After the Peruvian army captured Comrade Artemio on February 12 and two potential successors on March 4 and April 3, President Ollanta Humala declared that the Shining Path was “totally defeated”—a prediction that is already proving to be premature. The Shining Path faction in the Upper Huallaga Valley retains a core group of loyal fighters capable of conducting military operations to pressure the government for Artemio’s release, but they are more dangerous for their apparent alliance with Movadef, a rising political movement that the government sees as a “front” for the Shining Path. Meanwhile, the 500-fighter faction of the Shining Path led by Comrade Jose in the VRAE has made clear its desire to expand its international narco-trafficking enterprise into the Upper Huallaga Valley and exploit the power vacuum with Artemio out of the picture. A takeover of the Upper Huallaga Valley would elevate Comrade Jose to the level of one of South America’s premier narco-trafficking bosses. Neither Shining Path faction is near surrender, and questions linger about whether President Humala’s new four-year anti-drug strategy underwritten by millions of dollars of U.S. aid will tame or enflame the country’s narco-trafficking insurgencies.
The Shining Path consists of a 500-fighter faction in the River Apurimac and River Ene Valley (VRAE) led by Comrade Jose and a smaller 150-fighter faction in the Upper Huallaga Valley led until February 12 by Comrade Artemio. The VRAE and Upper Huallaga Valley factions split in 1999 after the capture of then leader Comrade Feliciano (Oscar Ramirez Durand). Comrade Artemio succeeded Feliciano in 1999 and remained loyal to Shining Path founder, Abimael Guzman (Chairman Gonzalo), who was captured in 1992. After Feliciano’s capture, Comrade Jose’s faction disavowed the Shining Path of Guzman, Feliciano and Artemio, who they criticized for alienating the campesinos during the war against the State in 1980s and for offering truces to the government once Guzman was captured.
Both factions officially espouse turning Peru into a Marxist state, but they depend on their capitalist narco-trafficking enterprises for financial survival. It is no coincidence that the two surviving factions of the once 15,000-fighter Shining Path operate in the country’s two main coca producing regions—the VRAE and the Upper Huallaga Valley, which produce 75% of Peru’s coca. With Peru expected to surpass Colombia as the world’s largest coca producer (61,200 hectares) in 2012, both factions stand to benefit.
The capture of Comrade Artemio has weakened his faction, but a core group of his fighters continue to engage in shows of military force to support Movadef’s political goals. There appears to be a low likelihood of a Shining Path merger considering that the two groups operate in distinct areas and harbor contrasting motivations. If Artemio’s faction continues to splinter, however, Jose’s faction may gain control of the major drug trafficking routes in the Upper Huallaga Valley and revive the Shining Path under a model like the FARC—a drug cartel with a nominal Marxist ideology. Both Shining Path factions benefit from the country’s increasing coca production, while they are also capable attracting recruits from the cocaleros if the drug eradication plan moves forward. The drug war can only be won if the cocaleros are provided with a substitute to growing coca, but historically the state has struggled to meet this need.
After the capture of Abimael Guzman in 1992, then President Fujimori said, “Sendero has been defeated. I defeated it.” Twenty years later, President Humala shows similar optimism, but the events on the ground suggest that both Shining Path factions will adapt to the realities on the ground after Artemio’s picture and implement new strategies in order to survive.
Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso in Spanish) is a Maoist guerrilla insurgent organization in Peru. It prefers to be called the "Communist Party of Peru" or "PCP" for short. The Shining Path's ideology and tactics have been influential on other Maoist insurgent groups, notably the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and other Revolutionary Internationalist Movement-affiliated organizations. Widely condemned for its brutality, including violence deployed against peasants, trade union organizers, popularly elected officials and the general civilian population, the Shining Path is described by the Peruvian government as a terrorist organization. The group is on the U.S. Department of State's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and the European Union and Canada likewise describe it as a terrorist organization and prohibit providing funding or other financial support.