A monthly bulletin chronicling and assessing the ongoing struggle between the Government of Peru and Sendero Luminoso (SL or Shining Path).
Issue No. 3 September 1992
President Alberto Fujimori outmanoeuvred the political parties in negotiations on the ground rules for November 22 elections to install a legislative body and draft a new constitution. Like a political streetfighter, Fujimori kept his opponents punching at shadow targets while he hammered at his main goal, ceding a minimal framework of government to release Peru from international sanctions without yielding his hold on power.
Sendero may stand to gain the most from this situation because it is quickly casting itself as the sole alternative to power, and has distributed leaflets announcing an October offensive to block the elections. "Fujimori is playing with fire," says a U.S. government political analyst. "By bashing Congress, the parties and politicians, he is legitimizing Sendero's message about the corruption of the system."
With the showdown between Fujimori and the parties now past, momentum now shifts towards the campaign. "Nobody wants to be cut out of the game at this stage," says a Lima businessman. "The united front of politicians is disintegrating rapidly." In addition to 17 parties eligible to present candidate slates, at least four independent groups have started collecting the required 100,000 signatures of eligible voters to qualify for the elections.
The government and the parties have been engaged in a contentious, on-again-off-again dialogue. Prime Minister Oscar de la Puente met individually with the parties, and then began full conversations in mid- August, though about half the parties withdrew before talks were over.
On August 22, the government issued a 147-article decree setting the rules of the elections and the new legislative body. The outpouring of criticism against the measure was overwhelming, and within 48 hours the government corrected the most glaring errors, leaving the main body of the text unchanged. The backtracking, however, did allow the government to portray itself as accomodating opposition demands.
Debating Chamber: The Constituent Congress is to be a one-chamber body, with 80 members elected nationally. Their term will be until July 28, 1995 when Fujimori is to step down as president. The Congress will write a new constitution, which is to be submitted to a national referendum, and also pass laws and exercise oversight of the Executive. However, it will not control its own budget. Those who serve in the Congress will be ineligible to run for public office for five years.
In late July, the government made a first grudging concession to the parties, moving up municipal elections to January 29 from February 7. Opposition leaders suspected that Fujimori was refusing to stage municipal elections simultaneously with Constituent Congress elections because he could not field sufficient candidates for mayor and councilmen in the 1900 races at the provincial and district levels. The government countered that mixing elections for a Constituent Congress and town hall would confuse the campaign.
Senators Alberto Borea and Javier Diez Canseco flew to Washington to make a last-minute appeal to the Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council on August 28. The council decided to leave a final decision to Secretary General Joao Baena Soares, in consultation with Uruguayan foreign minister Hector Gros Espiell (head of the OAS task force on Peru), about sending observer teams to oversee elections.
Shopping for a Coup: While the government and parties were haggling, the elder statesman of the opposition block, two-time president Fernando Belaúnde, was actively courting military dissidents to stage a coup when Fujimori appeared weak after the July SL offensive. In early August, rumors were so thick that General José Valdivia, the army chief of staff, published full-page ads stating his allegiance to Fujimori. Changes in regional commanders soon took place to shore up Fujimori's support. According to some reports, the national intelligence service is putting more resources to tracking suspected coup plotters than following SL.
However, opinion polls of the Lima public show that Fujimori still holds a commanding lead over the traditional political parties. He has an approval rating of 62 percent, according to the APOYO public opinion agency. In the same poll, the opposition block mustered only 23 percent approval. They would have little political leverage if it were not for international pressure to keep an election process open to participation. Underneath this disenchantment lies a severe breakdown in Peru's political organizations.
Former U.N. Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuellar said, "We are facing an electoral process and an electoral law which unfortunately has many gaps and which is not the result of dialogue with all the political parties." [Reuters, 8/28/92]. The parties have been pressuring Perez de Cuellar to mediate the dispute.
