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Cablegate: "Shining Path": What Does It Mean Today?

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S E C R E T LIMA 000196

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/31/2018
TAGS: PGOV PINR PTER SNAR PE
SUBJECT: "SHINING PATH": WHAT DOES IT MEAN TODAY?

REF: A. LIMA 2560
B. LIMA 3707
C. LIMA 3764

Classified By: CDA James D. Nealon. Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: The terrorist organization "Shining Path"
(Sendero Luminoso or SL) is currently comprised of two
distinct groups, according to analysts. One consists largely
of long-time SL members and "true believers" in the Maoist
ideology who are reportedly working within civic
organizations and universities to revitalize the movement.
While this group finds fertile ground in Peru's still
pervasive poverty, there are intrinsic obstacles to its
joining forces with other actors in Peru's anti-systemic
opposition. The second group, itself comprised of two
smaller factions, has increasingly involved itself in the
drug trade to the exclusion of any political agenda, an
evolution akin to that of the FARC in Colombia. While each
group separately poses a threat, observers believe that the
threat would expand significantly if the two groups reunited.
The Government of Peru has a multi-faceted security and
civic action plan to end the SL terrorist threat
definitively. While there have been some security successes,
the plan so far has delivered few tangible civic benefits.
End Summary.

2. (C) The status of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path -- SL),
the Maoist-inspired terrorist group that threatened the
viability of the Peruvian state in the late 80s, continues to
concern many Peruvians, particularly those with
responsibilities for internal defense and security. The
capture of SL founder and leader Abimael Guzman in 1992 ended
the urgency of the threat but did not definitively eliminate
SL from Peru's political landscape. Not long after Guzman's
capture, the organization split into two factions. One
favored Guzman's attempts to reach a negotiated political
settlement with the government ("Acuerdistas"). The other
vowed to continue SL's political and military struggle
("Proseguir"). The core of those seeking a negotiated
settlement happened to be imprisoned with Guzman and remain
focused on securing his release, while those still on the
outside, free from the autocratic leader's immediate
influence, began circling in more autonomous political orbits.

Acuerdistas
-----------

3. (S) The current ranks of "Acuerdistas" have been fed
largely by prison releases. Hundreds of Sendero's former
core members, after completing their sentences, were freed
between 2001 and 2007. According to sensitive sources,
Guzman, from his prison cell, retains a significant measure
of control and influence over this "Acuerdista" coterie,
whose principal objective is to negotiate and secure Guzman's
eventual release. (Guzman has been sentenced to life in
prison without any possibility of parole or release. He
received an additional life sentence January 2 for his role
in the massacre of 69 persons in Ayacucho region in 1980, in
addition to 26 assassinations and 14 car bombings in 1980 and
1981.) While observers acknowledge that most former
Senderistas released from prison have sought to integrate
themselves as ordinary citizens into Peruvian society, they
also estimate that several hundred retain their ideological
commitments and that 50 or more have the political and
organizational experience to fill leadership roles in the
movement.

4. (C) According to some analysts, these leaders are now
using their positions in civic organizations and union groups
to foment social unrest. One contact told poloffs of a
recent community event in Ayacucho during which he sat across
the table from known former Senderistas who now work for the
teachers' union SUTEP and are involved in regional politics.
Other "Acuerdista" SL members reportedly have resumed their
posts as high school and university instructors, where
analysts believe they are working below the radar to
proselytize new members of student groups supporting
Marxist-Leninist-Maoist philosophies (ref A). As an example,
some sources refer to the University of San Marcos in Lima --
the oldest and among the largest public universities in Peru
-- as a "factory of radicalism" that produces large numbers
of semi-educated graduates, typically in "social science,"
with few prospects for gainful employment. This pattern is
reportedly replicated to varying degrees in other public
universities around the country. Recent media reports have
highlighted more broadly the return of Sendero elements to
places of vulnerability such as rural schools in poor
regions, but many of these reports lack specificity, and
government officials, including the Minister of Education,
have taken issue with them.

5. (C) Even in the absence of hard evidence, the
revitalization of SL is seen by many observers as at least
theoretically plausible because the underlying social
conditions that facilitated its initial rise remain mostly
unchanged. Notwithstanding Peru's much-touted macroeconomic
advances of recent years, poverty, marginalization,
unemployment and lack of opportunity in general, particularly
but not only in Peru's Sierra region such as Ayacucho (the
birthplace of SL), remain stubbornly persistent. According
to some analysts, as long as this remains so the country will
continue to provide fertile terrain for radical groups. At
the same time, however, SL rarely collaborated with mere
fellow travelers in radicalism, and often fought bitter and
even deadly battles with ideological and political rivals on
the left. Many anti-systemic opposition groups, including,
for example, Ollanta Humala's Nationalist Party, are sworn
enemies of Sendero for this reason. In a 2007 meeting,
Humala told us he opposed violence as a political instrument
because had seen the devastation wrought upon Peru by Sendero
Luminoso. SL's use of savage and indiscriminate violence,
sometimes against whole communities, elicited widespread
popular revulsion, a sentiment that remains prevalent today.
For this reason, any association with SL can be a kiss of
death for groups seeking to forge a political future in
Peru's sizable and diverse anti-systemic camp, which often
causes them to steer clear.

