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Sendero Luminoso (SL)
Shining Path

Many analysts believe that Sendero Luminoso [SL], and its expanding connections with drug trafficking, is Peru's primary security threat. There is continuing debate about whether SL has abandoned its ideological struggle and become just another narco-trafficking group, or rather adapted its approach to the historical realities of the day while maintaining its essentially political goals. The Government estimates that from 1980 to 1995, the Shining Path’s terrorist activities led to the deaths of approximately 31,300 people. By other estimates, the war left 70,000 dead from 1980 to 2000.

The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso or SL) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on October 8, 1997. Sendero Luminoso is also known as Ejercito Guerrillero Popular (People’s Guerrilla Army); EGP; Ejercito Popular de Liberacion (People’s Liberation Army); EPL; Partido Comunista del Peru (Communist Party of Peru); PCP; Partido Comunista del Peru en el Sendero Luminoso de Jose Carlos Mariategui (Communist Party of Peru on the Shining Path of Jose Carlos Mariategui); Socorro Popular del Peru (People’s Aid of Peru); SPP.

On 22 November 2016 the US Department of State designated Victor Quispe Palomino, Jorge Quispe Palomino, and Tarcela Loya Vilchez as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which imposes sanctions on foreign persons and groups determined to have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States. As a result of these designations, all property subject to U.S. jurisdiction in which Victor Quispe Palomino, Jorge Quispe Palomino, or Tarcela Loya Vilchez have any interest is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with these individuals.

Victor and Jorge Quispe Palomino were designated on June 1, 2015 by the Department of the Treasury as specially designated narcotics traffickers under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. The two brothers are also the subjects of U.S. indictments from 2014. The U.S. Department of State is currently offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Victor Quispe Palomino.

Victor Quispe Palomino leads the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group the Shining Path. Palomino has participated in Shining Path terrorist operations since the 1980s, when he admitted to taking part in the April 1983 massacre of 69 men, women and children in Lucanamarca, Peru. Palomino’s ultimate goal is to overthrow the government of Peru, and he calls the U.S. the principal enemy.

Jorge Quispe Palomino leads the Shining Path with his brother Victor Quispe Palomino. He has participated in and directed multiple Shining Path attacks, including an October 2014 attack in Ayacucho, Peru that killed two police officers.

Tarcela Loya Vilchez is a Shining Path leader in charge of the military and ideological training of children. In May 2014, Vilchez was known to be training a group of 30 new Shining Path members who would serve as reinforcements in the group’s terrorist operations.

SL operated primarily in the Apurimac, Ene, and Montaro River Valley (VRAEM), an area that accounts for half of Peru’s total cocaine production. The organization was significantly weakened by an August 2013 operation conducted by a joint military-police task force in the VRAEM that resulted in the deaths of two of the SL’s top operational leaders, Alejandro Borda Casafranca (also known as Comrade Alipio) and Martin Quispe Palomino (also known as Comrade Gabriel).

The government reported that through October 2014, the Shining Path conducted 18 terrorist acts, resulting in the deaths of two soldiers and two civilians, as well as injuries to six soldiers, seven civilians, and one police officer. This was a significant drop from the estimated 50 attacks the group conducted in 2013. The incidents occurred in the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro River Valleys (VRAEM) emergency zone, which includes parts of Ayacucho, Cusco, Huancavelica, Huanuco, and Junin regions (see section 1.g.). A separate emergency zone in the Upper Huallaga Valley (UHV) includes parts of San Martin and Ucayali regions. On 11 September 2014, the government decreed a new emergency zone in Loreto region due to drug trafficking activity.

In 2015, SL constituted a localized and declining threat and maintained a low profile with dwindling membership. SL’s area of activity and influence was confined to the special military emergency zone known as the Apurimac, Ene, and Mantaro River Valley (VRAEM). SL is involved in all logistical aspects of drug trafficking in this area. SL committed 13 terrorist attacks in 2015, in comparison to 20 terrorist acts in 2014 and 49 in 2013. In 2015, SL attacks and operations resulted in the deaths of two soldiers and three civilians; seven members of the security forces were also wounded in action. In two separate operations, security forces rescued 54 people, including 37 children, held by SL.

Membership was unknown but was once estimated to be 400 to 500 armed militants. SL's strength has been vastly diminished by arrests and desertions but appears to be growing again, possibly due to involvement in narcotrafficking. By 2014 Peruvian officials estimated that SL consisted of approximately 100 fighters. Estimates of SL’s strength vary, but by 2015 most experts and the Peruvian military assessed SL to number 250 to 300 combatants, of which 60-100 are hardcore fighters.

SL's Area of Operation is Peru, with most activity in rural areas, specifically the Huallaga Valley and the Apurimac, Ene, and Montaro River Valley of central Peru. It is rural based, with some terrorist attacks in the capital.

