Days before the arrival of U.S. President George W. Bush in March 2002, a car bomb killed 9 people outside the U.S. embassy. There had been rumors that Peru’s foremost terrorist group Sendoro Luminoso (SL) - out of action since the imprisonment of its founder and leaders in 1995 - had resumed activity. Other rumors suggested that Tupac Amaru (MRTA) had begun to fill the anti-government power vacuum and that exiled President Fujimori was poised to attempt a return to power. The bombing sent a vivid reminder that the inequities and conflicts that have festered in this poor Andean country have yet to be resolved and that armed insurgents and government sanctioned paramilitaries continue to operate.
After Spanish colonization in the 16th Century, the native Inca population was decimated by European disease, forced labor and wars of resistance, which ended with the defeat of Tupac Amaru’s rebellion in 1780. Powerful landowners and mining interest developed under Spanish rule. Peru became independent in 1824, but didn’t establish a constitution or abolish slavery until the regime of Marshal Catilla from 1845-1862. In the early 20th century, Peru developed a substantial copper-mining industry financed and owned by foreign interests, namely American. By the 1960’s, an anti-imperialist revolutionary movement emerged, typical of many in Latin America, seeking land reforms and redistribution of wealth and land reforms to replace the traditional economic exploitation by the oligarchy, supported by U.S. interests. Although the main dissident group, the Marxist-oriented American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), had little success, by 1968 a military faction led by General Juan Velasco Alvarado implemented a series of progressive economic and social reforms.
Alvarado’s successor General Francisco Morales Bermudez laid plans for a return to civilian rule and elections were held in 1978 and 1980, followed by an economic collapse that led to the rise of new revolutionary groups. The two main guerilla groups were Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path, or SL), and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), both of which remain factors today. In reaction to the guerilla warfare, in 1983 the government imposed a state of emergency throughout the country. APRA, which had been a revolutionary organization in the 1960’s evolved into the leading political party and target of the new radicals. The APRA administration grappled with economic problems, compounded by insurgency throughout the 1980s.
In 1980 Alberto Fujimori became President and beset by political wrangling began to rule by decree in 1991, while evolving from an elected administration to an authoritarian regime, eventually dissolving parliament in 1992. That September, Peruvian forces captured Abimael Guzman, founder and leader of Sendero Luminoso and other SL leaders. Fujimori sanctioned the deployment of paramilitary forces to supplement Peru’s army, which resulted in the expected disintegration of human rights including murder, torture, kidnappings, etc.
Fujimori was able to attract foreign investment from the U.S. and Japan and had continued success against guerilla forces, which helped stimulate Peru’s economy recovery, increasing his popularity and the control of his military regime. In the 1995 elections Fujimori soundly defeated Javier Perez de Cuellar, fiormer Secretary General of the United Nations, amid charges of corruption and spying against Perez de Cuellar. During his term of office Fujimori continued attempts to manipulate Peru’s democratic system to his personal advantage and amended constitutional rules eliminating the term limits that blocking his ability to remain in office. In the April 2000 elections, Fujimori defeated Alejandro Toledo, again amid corruption charges and scandal involving Peru’s intelligence chief Vladamiro Montesinos.
Montesinos was videotaped passing bribes to public officials, alleged to be involved in arms transfers to guerilla groups, accused of operating death squads, and implicated in massive money laundering schemes. As international diplomatic pressure was brought to bear on the Fujimori government due to the erosion of Peru’s democratic institutions, Fujimori and Montesinos ( known as the corrupt "Siamese Twins") battled for control of the military. Fujimori abruptly resigned from office in November, taking refuge in Japan.
An interim government, led by Valentin Paniagua abolished the treacherous National Intelligence Service,and began investigating charges that former CIA asset Vladimir Montesinos laundered over $50 million through Swiss banks. A special election was held in 2001 and Alejandro Toledo defeated former President Alan Garicia, who recently returned from exile.
Toledo, who came from humble beginnings, was educated at Stanford and worked for the World Bank faces public doubts about his character. Garcia left Peru amid charges of corruption and is blamed for the nations financial crisis. Since neither contender has a strong constituency, Fujimori is reported to be considering a comeback. Even though Fujimori has been banned from holding public office for 10 ten years, such obstacles has not previously deterred his ambition. The other "Siamese twin," Montesinos has vanished and Sendero Luminoso appears to be resurfacing. (Some people wonder if there’s any similarity to the quandary of Superman and Clark Kent are never seen together.)
Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA)
MRTA was formed in 1984 as a traditional leftist revolutionary movement seeking to end imperialist domination and establish a Marxist government. The group was named after Tupac Amaru 18th-century rebel leader who fought Spanish colonialists and is a symbol of the Peruvian people’s struggle against their oppressors. MRTA’s founder and ideological leader Victor Polay has had connections to Basques in Spain and France. Polay was arrested, escaped from prison, was recaptured and is currently in high security incarceration. MRTA’s military commander, Nestor Cerpa Cartolini took over as leader after Poly’s arrest in 1992.
MRTA’s base is a vast jungle area in eastern Peru and northern Amazon region. Its actions have included bombings, kidnappings, ambushes, and assassinations, many targeting U.S. Interests Its most daring action came in December 1996 when MRTA commandos seized the Japanese Ambassador’s residence in Lima during a diplomatic reception, taking hundreds of hostages. Although some hostages were released, others were held until Peruvian Special Forces raided the embassy in April 1997. Fourteen MRTA rebels were killed including the group’s leader Cerpa.
MRTA’s goal has been to instigate a people’s revolution, establishing local or regional power bases, but not liberating and holding territory. With an educated middle class base, MRTA’s political strategy has been to win the hearts and minds of the people and they propose a form of democratic socialism appropriate to Peru as an alternative to capitalism that has failed to benefit the majority of Peruvians.
SL – Sendero Luminoso
The larger of Peru’s two main insurgencies, SL has been one of the world’s most ruthless guerrilla organizations and is often compared to the brutality the infamous Pol Pot. Sendero Luminoso is oriented to more marginalized sectors of the society, imposing their views and control by violence and terror. Formed in the late 1960s by a university professor, Abimael Guzman, the organization’s goal was to destroy existing Peruvian institutions and replace them with a communist revolutionary regime. As a peasant-based revolution SP was also opposed to rid foreign political and economic influence and exploitation. SL’s leader Abimael Guzman’s was captured in September 1992 and imprisoned along with other key SL leaders. The arrest of SL leaders combined with President Fujimori’s amnesty program for repentant terrorists eliminated Sendero Luminoso as an active insurgency.
Shining Path actions included the indiscriminate use of bombs. Almost every institution in Peru has been a target of SL violence. SL bombed diplomatic missions of several countries in Peru, including the US Embassy and carried selective assassinations. SL attacked foreign and especially US businesses and became intimately involved in the cocaine trade. At its peak SP was believed to have 1,500 to 2,500 armed militants and a significantly larger number of supporters, mostly in rural areas. Operations were mainly in rural areas with some terrorist attacks in the capital.