Armed Conflicts, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

PERU: Military Planning Major Attack on Guerrillas

Ángel Páez

LIMA, May 19 2010 (IPS) - Peru’s armed forces are gearing up for an unprecedented offensive against a surviving faction of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) Maoist guerrilla organisation, which began an armed struggle to seize power in the country 30 years ago.

The new counterinsurgency strategy has been designed by a group of Israeli military advisers, led by Israel Ziv, a retired Israel defence forces brigadier general and the founder of Global CST, a private security firm based in Petah Tikva, Israel, which also provides consultancy services to the armed forces of Colombia.

“Elite military teams have been trained, the intelligence and communication system has been upgraded, night vision equipment has been purchased, and it has been decided to buy new Mi-17 transport helicopters and Mi-25 gunship helicopters,” Peruvian joint command sources told IPS.

“This means the war is definitely entering a new phase,” the sources said.

The remnant of Sendero operates in the valley of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, known as the VRAE region — an area of rough terrain in the south of the country comprising mountains with altitudes up to 3,500 metres above sea level and dense tropical jungles.

The leader of the Senderista group in the VRAE region is Víctor Quispe, who was born in Chuschi, a town in the southern Peruvian region of Ayacucho.

And it was in fact in Chuschi where Sendero Luminoso launched their armed struggle three decades ago.

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that investigated the 1980-2000 armed conflict, 69,000 people were killed, most of them small farmers murdered by the Senderistas in reprisal for not joining their side of the conflict.

In the Huallaga river valley located in the jungle regions of Huánuco and San Martín where large amounts of coca are grown, there is another, larger, Senderista group. But the authorities regard it as basically a drug trafficking organisation, so the task of dismantling it has been entrusted to the police.

Quispe is the son of one of the founders of Sendero Luminoso, and part of his early education was in schools run by the guerrillas.

He was preceded as commander of the Senderistas in the VRAE region by Óscar Ramírez, the head of the group’s central regional committee based in Ayacucho, who took over the guerrilla leadership after Abimael Guzmán, the original commander of Sendero Luminoso, was captured in 1992, along with most of the members of the Central Committee.

Guzmán is serving a life sentence, and Ramírez was arrested in1999.

Peruvian journalist Gustavo Gorriti, who covered the civil war and is the author of a key book about the guerrilla organisation, “Sendero: Historia de la guerra milenaria en el Peru” (The Shining Path: A History of the Millenarian War in Peru), published in 1999, said that although Quispe says he is continuing the armed struggle started by Guzmán, his methods are different, and he is no longer attacking the civilian population.

Asked whether, in these circumstances, Sendero Luminoso is a present danger, Gorriti said “tactically and regionally, yes. It has better weapons, more firepower, better food supplies and logistics, and detailed knowledge of the VRAE region because it has been there for many years.

“But strategically and politically, no, because it has confined itself to the VRAE area, where it has settled down comfortably with the support of the local people and money from various quarters, including drug trafficking. From the political point of view, its influence is very weak,” he said.

Coca growers and others involved in the cocaine production chain make up Sendero’s main support base in the VRAE region.

According to the latest census in 2007, the region of Ayacucho has the third largest population with incomes below the poverty line (over 427,000 people) and the second largest number living in extreme poverty (229,000 people).

On Sept. 2, 2009, Quispe’s guerrilla group shot down a Mi-17 helicopter, killing three soldiers, near Sinaycocha, the northern gateway to the VRAE region. That was when the armed forces joint command reviewed its strategy, with advice from Global CST’s Ziv.

What are the military’s chances of completely disbanding Sendero Luminoso? “The main enemy is drug trafficking,” retired general Roberto Chiabra, former defence minister in the government of president Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) and former army chief (2005), told IPS.

“Sendero Luminoso no longer kills local people and authorities because they are all living off the drug trade. If the problem were simply Sendero Luminoso, the solution would be purely military. But that’s not the case,” he said.

Above and beyond the joint command’s counterinsurgency results in the VRAE region, the impact of Sendero on the country’s history is still under analysis in Peru.

Sociologist Raúl González, an expert on the guerrilla organisation, said that Sendero has prompted substantial changes in Peruvian politics.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that Sendero changed the direction in which Peru was heading. Its advent had a negative impact not only on the economy, but also in political and social terms. It accelerated a crisis in the political parties and the trade unions, and it also held back the development of the left,” said González.

“At the same time, it fuelled the advancement and growth of the most conservative and authoritarian sectors of Peruvian society,” he said.

In his view, “the emergence of Sendero explains why political outsiders and independent candidates are winning elections, as well as why the political parties are weak and discredited. And in turn, these two factors explain why unscrupulous and corrupt persons have made so much headway in this country.”

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