SL is primarily funded by the illicit narcotics trade. Shining Path is not known to have received external aid.


Former university professor Abimael Guzman formed SL in Peru in the late 1960s, and his teachings created the foundation of SL's militant Maoist doctrine. Mao’s highly influential book, On Guerrilla Warfare, set the tone for the beginnings of SL. Mao advised that “success largely depends upon powerful political leaders who work unceasingly to bring about internal unification.” Shining Path began this process of unification at the University of Huamanga, in the city of Ayacucho, where Guzmán was a professor. Guzmán and other members of SL were able to dominate the faculty and student organizations of the university during the late 1960s and early 1970s. During this time, they indoctrinated the largely indigenous student body with a Maoist ideology that highlighted the vast disparity of wealth in Peru.

In the 1980s, SL became one of the most ruthless terrorist groups in the Western Hemisphere approximately 30,000 persons died since Shining Path took up arms in 1980. The Peruvian Government made dramatic gains against SL during the 1990s, but reports of a recent SL involvement in narcotrafficking indicate that it may have a new source of funding with which to sustain a resurgence. Its stated goal is to destroy existing Peruvian institutions and replace them with a communist peasant revolutionary regime. It also opposes any influence by foreign governments, as well as by other Latin American guerrilla groups, especially the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA).

President Fujimori's main achievement in the 1990s was defeating the vicious insurgent group Sendero Luminoso. This Maoist group recruited thousands of poor Indian peasants during the 1970's and 1980's and was responsible for bombings in Lima, as well as murders throughout the countryside. Both the Fujimori government and the Peruvian military had been tainted by scandal, there was fear that radical elements could see an opportunity to rise again.

After some early setbacks, the Peruvian military initiated a more balanced counterinsurgency approach by integrating lethal military action with population security and development. Sendero aided the new strategy by inflicting intense violence and abuse on many Peruvian villages. The government integrated many villages into a local security program called Rondas Campesinas. Under this system, villagers were armed and given authority to defend their villages from SL influence.

On 12 September 1992, Guzmán was captured along with several other SL leaders in a raid by DINCOTE (Dirección Contra Terrorismo), an elite group of Peruvian national police that had received extensive support and training from the United States.16 Following his capture, Guzmán made statements in support of a cessation of hostilities with the government. The importance of Guzmán’s capture cannot be overstated. Sendero’s highly structured organization was thrown into chaos. In the 18 months after his arrest, 3,600 Shining Path guerrillas turned themselves in or were captured, and political violence decreased rapidly.

SL's growth and expansion seemed to vanish in an instant with the capture of its leader, Abimael Guzmán. The rapid disintegration of SL was cited as an example of successful counterinsurgency, but now rising casualties and violence caused by the formerly dormant group have called those conclusions into question.

Following its collapse in the 1990s, SL conducted a 5-year study of its failure and codified its findings in a 45-page summary that became Sendero’s new strategy. Within the document, SL renounces many of its former practices including extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, blackmail, and occupying homes.21 Shining Path concluded that violence against the population was the critical failure of the rebellion. It is now reportedly providing potable water, building sports fields, and painting schools to garner popular support. SL would not target transnational businesses or nongovernmental organizations but rather only the “armed forces, police, and those that take part in the so-called fight against terrorism and narco-trafficking.”

The explosive combination of poverty, lack of government presence, and coca production makes the region fertile ground for Sendero. By 2002 there were concerns about the possible resurgence of one of Latin America's most violent leftist guerrilla groups, Sendero Luminoso. Critics at home said at least some of the blame for the return of the rebels lays with President Toledo, who cut $60 million from the armed forces budget and ignored signs of trouble in the countryside. In recent months insurgents have downed power pylons and attacked remote police posts. The Shining Path is said to be drawing much of its financing from drug traficking.

SL engaged in particularly brutal forms of terrorism, including the indiscriminate use of bombs. Almost every institution in Peru was a target of SL violence. It bombed diplomatic missions of several countries in Peru, including the US Embassy. SL carriee out bombing campaigns and selective assassinations, and attacked US businesses since its inception.

Between 1996 and 2000, there were several violent incidents in Peru’s jungles, but there was no evidence that these incidents were connected to the activities of the Shining Path or Tupac Amaru. Since late 2001, however, there were signs of a resurgence of Shining Path activity.