On July 28, 1990 Peru's Independence Day and the inauguration of President Alberto Fujimori, 300 people seized a small piece of privately owned, but idle land in Ate-Vitarte. When police tried to dislodge the squatters, two people died in the fray. The settlement took the name of one of the martyrs, Félix Raucana.
What seemed a routine event in Lima's teeming shantytowns was, however, a new variant in Sendero's multi-faceted urban strategy. Sendero had organized the land seizure from the start, charging the 100 founding families $10 each for the right to a plot.
SL pioneered its penetration methods over a six-year period, from 1983 to 1990, in the working class district of Ate-Vitarte. It was a strategic area, part of the "iron belt" (in Guzmán's words) of the shantytowns surrounding Lima, with a high concentration of workers and migrants from the Central Sierra.
Land seizures are a long-established practice to resolve the scarcity of cheap housing. Most of Lima's working-class districts began as squatters' settlements, huts made out of reed mats and cardboard. Squatters have a precarious hold on their land until they get property titles, either through a government-decreed amnesty for seizures on public land or purchase for those on private land. A practice among squatters was to organize defense committees, using pickets and barricades, to prevent police evictions and fend off other squatters or thieves. Sendero latched onto this quasi-military trait of popular culture as part of its methods, and added its armed force to assist in claiming to land.
Not new to the neighborhood: Three years before, SL had concentrated its central core of veteran cadres in eight communities near the Ate-Vitarte business district. The Raucana land was located in the middle of this archipelago of cadre cells. SL soon placed its stamp on the settlement. Rather than take the traditional design of a town square (or small park) surrounded by market, church, schools and other services and with open access, Raucana was a walled compound, with two gateways, in effect, a fortified settlement. Squatters generally put their scarce funds in shelter rather than brick parapets. Round-the-clock sentries monitored visitors.
Inside the compound, SL organized all aspects of daily life, including production by setting up vegetable gardens and orchards. It provided community health service. SL carried out daily indoctrination classes and military training. Access to land, services and organization flowed through the party. The idea that SL only operates through terror and intimidation is oversimplified. When it controls goods and services, it distributes them zealously according to its political goals.
However, even when SL lures people in need of housing or services, it is aiming towards military goals. To provoke repression from the government and security forces, it needs to raise false targets, like turning Raucana into a "red zone," without compromising its central apparatus.
Springing the Trap: In August 1991, after a year-long trial during which both the land owner and the judge received death threats, the judge issued an eviction order. An estimated 2,000 protesters, many of whom probably thought they were supporting neighbors' claims to shelter, not backing a Senderista manoeuvre, marched to the Ate-Vitarte business district. SL set up pickets organized in military formation. For three hours, they confronted police until the army was called out to control the situation. That same evening, SL set off a car bomb outside a textile plant belonging to landowner. The next day, the owner asked the judge to withdraw the eviction order.
Because SL staged the protest outside Raucana, it guaranteed exposure to a broader community along the central highway and maximum news coverage in the Lima media. It also ensured that protest was not isolated and snuffed out quickly. Sendero was in a no-lose situation: if it provoked repression on Raucana, it created another pantheon of revolutionary martyrs; but if it forced the landowner and the government to back down, it had delivered concrete goods to its supporters, mainly due its use of armed force and intimidation.
Before the showdown, SL moved its veteran cadres, weapons and other materials out of the zone, leaving behind only a rearguard network.
In September 1991, after another provocation, the army set up a small post inside Raucana, touted as a "hearts and minds" strategy because the troops first distributed food among the residents. However, tension simmered close to the boiling point. In late April 1992, residents confronted the garrison over the arrest of two community leaders. Two people died and another 14 were wounded. [Caretas, 5/4/92]
SL Housing Development: Sendero has proposed to stage further land seizures. A second settlement, named Maria Parado Bellido, is located two kilometers away, and has 870 families. [Caretas, 7/20/92] A local report on the Central Highway cites a waiting list of 5,000 families willing to accept SL control for a share in a large track of land near Raucana. However, close military surveillance inside the area has complicated Sendero's designs.
