A monthly bulletin chronicling and assessing the ongoing struggle between the Government of Peru and Sendero Luminoso (SL or Shining Path).
Issue No. 2 August 1992
When Sendero struck Lima with car bombs and wholesale intimidation in July, the government of President Alberto Fujimori was already confronting six crises which peaked separately last month.
Drought: The worst in Peru's history has seared the countryside, both on the Coast and in the Sierra, com- pounding its urban impact with a shortage of electrical power and drinking water.
Farming: Theabsence of a viable agricultural policy, the drought and no working capital have forced thousands of peasants and agro-businesses to stop planting.
Industrial: Policy-induced recession has taken its toll, first on workers whose earning power has plummeted, second on corporations' working capital, and now, three years into the hole, there is no respite in sight.
Financial: A panic run on the state banking system has hit when the government has no resources to bail out its subsidiaries. Insufficient revenues are choking the state.
Structural: Beyond these short-term, inter-connected management questions, there are enduring structural crises: political legitimacy, ethnic conflict, the competence of Peru's state apparatus, the challenge of matching viable, long-term economic development with a growing population, narco-trafficking, and the breakdown of a ethical system.
Sendero: Today it represents the ultimate crisis of political violence and has shown an uncanny knack to strike when the country and the government are tottering off balance. It feeds off the preceding welter of crises and conflicts, and then stokes the fires with its own actions.
On April 5, President Fujimori made a highly risky gambit: eliminate an obstructionist Congress and discredit- ed political class to concentrate power in the Executive. However, this gamble merely induced an economic boycott and introduced a new major obstacle: the question of how to regain the necessary support of the international community by reestablishing democracy through free elections. Sendero's July onslaught, though not yet its rendition of a Tet offensive, has stunned the government when it should be taking concerted emergency measures to address both the short-term crises and Peru's viability as a nation and a society.
With its car bombs and shrewd sense of timing, Sendero is more in control of events than its adversaries. It remains the only organized force in Peru with a clear medium-term vision of where it is headed. Unfortunately, this vision is one of the state of Peru destroyed.
Sendero's July offensive, the worst episode of urban sabotage and terrorism in Peru's history, showed that it was prepared to go for the jugular, leaving no safe haven in the country. It blasted Lima's fashionable residential districts and climaxed with an "armed strike," which immobilized Presi- dent Alberto Fujimori's government, despite its having put subversion high on the agenda. "It's a make-or-break year for the government against Sendero, and it's a lot less prepared than before," says a seasoned Western diplomat.
In the most desolating incident on July 16, two car bombs, loaded with at least 1,000 kilograms of explosives, rocked the busy, upscale shopping district of Miraflores at 9:15 pm when many people were still on the streets. The bombs' impact killed 24 people, wounded nearly 200, of whom 90 had to be hospitalized. Flying glass caused most of the injuries because explosions shattered windows in a 15- block radius. An estimated 300 families were left homeless. Damages totalled $50 million.
On the same night or the next morning, car bombings occurred in the shantytowns of Villa El Salvador and Comas, and in the port city of Callao. Sendero blacked out the city by sabotaging the power grid and made sniper and bombing attacks on four police stations, in some cases deploying up to 50 attackers, equipped with machine guns and get-away cars.
Opening Salvo: Those attacks kicked off a steady, pounding week of bombings, assaults, and killings, in which SL main- tained the pressure on Peru's government and political leadership. For the civilian population, tension wore through its already thread-bare reserves of emotional strength. This spree counters optimistic estimates that counter-terrorism police had weakened SL so much that the guerrillas could not carry out city-wide, coordinated attacks. Only the day before the Miraflores bombing, Fujimori had told reporters that his government had gained ground in its fight against SL.
Over the past four months, at least 22 car and truck bombs have resulted in 52 people killed, 1000 injuries and $250 million in damages. The size of the explosives and targeting has escalated as SL has perfected its methods. [Estimates from UPI, July 18, 1992, with additional news agency updates.]
