Where's the `Shining Path' To Growth and Peace?

PERU'S presidential election on April 8 produced no clear winner. Mario Vargas Llosa, a 54-year-old novelist representing the center-right Democratic Front, received 31 percent of the vote, and Alberto Fujimori, a 51-year-old former rector of Lima's Agrarian University, of the centrist Change 90, captured 29 percent of the vote. A runoff election will be held by June 3. Whoever wins the election will lead a country of 22 million plagued by the ``TEN'' ills: Terrorism, Economy, and Narcotics. The economy of Peru is flat on its back after President Alan Garc'ia P'erez of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA) party, who was elected in 1985, led it down a road of mismanagement and overspending that caused its worst crisis of the century.

The average Peruvian's standard of living has dropped 50 percent since 1985. Only 20 percent of the nation's population is fully employed. In 1989, gross national product per capita fell 14.2 percent, and inflation shot up to 2,775 percent. Monthly inflation is now at 30 percent. Peru's currency, the inti, has lost 70 percent of its value to the dollar since February. In the past 12 months, real wages have decreased 60 percent.

As if that weren't enough, the population is caught between guerrilla insurgencies and indiscriminate military reprisals.

Most of Peru is under a state of emergency. Terrorism has left a toll of 18,000 dead since 1980, plus $16 billion worth of damage. In 1989, political killings jumped 60 percent to 3,198. So far this year, terrorist violence has claimed 900 lives.

The main guerrilla movement is the Maoist Shining Path, which launched its rebellion in 1980, when Peru returned to a democratically elected government after 12 years of military rule. It has spread from the southern Andes to the coastal cities, especially Lima, the capital. Last year, the Shining Patch executed 696 political candidates, public officials, soldiers, policemen, and rural peasants.

The Shining Path wants to create a worker-peasant communist state based on the ideas of Mao Zedong, but it has been unable to gain widespread support among Peru's peasants. In fact, peasants have organized village defense groups against the Shining Path. On March 1, 200 peasants ambushed 20 Shining Path rebels near Cochas, a highland village. Using machetes, sickles, lances, and homemade shotguns, the peasants overpowered the better-armed guerrillas, killing nine of them.

The Shining Path refuses to negotiate with the government or, for that matter, recognize its elections: Nearly 500 local mayors and aldermen have had to resign their offices because of death sentences by the Shining Path. However, on election day, despite the Shining Path's death threats and attacks, most of Peru's 9.8 million registered voters went out to vote.

The other rebel group is the pro-Castro Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), which made its debut in 1983. It has gone from Lima to compete with the Shining Path for territory in the Upper Huallaga Valley, where half of the cocaine consumed in the US comes from.

Besides guerrilla insurgencies, there is also a death squad, the Rodrigo Franco Command (CRF), which made its appearance in 1988. It is widely believed to have links with government officials. The MRTA and CRF have accounted for 20 percent of the terrorist incidents in Peru over the past 18 months.

With Peru's economy in a state of collapse, producing coca, the raw material of cocaine, has become the biggest generator of foreign exchange. Peru's central bank absorbs the $1.2 billion that is generated annually from the coca trade, which helps the country in its balance of payments.

In the Upper Huallaga Valley, US demand for cocaine has led to coca acreage expanding 10 percent per year to the current 250,000 acres. More than 200,000 families now depend on coca-leaf cultivation for a living. Growing coca earns peasant farmers 10 times more than any other crop. Not surprisingly, eradicating coca is not a concern for most Peruvians.

The coca leaves are processed into raw paste and sold to Colombian traffickers, who arrive daily in small planes. In return for providing protection to the coca farmers, the Shining Path taxes the traffickers' shipments of coca paste at a rate of 5 percent, which brings it $60 million a year.

Ironically, as the Drug Enforcement Administration pressures Peru to eradicate coca, the Treasury Department pressures it to pay off its $17 billion debt, which is paid with coca dollars. Peru will receive $73 million from the US during fiscal year 1990 to fight the war on drugs. Until Peru is given US aid for economic building, its problems will only get more motley.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Where's the `Shining Path' To Growth and Peace?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today