There are also reports that SL has organized land seizures in Lima's northern cone. These SL enclaves tend to be located near strategic sites, like barracks or training schools of security forces, transportation centers and generating plants.
The Raucana enclave is one variant on an overall strategy which SL's decision-makers can activate according to opportunity and resources. It offers total control of a community by founding and organizing it from the ground up and, in effect, holding each family hostage. However, it requires an enormous investment of time and resources that might not yield immediate military benefits. Over the past year, SL has had a field-day in existing shantytowns as local organizations weaken or break down, which had made it less attractive to concentrate its efforts in isolated enclaves.
After the July offensive, SL has scaled back on its major operations. It staged an average three assassinations a day against community leaders, police, school teachers and bus and taxi drivers who did not obey the ■armed strike■ of July 22-23.
On August 26, security forces captured the head of the SL metropolitan committee's hit squad, Gilberto Iparraguirre. This was the first major capture in months. Most recent arrests have been low-level cadres or sympathizers.
Although known as Sendero to Peruvians and the world, the organization and its members do not accept that name. They are always the Communist Party of Peru (PCP). This exclusive title allows Abimael Guzmán and friends to trace their bloodline back to the marxist trunk and claim to be the only remaining pure strand of communism left.
Peru's marxist left underwent scorces of splits and divisions in the 1960s and 1970s, resulting in an alphabet soup of acronyms. To distinguish Guzmán's faction from other groups claiming to be the PCP, its adversaries in Ayacucho began calling it Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), which came from the tagline which appeared on the party's bulletin for university students — "Along the Shining Path of José Carlos Mariátegui." An eclectic Marxist thinker and writer, Mariátegui was the founder of Peru's Socialist and Communist parties and is now a Peruvian icon.
In addition to the international policy limbo caused by the Fujimori "autocoup," the response to the Peruvian situation has been dampened by the dynamics of a U.S. election year when new initiatives are put on hold, except for major emergencies. Even still, the U.S. Department of State and Congress are keeping an eye on developments. "There is no more sensitive issue today in the State Department," says a veteran foreign policy watcher.
When and if a concerted response is forthcoming, it will be shaped by U.S. foreign policy experience in hot spots around the developing word over the past two decades: the aftermath of the Indochina war, Central America's civil wars, the emergence of human rights as a potent public issue, Latin America's return to to democratically elected governments, the 1980s' cocaine epidemic in the U.S. and the Bush Administration's "War on Drugs," and the collapse of communism as a world security threat.
The six Washington schools of thought about U.S. policy towards Peru, which are by no means exclusive but competing within the policy-making process, appear to be as follows:
ECONOMIC REINSERTION: It is essential to Peru's survival that it reinsert itself within the world financial community which requires a correct balance of policy reforms and tight economic management.
The World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), in concert with the governments of the United States, Japan and other countries, made extraordinary efforts to design a mechanism and provide resources to make Peru eligible for funding. This effort was due not so much to the size of Peru's foreign debt (about US$22 billion) as the amount of debt payment arrearage which severely hampered their resource flexibility and credit-worthiness.
This approach did not take into account the security threat from Sendero or the breakdown of a host of social institutions. It assumed that a return to full engagement in the international community and appropriate policy would gradually nurse the Peruvian state back to full health.
WAR ON DRUGS: By aiding Peru to eliminate coca crops in the Amazon foothills and to cut the flow of cocaine to the U.S., the U.S. government fulfills its main national interest in Peru.
The Bush Administration's Andean Initiative and the Narcotics Control Policy stemmed from a decade-long domestic concern for the flood of cocaine coming into the country. It was the only U.S. political issue to muster sizeable resources for assistance to Peru. Because it spans the whole administration, it imposes an effective institutional weight and a kind of double yardstick to measure Peru's performance: for each unit in State, Defense, Justice and other agencies involved with Peru, there is an institutional parallel unit focusing exclusively on counternarcotics. This process accentuates a sense of frustration about Peru because the U.S. investment of human and financial resources has never been matched by Peru.