Police bomb squads detected about a dozen additional vehicles loaded with explosives and disarmed them. Sendero combines dynamite with anfo, a home-made mixture of ammonia nitrate (a commercial fertilizer) and petroleum residue, to stretch its supply of dynamite. Frequently, the anfo fails to ignite. In June, the government imposed a vehicle curfew between 10:00 pm and 5:00 am, but it has failed to control the bombing spree.
To confound city residents further, SL launched a well- coordinated campaign of "white terrorism." Anonymous callers phoned radio and television stations to give false reports of bombings, attacks and casualties.
Sendero has been intensifying its urban operations for almost two years, and this latest assault has been in the works for months, timed to hit at Fujimori after the initial euphoria of the April 5 coup had washed away. SL has brought 1,000 hardened guerrilla fighters from the Central Sierra and from the Upper Huallaga valley to beef up its urban cell network. By concentrating forces for coordinated attacks, Sendero magnifies its impact on the public. According to some Lima sources, Sendero has started talking about entering a phase of "total war."
This injection of ruthless veterans shows up in Sendero's bombing tactics. It no longer makes any effort to minimize the loss of civilian lives. Several bombs went off indiscrimi- nately near or at schools, gas stations, and shopping districts. In a clear provocation of the Peruvian Army, a cart with 22 kilograms of explosives was targeted at a school where Army officers send their children in Chorillos.
To cap off the offensive, SL called for a city-wide "armed strike" on July 22-23. SL harassed public transport, the key to bringing productive activity to a halt in Lima. Even though the government promised to reimburse private bus owners for any damages, few of the 7,000 privately owned buses dared to venture onto the streets. Only state-owned buses made their routes.
In one incident, a SL picket stopped a taxi driver and ordered him out of his vehicle. When he refused (probably knowing that the terrorists would destroy his car), a Sende- rista shot him, covered his body with gasoline and then burned him alive with his car. Sendero also burned mini-vans and buses. According to independent estimates, traffic was about one third of its normal level.
Despite the harassment, thousands of people took any means possible to get to their jobs, in part out of necessity because few can afford to lose two days or more of income. People walked or grabbed rides on the backs of trucks to reach their workplaces. Terrorist activities and the tension seemed to ebb on the second day. During the two days, 17 people lost their lives and another 40 were injured. The previous armed strike had been on February 13.
The Great Repression: The chief of the joint staffs, Army General Nicolás De Bari Hermoza, said that SL is trying to provoke the government and the military into a massive response of indiscriminate arrests, torture and killings in reprisal for the SL attacks.
"Sendero is doing in Lima now what it did in Ayacucho in the early 1980s," says human rights advocate Carlos Chipoco. When the armed forces took control of the emergency zone, they engaged in wholesale repression, disappearances, summary executions and other abuses, hoping for a quick knockout punch against Sendero. Today, the most enlightened Peruvian military acknowledge that this body-count approach served SL's goals because it turned the armed forces into an army of occupation.
Now, SL aims to repeat the formula in Lima, a city with 7 million inhabitants and a much higher concentration of security forces. It taunts the military to strike out at its shadowy presence in the shantytowns. For the past two years, it has been "staking out claims" on shantytowns, painting walls with graffiti, raising red flags and staging marches or even military patrols. Besides intimidating the population, it gives the impression that it holds sway over the residents.
In another shift in tactics, Sendero has stopped using its most virulent language in its pamphlets and begun demanding attention for the basic needs of the communities, like jobs, water and electricity. It is also unveiling a new crop of cadres, who are appearing in assemblies to debate openly against traditional community leaders.
SL has stepped up selective assassinations in Lima's shantytowns and working class neighborhoods. Prime targets are school directors, teachers, police and military personnel, many of latter live in the poor neighborhoods because of their low salaries. Because Sendero needs to keep its cell networks secure, it is trying to force out all potential intelligence leaks about its presence.
However, SL has backed off on its direct attacks on community leaders and non-governmental organizations working in the shantytowns, at least at this juncture, as counterproductive to its overall strategy.
Political Watershed: Even though the bombings seemed indiscriminate, they had a precise political objective: bring the war to the doorsteps of Lima's wealthy and middle class so that they would press for more repression and the political parties would keep out of the picture.