  • In August 2001, individuals believed to be members of the Shining Path killed four police officers in the Amazon province of Satipo.
  • In November 2001, the Ministerio del Interior, or Interior Ministry, announced that it had thwarted a plan by the Shining Path to attack the United States Embassy in Lima.
  • In December 2001, terrorists believed to be members of the Shining Path bombed an electricity tower 30 miles east of Lima. In response to these signs of terrorist activity, the U.S. State Department in December 2001 warned U.S. travelers to Peru and U.S. residents of Peru to exercise caution when in Peru.
  • In March 2002, three days before a visit to Lima by U.S. President George W. Bush, a car bomb exploded at a Lima shopping center across the street from the United States Embassy, killing ten persons and wounding 30. Of the three suspects arrested for the incident, two were members of the Shining Path. In response to this incident, the U.S. State Department issued another warning alerting U.S. travelers to Peru of the continued potential for terrorist activity in Peru.
  • On June 10, 2003, members of the Shining Path took hostage 71 employees of the Argentine firm Techint who were constructing a portion of the Camisea gas pipeline in Ayacucho department in Peru’s central highlands. The hostages were released unharmed the next day amid rumors that the government paid a ransom for the hostages’ release.
  • In June 2003, members of the Shining Path ambushed an army patrol in the Huanta province in Peru’s central highlands, killing one soldier.
  • In July 2003, members of the Shining Path ambushed a marine patrol near Matucana in Peru’s central highlands, killing seven soldiers and wounding ten. This was the worst loss by the Peruvian military to the Shining Path in four years.

As a result of these and other incidents, the government declared a state of emergency in certain regions during 2003. Although the Shining Path is no longer as powerful as it was during the 1980s and early 1990s, members still operate in remote mountainous and jungle areas in central and southern Peru, where military patrols have decreased due to military spending cutbacks. Shining Path members have formed alliances with coca farmers and drug traffickers in drug-growing areas of the Upper Huallaga and Apurimac valleys to provide armed protection against the government’s interdiction efforts. In response to this activity, security forces in Peru continued to monitor subversive activities and have maintained their efforts to prevent the resurgence of a significant terrorist threat, including by reactivating anti-terrorist bases in the valleys, training farmers in areas where the Shining Path operates to assist the military and heightening security in Lima.

In January 2003, Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal held that the laws under which several people were convicted of terrorism, including Abimael Guzmán, the Shining Path’s founder, were unconstitutional, on the grounds, among others, that they were initially convicted in a military tribunal closed to the public, and a retrial was ordered for Guzmán and other Shining Path members. This retrial began on November 5, 2004.

On January 1, 2005, a rebel group of approximately 160 members made up of ex-army reservists took 10 members of the police hostage at a police station in Andahuaylas, a small town approximately 275 miles southeast of Lima. Antauro Humala, the leader of the group, cited discontent with the Toledo administration as the motivation behind their actions. On January 4, 2005, Antauro Humala was captured and his group surrendered to government authorities. Four policemen and two rebels died as a result of this incident.

In 2002, eight suspected SL members were arrested on suspicion of complicity in the 20 March bombing across the street from the US Embassy that killed 10 persons. They are being held pending charges, which could take up to one year. Lima has been very aggressive in prosecuting terrorist suspects in 2002. According to the Peruvian National Police Intelligence Directorate, 199 suspected terrorists were arrested between January and mid-November. Counterterrorist operations targeted pockets of terrorist activity in the Upper Huallaga River Valley and the Apurimac/Ene River Valley, where SL columns continued to conduct periodic attacks.

Peruvian authorities continued operations against the SL in 2002 in the countryside, where the SL conducted periodic raids on villages. On 26 November, Comrade Artemio, a man believed to be the only active leader of Shining Path guerrillas, offered a truce to Peru's government. The government made no response.

Studies of the military and Sendero Luminoso continued to diminish in the late 1990s. After more than a decade of reflection, it appears that the rapid decline of Sendero Luminoso following the capture of leader Abimael Guzmán in September 1992 seriously undermined the Maoist paradigm and its applicability to Peru. Nevertheless, as the years unfolded careful research has resulted in fewer, but more evenly balanced studies reflecting Peruvian impressions and memories of the civil war.

Very useful for understanding the phenomenon of Sendero Lumunoso and critical issues related to the rise of the quasi-Maoist group is the anthology by Stern, Shining and other paths: war and society in Peru, 1980-1995, which contains, among others, valuable essays by Starn on the Rondas Campesinas (peasant defense brigades), Mallon on antecedents to the movement in the Velasco era agrarian reforms , and Coral Cordero on the role of women in the conflict. Among its many strong points, the compelling account of the Shining Path's women sets the work by Kirk apart from most studies of the movement.

Reflecting upon both Mariátegui's legacy and the Maoist paradigm of Sendero Luminoso, Masterson's analysis debates the peasant origins of and its ideological links to orthodox Maoism. The short but focused work by Mauceri on state policy and civil- military relations places great emphasis on the failure of "state populism" of the military and failed civilian governments before the 1990s in opening the doors for Sendero Luminoso. Tapia effectively examines the failed strategies of both the military and Sendero Luminoso before the capture of Guzmán in 1992. Though flawed by a heavy offering of questionable statistical tables, the work by Fujimori's military chief of staff, De Bari Hermoza Ríos, will be of some use to scholars studying the Peruvian military's perspective during the conflict with Sendero Luminoso.

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