U.S. drug policy never explicitly addressed the problem of Sendero because of congressional restrictions on using assistance against insurgencies. U.S. policy makers had to draw a clear ■theoretical■ line between fighting drug traffickers and fighting guerrillas.
HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY: The Peruvian government and society have a poor human rights record. The key to turning the tide against Sendero is guaranteeing, through international pressure, that the Peruvian government operates with a framework of democratic institutions and respect for human rights.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Americas Watch, Amnesty International and other organizations have long struggled against the Latin American military whether as authoritarian regimes or counterinsurgency forces. The human rights community has widespread constituencies both in the United States and internationally, mainly among the church organizations and groups concerned about the Third World, and with human rights groups and political parties in Peru.
Human rights groups, which have recently started working on U.S. drug policy in source countries, have joined with the War on Drug congressmen to put strict, measurable conditions in legislation which Peru must meet to be eligible for U.S. foreign assistance. By controlling the pursestrings of Peruvian policy, they have direct input into policy execution.
MERCANTILIST STRANGLEHOLD: The single most important action that a Peruvian government can take is to break Peru's mercantilist economy and bureaucracy which would unleash creative forces, among other things, to defeat Sendero.
Hernando de Soto and his Institute for Liberty and Democracy have had a distinct influence on thinking in Washington. His book, The Other Path, by the choice of title and its content, has cast itself as a response to Sendero. His high profile and access in Washington has defined how many Washingtonians, Republicans and Democrats, see Peru's problems and failings.
TOO LATE, TOO REMOTE OR TOO DANGEROUS: The situation in Peru is beyond the point where U.S. action could have an impact on the outcome and, in any case, the United States has limited strategic interests in Peru.
Gordon McCormick of the Rand Corporation, in his latest study on Sendero, From the Sierra to the Cities: The Urban Campaign of the Shining Path, and his congressional testimony, states that, if the Peruvian military and government have not defeated SL by now, they have little chance of defeating it in the future.
An assertion of ■limited interest■ is supported by Gen. William Odom at the Hudson Institute. Another variation on the opposition to involvement lies in a group of people in Congress and the media who see Peru as a ghost of Vietnam, a Third World conflict which U.S. policy makers do not understand. They fear any attempt to meddle there would lead the U.S. government in a quagmire which would require ever increasing investment of resources and commitment.
SENDERO ALERT: Sendero represents an unavoidable clear and present danger to the survival of Peru and to regional stability and, indeed, could set in play revolutionary methods to which other Third World states might succumb, and all feasible efforts should be directed to preventing Sendero's success, lest Peru become another Cambodia.
Assistant Secretary of State Bernard Aronson's statement before Congress leads this school of thought within the Executive. His initiative grew out of a growing awareness within the State Department, Congress and elsewhere that the narrow focus of both economic reinsertion and the Andean Initiative were inadequate, given Sendero's spread and the dimension of the crisis in Peru. It was seconded by a community of specialists in low-intensity conflicts in the Defense Department, the armed services, the intelligence community and think tanks see Peru as a test case of a new kind of insurgency in which narcotrafficking and hybrid ideologies combine to create virulent conflicts. And it was welcomed by a corps of old Peru hands, academics, foreign service and military staff, and journalists who served or covered Peru realized how impossible it woulbe be, in fact, to "write off" Peru, as well as by veterans of the effort to prevent the return of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
Senator Claiborne Pell (D-Rhode Island), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, inserted an article [■Save Peru From Sendero,■ by Jeremy Stone, The Washington Post, July 28, 1992] into the Congressional Record [August 6, 1992, S11760-1] and said:
"...[It] is incumbent upon international organizations, the Department of State, and other relevant organizations to begin thinking now about just such potential disasters, and calls for international help, from Peru and others. "Obviously, the United Nations has limited resources, and limited appetite, for intervening in the affairs of troubled countries, even if invited. Yet, there may well be ways that do not require large investments of money or military force in which these countries can be assisted, for interim periods at least, to administer themselves more efficiently while they pull themselves together, hold elections and organize constitutions."