"Twenty-five thousand deaths in the Sierra and the shantytowns were not enough to make people aware that the war affected them," says Peruvian political analyst Mirko Lauer. "With the 24 deaths in Miraflores and the continuing insecurity, the message has come home with a vengeance."
The bombings have created a huge demand for pane glass, which was scarce even before the spree because of the shortage of electrical power for manufacturing. Lima's gloom is not only psychological but physical as office towers, apartment buildings and homes are being boarded up.
For many, the random attacks have broken their will to resist: the public outcry for harsher repression, like capital punishment, dominates the media, while those who can afford ready their bags for moving abroad. The impact of the bombing wave has hit hard at Peru's wobbling economy. Many business people are giving up all hope of making a profit in the recessive market. The bombs have frightened off the few foreign investors not already wary after the presiden- tial coup. In these circumstances, any remaining concerns for compliance with human rights in counter-insurgency may end up being another casualty of the bombing spree.
The government has seemingly been caught flat-footed by the ruthlessness and breadth of the offensive. "Either they came to believe their own propaganda or they completely miscalculated Sendero's strength," says an experienced Peruvian observer. Fujimori remained huddled with his cabinet, advisors and military commanders, with little contact with the public.
SL also succeeded in defining politics on its terms. "Sendero wants to keep Fujimori's crisis from ending in a democratic outcome," says Lauer. The political dialogue between the Fujimori government and the party opposition has been knocked off the agenda, putting in doubt the November 22 elections for a constituent congress. The elections, or at least firm movement in that direction, are essential to breaking the international freeze on development funding and other cooperation.
On July 20, a powerful explosive went off in front of the Miraflores office of the Institution of Liberty and Democracy (ILD). The blast killed three people and injured 16. More than just causing more civilian casualties, SL was trying to silence Hernando de Soto, the ILD founder and an advocate of free markets and reduced state interference in the economy. Since the coup, De Soto, a former advisor to President Fujimori, has been a vocal spokesman for political reforms and even after the attack still spoke calmly: "What we have to do is to prove that our reality is worth saving." [AP, July 23]
President Alberto Fujimori made an nationally telecast speech about government counter-measures on July 25. He called the latest urban offensive a sign of desperation because Sendero has been losing popular support: "Unable to harm the state with the people's support as they had planned, Sendero Luminoso has resorted to genocide to incite [security] forces into undertaking a major, indiscriminate escalation of repression. . . Obviously feeling it is being hit in its former strongholds, it is forced to resort to methods that unmask its weaknesses."
Fujimori announced that military tribunals would try cases of terrorism and also bring charges of treason against those accused of causing loss of life. According to Peruvian law and the constitution, treason is the only crime which bears capital punish- ment. Earlier this year, the government instituted life imprisonment for many crimes of terrorism or subversive activity.
"Military courts offer us the advantage of convict- ing terrorists rapidly in a summary proceeding and allowing for a timely sanction in direct relationship to the graveness of the act committed, thus serving as a warning to the population," he said.
Fujimori also announced that the sale and distribution of ammonia nitrate would be strictly controlled. SL has used this widely available fertilizer to increase the explosive power of its bombs.
Meanwhile, security forces began carrying out house-by-house searches in Lima shanty towns and other areas that showed signs of Senderista infiltration.
Fujimori invoked his compatriots to not give up: "The best homage we can pay to the victims of this barbaric, monstrous terrorism is to stand up and continue fighting for Peru, not as a feasible option, but as a set of values, history and national pride. Peace, unfortunately, will be built on the ashes of our dead."
According to Peruvian intelligence sources, there are at least three Sendero cadres serving with a radical organization called the EGTK (Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army), and the Peruvian Army has found several Bolivians in Senderista columns in Cusco, indicating an active exchange of personnel.
Consequently, when Sendero launched its July offensive in Lima and bombed the Bolivian Embassy, the Bolivian authorities ordered a tightening of controls at its Peruvian border and a clamp-down on their own crew of radicals. Rather than reacting to events in Lima, Bolivian authorities were more concerned about an effective SL presence in their own territory working with fledgling terrorist organizations.
