morning in downtown Lima.
At a Tuesday press conference, the police said Mr. Morote was apparently in Lima to plan a series of attacks for the second anniversary, this Sunday, of a prison massacre in which the military killed more than 250 rebel suspects. Dynamite, blueprints for the nearby courthouse and the government palace, propaganda, and sociological studies of northern Peru were also reported found.
Sendero's increasing public profile, apparently aimed at provoking government repression, became more evident last month when hundreds of Sendero militants marched through downtown streets on a quiet Sunday tossing dynamite, waving flags, and chanting revolutionary slogans. Before the police arrived on the scene, the guerrillas dispersed into the large crowd, making it impossible for the police to identify them.
About the same time, Sendero members destroyed sugar refining machinery worth millions of dollars and burned the country's most important cotton-processing center.
The guerrillas have caused an estimated $5 billion worth of damage in the past eight years through attacks on power stations, factories, banks, and government offices and projects.
Meanwhile, Sendero keeps expanding its control in the countryside, despite the presence of the military and police, through a calculated campaign of terror.
The situation in Aucayacu, a town of 10,000 about 330 miles northeast of Lima, is typical. As in many small towns and villages in the interior, Sendero has set up its own organizations parallel to the state's, forcing those who do not participate to leave or die.
``Sendero controls everyone here,'' a teacher in the town said. ``They choose people and give them orders. If they don't do what they say, [Sendero] kills them.''
Part of Sendero's control includes a strict campaign of moralization that forbids theft, adultery, and drug use. People are afraid of Sendero, but they admit that the movement has cut down on a number of longstanding abuses by local authorities.
Sendero, thought to number an estimated 5,000 guerrillas with thousands of supporters, continues to appeal mostly to the young and the poor. The guerrillas offer them the possibility of immediate action for change. Government efforts to provide more assistance to underdeveloped areas have been hamstrung by bureaucracy, corruption, a lack of cash, and the violence.