Old Rebel Group Looks For Foothold In Modern Peru

In Peru, remnants of the former pro-Maoist Shining Path rebel group are reorganizing along two different paths. One fueled by former Shining Path leaders is throwing off violence and trying to forge change in Peru through politics. But another Shining Path splinter group is involved in violent, narco-fueled organized crime.

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A gruesome civil war swept across Peru during in the 1980s and '90s. The Maoist guerrillas of Shining Path waged a violent insurgency and the country's military responded with brutal force. Both sides terrorized and killed many civilians. All told, the war claimed almost 70,000 lives.

Today, Peru is thriving. Its economy is among the most vibrant in Latin America and the country just elected a new president.

But as Annie Murphy reports, the past still lingers and old members of Shining Path are trying to find news ways to keep a foothold in Peru.

ANNIE MURPHY: Abimael Guzman was the philosophy professor who led Shining Path, in a war he once said would be like crossing a river of blood. Now he's an old man sitting in solitary confinement at a prison outside Lima. He was captured in 1992 and has never been allowed to speak to the press.

Sitting in a damp cell, Guzman studies old economics texts and waits for weekly visits from his lawyer, Alfredo Crespo.

Crespo, who spent about a decade in jail himself, is one of the founders of a new political party called the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights. It includes many old members of Shining Path.

Mr. ALFREDO CRESPO (Founder, Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights): (Through translator) The times have changed. In Peru today, it's not the time for an armed struggle. What we need to do is participate in political life.

MURPHY: The party's main goal is amnesty for those who were involved in the war. It's off to a slow start. The party's candidates didn't win a single position in recent elections.

But they're not the only members of Shining Path trying to reinvent themselves. About a day's travel from the city of Quillabamba, several provinces meet in a corner of the upper Amazon. It's a dense, hilly jungle broken only by cliffs dropping off into rivers, and a few dirt roads.

(Soundbite of music)

MURPHY: The surrounding area is scattered with tiny villages, places where the high school band is popular entertainment. It's also Peru's ground zero for narco-trafficking and smaller remnants of Shining Path have become key to the drug trade here.

Jaime Antezana is an analyst who studies security issues.

Mr. JAIME ANTEZANA (Analyst): (Through translator) I call this Narco-Shining Path, Shining Path, but in the style of Colombia's FARC. They make use of the political discourse and ideology, but what they're really doing is providing security, producing drugs, and controlling trade routes.

They're also attacking the armed forces, but it's fundamentally for the purpose of defending the drug trade.

MURPHY: The aggressive drug war in Colombia is squeezing production back into places like Peru. Antezana believes this year, Peru will likely top Colombia in coca leaf production. The leaf has a traditional legal use in the Andes, while it's also the raw material for cocaine.

As this pocket of jungle becomes more important for the drug trade, narco-traffickers affiliated with Shining Path are exerting more and more control over the region.

Antezana says that in the past three years, they've killed nearly 60 members of the armed forces. Roland Bayona is a local police chief.

Mr. ROLAND BAYONA (Police Chief): (Through translator) It's not possible to effectively control narco-trafficking and the Shining Path here. We're not trained to go out and patrol the jungle, and the number of recruits is also insufficient.

MURPHY: Nely Pimentel owns a bus company in Quillabamba. Motorcycles and trucks roar by the front door of her office, where she writes tickets by hand. She says assaults are increasing on a stretch of road through what drivers refer to as the Red Zone. It's a dirt track that leads into that region known for drug trafficking and Shining Path, and it's also home to a small population of campesinos who farm coca, cacao, and coffee.

Ms. NELY PIMENTEL: (Spanish spoken)

MURPHY: People here don't trust that road anymore, she says. A lot of the bus drivers don't want to make the trip because it's not safe. There aren't any police around there to control what goes on, she says.

It makes a stark contrast to the struggling political party started by former members of Shining Path. Alfredo Crespo, one of the party's founders, says it has no ties to the branch of Shining Path now engaged in the drug trade.

Mr. CRESPO: (Through translator) These two movements are not in any way related. These other organizations make their own decisions and are responsible for what they do. It's totally separate from our organization, which seeks a political solution.

MURPHY: Two factions, a shared controversial history that's still unfinished. As one group uses the Shining Path name to consolidate power for drug trafficking, the other collects signatures and tries to quietly leave that name behind.

For NPR News, I'm Annie Murphy in Quillabamba, Peru.

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