Proseguir
---------

6. (C) Following Guzman's 1992 capture, the Sendero
organization crumbled and authorities swept the countryside
in search of its remnats. Those Sendero members who became
members of the "Proseguir" group sought refuge separately in
two remote areas of the country. One faction -- led by
"Comrade Artemio" -- hid in the Upper Huallaga River Valley,
primarily in the Huanuco region, the other -- led by "Comrade
Alipio" -- in the VRAE (Apurimac and Ene River Valley) in the
northern Ayacucho region. Security officials soon gave up
the difficult search, thinking (or hoping) the remnant groups
would fade away. During the last 15 years, both groups have
clung to survival on the jungle margins, adapting themselves
to a political condition characterized by the absence of
outside leadership or guidance. Concretely, this means that
each group retained a Maoist veneer and the explicit
commitment to continuing the armed struggle while, in
practical terms, gradually deepening and expanding their
involvement in the drug trade.

7. (C) In both cases, SL's involvement in the trade began by
charging traffickers "protection money" to ensure the safety
of their enterprises and cargo. Over time, it expanded
across the narcotics chain, and has come to include growing
coca, processing coca leaf into cocaine paste and recently --
particularly in the VRAE -- producing refined cocaine
hydrochloride. Analysts believe that Alipio's organization,
for example, has hundreds of "micro-labs" scattered
throughout the VRAE area. Some observers have remarked on
the similarity of this pattern to Colombia's experience with
the FARC (ref C).

8. (S) The VRAE's inaccessibility and virtual absence of any
state presence, including security forces, makes it a
quasi-ungoverned area dominated by narcotics traffickers.
According to many analysts, this is one reason why the VRAE
faction of Proseguir appears to be flourishing. (Note: It is
also the reason there are no eradication or alternative
development programs in the VRAE. End Note.) While core SL
membership there is probably fewer than 100, according to
sensitive reports, part-time or contract membership relating
to carrying out specific tasks and responsibilities in the
narcotics trade may be twice that number. By contrast,
observers see Artemio's group in the Upper Huallaga as being
on the defensive for the past two years. At the height of
its strength, the Upper Huallaga SL group reportedly numbered
approximately 150 militants. Operational successes by
government security forces caused the group significant
losses in 2007, and authorities claim that Artemio's arrest
may be imminent (ref B). If that happens, many analysts
predict the remaining SL structure in the Upper Huallaga
could collapse.

Efforts to Reunite
------------------

9. (C) While each of the above groups separately represent
varying degrees of immediate and potential threat now (even
if nothing like the critical threat to the viability and
survival of the Peruvian state that SL did in the late
1980s), observers focused on a worst-case outlook are
concerned about their possibly reuniting. This concern is
fueled in part by reports that such a move is afoot. For
example, some analysts claim evidence that Guzman's long-time
companion and now-wife, Elena Iparraguirre (AKA "Comrade
Miriam", also imprisoned), is leading efforts to mend the
rift in the Sendero organization. There were reports in
October 2007 that the head of Sendero's Lima Metropolitan
Committee, Emilio Robero Mera, had recently traveled to the
VRAE to consult with that area's leadership. Perhaps more
impactful than anecdotal reports, however, is a larger
speculative concern that the combination of Proseguir's
narco-dollars and paramilitary capabilities with the
Acuerdistas' ideological fervor and political machine could
produce a terrorism challenge reminiscent of the 1980s.
(Comment: A reuniting of the two groups or significant
reblossoming of the pre-Fujimori SL seems to us unlikely for
a number of reasons, among them passage of time,
irreconcilable differences and a transformed national and
international context. End Comment.)

Comment: GOP Priority to End Terrorism Definitively
--------------------------------------------- ------

10. (C) President Garcia has two priority goals for his
second term in office, both relating to resurrecting his
reputation from his disastrous first term (85-90). The first
goal is to ensure economic stability and growth. The second
is to end definitively Peru's terrorist threat -- a threat
widely perceived as having exploded out of control on his
first watch. The GOP has laid out a comprehensive plan --
with economic development, social and civil, intelligence,
and security components -- to do this. It has a subordinate
plan to take on the challenges particular to the VRAE, with
similar component elements. But that plan has only been
partially implemented, both in geographic and functional
terms. Expanding the presence of the state to emergency
zones such as the VRAE and pushing out the benefits of
economic growth to impoverished regions such as Ayacucho --
difficult challenges in the best of cases -- have not yet
meaningfully happened. In that sense, apart from punctuated
operational successes in the Upper Huallaga region, the GOP's
plan to eliminate SL from Peru's landscape once and for all
has yielded few results so far.
NEALON

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