Peruvian Guerrillas Target Capital
Shining Path boosts terrorism and political infiltration in Lima in bid to overthrow state
| LIMA, PERU
IN a significant change of focus, Peru's capital city has become the prime target for terrorist attacks and infiltration by the Maoist guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), according to the Peruvian Senate commission that monitors violence.
Pacification commission chairman Enrique Bernales - who simultaneously presides over the United Nations Commission on Human Rights - released a report Jan. 15 stating that 672 acts of terrorism had taken place in Lima during 1991, the vast majority attributable to Sendero.
"Lima is now the objective and chief focus of violence in Peru," Senator Bernales says.
The impoverished communities of the high Andes have traditionally been the chief battleground for Sendero, the continent's most hard-line guerrillas. Eleven years ago, under the leadership of philosophy professor Manuel Abimael Guzman Reinoso, Sendero declared war on the Peruvian state from the mountain town of Ayacucho. It remained the movement's stronghold for more than a decade.
About 25,000 Peruvians have died so far in this war, according to Bernales, with a cost to the state estimated at more than $20 billion - virtually equivalent to Peru's total foreign debt.
Last year the number of terrorist acts nationwide dropped to 1,656 from an all-time high of 2,117 in 1989. But it would be a mistake to conclude that this indicates a comparable weakening in Sendero's strength, Bernales says. The commission rather sees a change in strategy from direct action toward "a strengthening of Sendero's political activity."
Since early 1981, Sendero has claimed to be entering the second stage of the armed struggle strategic equilibrium." This phase is characterized by a stalemate with the state's legal authorities and precedes "strategic offensive," in which the guerillas will have the upper hand.
In Lima, Sendero is concentrating on infiltration of all forms of popular organization, according to Gustavo Gorriti, an expert on Sendero. Soup kitchens in the shantytowns and the government-sponsored "glass of milk" program represent the type of community organization Sendero deems the greatest threat to the achievement of its ultimate aim - to overthrow the Peruvian state.
Increasingly, the capital is witness to the familiar Sendero tactics of selective assassination and terror employed to discourage groups and individuals who resist being co-opted or controlled.
One entire squatters' settlement, Raucana, is now administered directly by Sendero, intelligence authorities say. Only six miles from downtown Lima, it is noticeably better organized than the average shantytown, with strictly observed community regulations.
Unemployed men must labor in the mud pit to make adobe bricks; all settlers must contribute to the communal soup kitchens (which reject international food aid); and community leaders mete out public lashings to petty thieves and criminals.
"Raucana is an interesting laboratory-type experiment for Sendero where militants can learn how to exercise their control over a large group of people," Mr. Gorriti says. "I believe most of the settlers don't realize they are being ruled by Sendero - but that makes it all the more insidious."
President Alberto Fujimori has proclaimed himself confident of achieving the "pacification" of Peru before his term expires in 1995. In mid-November he promulgated a series of decrees giving the intelligence services and the Army a virtually free hand in the counter-subversive war. One decree on "national mobilization" places all Peruvians and resident foreigners, as well as all public and private services, at the disposal of the government in case of emergency.
Members of Congress from both sides of Peru's political spectrum are opposing what they call the "militarization" of the state's response to subversion. They have revoked several decrees, now to be debated in an extraordinary legislative session called for late January.
But President Fujimori claims his strategy is one of "civilianization." He has initiated a "civic action" program for the Army: Peru's soldiers are to help build roads, provide medical assistance in far-flung villages, and hand out much-needed food aid.
He has also, controversially, commenced arming Peru's rondas, civilian defense groups formed of local peasant farmers which operate in the countryside.
Official statistics now show more than 500 peasant communities with groups armed, trained, and under the operational command of the Army. Another 800 communities have organized their own ad hoc, untrained self-defense groups. And more than 1,000 other rural communities are clamoring for Army weapons and training against Sendero.
The strategy appears to be to contain Sendero's advance. Senate commission figures show the total number of peasants assassinated by Sendero dropped from 784 in 1990 to 650 last year.
But this drop in killings and other heartening statistics belie the reality of a state at war.
"Lima has to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world," says Bernales. "There is so much crime that the state has not the slightest ability to halt it."
Wherever its cause, violence has become an everyday occurrence in this impoverished nation.
"There are simply too many armed people in Peru," says Bernales. "What Peru desperately needs is a political and economic solution, not a military one."