Americas Watch has issued its latest report, Peru: Civilian Society and Democracy Under Fire, Vol. IV, No. 6 (August 1992), an even-handed, but critical account of events since July 1991. It deals with human rights concerns after the Fujimori coup, as well as human rights violations by security forces, SL and the MRTA. On Sendero's abuses, Americas Watch writes: ■According to the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos in Lima, a highly respected umbrella organization of human rights groups, the Shining Path was responsible for 842 political assassinations in 1991 alone, and 217 in the first four months of 1992. In the past three years, the Coordinadora states, Shining Path has carried out 3,600 assassinations; eighty percent of its victims have been civilians. . . The objective of these murders, by the logic of the Shining Path, is to sweep away all democratic and independent organizations, leaving the population with only two alternatives: Shining Path or the army.■ [p.2]
Americas Watch has maintained a high standard in its reports on Peru over the past nine years. The most recent ones are Into the Quagmire: Human Rights and U.S. Policy in Peru (September, 1991; $5.00), and In Desperate Straits: Human Rights in Peru after a Decade of Democracy and Insurgency (August 1990; $10.00). Newsletters cost $3.00 each. Contact: Americas Watch, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6104 or 1522 K St. Suite 910, Washington, DC 20005-1202.
Development and Violence: Michael L. Smith's study, Rural Development in the Crossfire: The Role of Grassroots Support Organizations in Situation of Political Violence in Peru, looks at how grassroots organizations and development agencies in rural areas have dealt with political violence over the past decade. The book contains two case studies, one in Ayacucho and the other in Puno, and closes with proposals for development work in Peru. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, May 1992 (IDRC- MR297e). Cost is $11.95, no charge for postage. Contact: Mr. Roger Saborurin, Publications, IDRC, P.O. Box 8500, Ottawa, Canada K1G 3H9. In Peru, the book is available in Spanish as Entre Dos Fuegos: ONG, desarrollo rural y violencia política (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1992).
The Catholic Church and Sendero: Miguel Esperanza, "Terrorism in Peru," America, June 27, 1992, 537-540. Esperanza, the pseudonym of a Jesuit priest, writes about a new facet of the conflict between Sendero and the Catholic church: ■For the Shining Path, the church is clearly just ...a competitor... [Until recently, it] was not politically convenient for the Shining Path to attack the church. But this situation has changed dramatically in the last year. The Shining Path believes that a new phase of the battle has begun.. . In this new phase all opposition whatsoever must simply be liquidated, and that includes the church. Between September 1990 and the present moment, the Shining Path has assassinated five pastoral agents, two religious women and three priests. The number may be small, but politically and socially their deaths clearly signified an important new step in the violent career of the Shining Path. [p. 539]
Peru Peace Network (PPN): Started in 1991, this organization is a network of individuals, religious communities, solidarity groups and human rights agencies, all focusing on Peru. It has published 75-page booklet, Peru: Caught in the Crossfire by Jo-Marie Burt and Aldo Panfichi. It surveys the historical background and the complex issues bearing down on present-day society. Contact: PPN, P.O. Box 551, Jefferson City, MO 65102. The book costs $6.00, plus $2.00 postage ($3.00 outside the U.S.)
In addition, PPN sponsors a conference on Peru on Peacenet, an international computer network. The conference, which is addressed REG.PERU or PPN.PERU, carries recent Spanish and English material from Inter Press Service (IPS), human rights groups and Peruvian organizations, as well as contributions by concerned individuals. Users must subscribe to the Peacenet network to access the conference. Contact: Institute for Global Communications, 3228 Sacramento St., San Francisco, CA 94115. Phone: (415) 923-0900.
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