For the past three years, Bolivia has had a spat of bomb- ings, sabotage and kidnappings which comes from the Tupac Katari movement, a rabidly racist, Indianist movement with strong Trotskyite influence. About 1986, after a frustrating decade trying to make headway in the legitimate political system, the movement went underground. However, there were internal divisions about how to start a revolt. Eyes turned to Peru for role models. One band, which went by the name of the National Liberation Army Reborn (ELN-R) copied the techniques of the Guevarist guerrilla Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, including kidnapping. The ELN-R was quickly swept up by the police.
The other Katarista splinter group, the EGTK, studied Sendero's methods and even made contacts. It has a tightly- knit, six-person cell network, uses bombings against public infrastructure as a means of training and propaganda, and has developed contacts with coca-growers associations (and, perhaps, traffickers) in the Chapare region. The first contacts may go back to 1988. In December that year, a SL hit squad gunned down the naval attaché, Captain Juan Vega Llona, at the Peruvian Embassy in La Paz. After commanding the Peruvian Marine unit which suppressed the prison mutiny on El Frontón Island in June 1986, SL tracked him down in La Paz and then assigned three full cells, about 22 people to the task of mounting the infrastructure and preparing the attack in La Paz. The hit squad came out of the University of San Andrés campus, shot and killed him on his way to the embassy and then returned coolly to the campus.
The Kataristas and the Senderistas share the same turf on the radicalized university campus and in the La Paz neighbor- hood of El Alto, a rough, poor neighborhood. However, Sendero's dogmatic Maoism and the EGTK's strong Trot- skyism do not mix easily. SL respects and wants to learn from the EGTK's strong indigenous roots, but says that the Bolivians have to be "saved from their revisionism," meaning their attachment to an incorrect political line (Trotskyism).
Bolivia has all the ingredients for trouble: a sputtering economy that a severe, eight-year austerity program has weakened, high unemployment, a decaying political system that is losing public support, the corrosive influence of the drug trade, and a simmering racial hatred against the privi- leged white Creoles of La Paz.
Although Bolivia is the next logical international step for SL expansion, it is far more useful now as a safe haven. For the past five years, it has employed Bolivia as a R&R site, where it treats its seriously wounded and where the hardcore vanguard cool off their trails when counter-terrorist police get to close. Bolivia is a center for the regional clandestine arms trade, and SL can also purchase medical supplies and other material easily.
It is also secure transit point to the outside world. Getting across the border requires only an I.D. card, and wide stretches of the frontier are open. Last year, a 13-man SL column ran into Bolivian border guards, alerting Bolivian military to the danger. In addition, Bolivian passports are among the most readily available in the black market and La Paz's international airport has slack controls.
There are no signs yet that SL had done any political work on its own to gain its own foothold in Bolivia. Rather, it has served as the strategic rearguard for the guerrilla front in Puno, just across the border.
Gustavo Gorriti, Sendero: Historia de la guerra milenaria en el Perú (Sendero: History of the Millen- arian War in Peru), vol. 1. Lima: Apoyo, 1990.
Gustavo Gorriti has focused on the period from Guzmán's capture and release in January, 1979 until the government of President Fernando Belaúnde sent the armed forces into the Ayacucho emergency zone in December 1982. There are three lines of investigation: ideology and party documents (saving future researchers the toil of wading through SL's densely written documents), the flawed preparations of Peru's security and political forces (including the bureaucratic turf battles and corrupting influence of narco-trafficking) and the war itself in its initial phases when the threat seemed as trivial as the first incidents of "banditry."
The book's main virtue is that it addresses the question of how an insurrection makes the transition from initial conspiracy to a full-blown military operation without falling into the traps of other failed guerrilla movements. For historians, these early moments become either forgotten in defeat or covered by the triumphant rhetoric of victory, making it hard to discern what really happened.
Gorriti assesses the early stages of the revolt in the impoverished region of Ayacucho, the sorcerer's laboratory for a new revolutionary alchemy and finds a seeming contradic- tion between Guzmán's party and its meager means:
"Sendero was an organization much larger and more disciplined that any one supposed then or later; distributed territorially, with a basic, but functional system of communication, which guaranteed a unified control of the party apparatus at all times. . . Sende- ro's preparation in military techniques was extremely poor. Its strategic conception was solid, but, on the level of technical application, its ignorance was generalized. It was an organization with competent generals, committed but unseasoned recruits and no trained field commanders." [p. 140]
To overcome these shortcomings, Guzmán became the most ardent radical within his own party. He pushed the organization beyond what seemed advisable for such a makeshift army. This crash course in revolutionary strategy and tactics was distilled into a metaphor which was almost mystical if it were not so mercilessly applied: the "quota of blood" which required:
". . .converting the war into the central preoccupation of Peruvians through the radical increment of vio- lence; elevating the stakes of war, making the blood not just drip but gush. To achieve this, it was neces- sary to convince Senderista militants of two things: the need to kill systematically and in a depersonalized way to apply the accorded strategy; and, as a necessary premise of the above, the willingness, even more, the expectation of giving up one's own life." [p. 158]
However, in this escalation of systematic violence and its glorification, SL never lost sight of its political goals: "For Guzmán, militarizing Sendero did not mean converting it into an army. . . The insurrectional strategies, plans and campaigns were made in accordance with the party's political objectives and, consequently, were political actions with military expres- sion." [p. 352]
Sendero's rapid learning curve eventually forced the government's hands into sending the armed forces into Ayacucho which tried heavy-handed tactics to deliver a knockout blow to Sendero for two years. Today, analysts say that the indiscriminate repression, which created new SL sympathizers with each death, was one of the reasons that SL was able to survive and even expand its operations during this period.
The drawback to the 390-page book is that its narrow chronological focus passes over broader, crucial questions, such as what social and political forces brought together Guzmán and Ayacucho and why the combination clicked so well. Gorriti plans to write two other volumes, a pre-insur- gency account of the origins and development of Sendero in Ayacucho and an account of the millenarian war from 1983 to the present.
In April 1980, Abimael Guzmán spoke to the first graduating class of Sendero's military school. In two week of intense debate, Guzmán had purged the party of any ideological doubts about the start of the armed insurrection the following month. He then delivered a speech worthy of Torquemada, working his listeners with the crescendo of his sentences and his announced Armageddon. Extracts from the "We are the Initiators" speech:
"The vortex is nearing; the revolution's invincible flames will grow, becoming lead, steel, and from the heat of the battles with their inextinguishable fire will come the light; from the darkness, luminosity and there will be a new world. The old order of the reactionaries will creak, their old ship will leak, it will sink desperately; but, comrades, no one can expect them to retire benignly, Marx warned us: even drowning, they are capable of flaying their arms, desperate claw swipes, to see if we might go down too. That is impossible. The hyena's blood dreams shake their shadowy dreams; their heart plots sinister hecatombs; they arm themselves to the teeth, but they will not prevail; their destiny is heavy and mute. The time for settling scores has come...
"To the men of today, to those men who breath, struggle, [and] fight, the most luminous and magnificent mission ever assigned to a generation falls to them to sweep the reaction- aries from the face of the earth. The world revolution has entered a strategic offensive, nothing can prevail against it...
"The trumpets are commencing to sound, the roar of the crowd grows. . .It brings us to a powerful vortex, with one note: we will be protagonists of history, conscious, organized, armed and that will be the great rupture and we will be the makers of the definitive dawn."
This ideology has prevailed for 12 years and leaves no room for the mediation, settlement or moderating influence that casual observers sometimes suggest.
No. 3 September 1992
Established by former atomic scientists in 1945, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is a non-profit civic organization concerned with issues of science and society, and international security issues. The Project on Peru seeks greater understanding of Sendero Luminoso's threat to Peru and other countries. FAS President Jeremy J. Stone directs the FAS Fund's Project on Peru. Michael L. Smith edits The Sendero File.
Created by John Pike
Maintained by John Pike