LYNN NEARY, Host:
The Shining Path, or Sendero Luminoso, as it's called in Spanish, appears to be reemerging in Peru. Last month, 17 government soldiers and five civilians were killed in the jungle by the group. Back in the 1980s and '90s, the Maoist revolutionaries, under the leadership of Abimael Guzman, fought a fierce war that threatened the Peruvian government. But the Shining Path largely fell apart after Guzman's capture in 1992. Now they're active again. We are joined by NPR's Juan Forero in Bogota, Colombia. Good morning, Juan. Good to have you with us.
JUAN FORERO: Good morning. Good to be here.
NEARY: Now Juan, the Shining Path used to be a Maoist movement. Is this something different, what's emerging now?
FORERO: This seems to be a very different organization. The Shining Path of the '80s was a fanatical group beholden to one man back then, their supreme leader Abimael Guzman. And their aim was to transform Peru into a Maoist state. This group speaks of revolution but it has abandoned the kind of brutality the Shining Path was known for in the past. It welcomes foreign companies, for instance, but it preaches that those companies must improve conditions for workers.
NEARY: Why is it reemerging now?
FORERO: Well, that's unclear. And it's kind of unclear exactly what the group wants. It's possibly because of the cocaine trade. The government says that the group is heavily involved in cocaine trafficking, in whole facets of the coca trade, which is believed to be used to make cocaine. The group is - it's unknown exactly what they're doing or what they want because they don't speak very publicly. They won't go out and talk to the press. They mainly focus on small meetings with peasants in the Peruvian highland. And before these recent killings, one prominent leader of the group went on radio to simply say that they wanted a general amnesty. But that really didn't give people a lot of information about what they were up to.
NEARY: Well, remind us then just how just fierce this group was 20 years ago.
FORERO: Well, Shining Path was a brutal and a bizarre group in many ways. It was responsible for more than half of the 69,000 deaths in Peru's conflict. And its leader, Ab Guzman, said that 10 percent of Peru needed to die to purify the country. When they came onto the scene in 1980, they hanged dogs from lampposts. And the Shining Path killed many, many people in the highlands. They also launched the brutal bombing campaign in Lima that almost brought the government to its knees. That was in the early '90s, and then, of course, Guzman was captured in 1992 and the group seemed to fall apart.
NEARY: Is he still in prison? Does he have any influence on the group now?
FORERO: He still has influence, apparently. There are some analysts that say that he is still the leader of the organization, but he has been jailed since 1992. And he has called for the group to disband in the past, and of course that hasn't happened. The Shining Path has also come out to condemn (unintelligible) message the group used in the 1980s and '90s.
NEARY: Yeah. And I understand that they're now saying they'll protect villagers and only target government and drug authorities. But do people believe that? Do they trust them, these villagers?
FORERO: Well, I don't know that there really is very much support for this group. People clearly have to listen to them, it seems, more because these guys show up with guns in their villages. In theory, the poverty and isolation of those highland villages can be fertile ground for guerillas, but Shining Path was despised in the past for its brutal tactics.
NEARY: Yeah. And what does the Peruvian government doing now?
FORERO: The Peruvian government is launching - has launched a campaign. They've sent 1,000 soldiers up into the highlands to search for them. And this is all under the orders of President Alan Garcia. This is quite a twist because Garcia was president from 1985 to 1990, which were years when the Shining Path grew strong and the brutality on both sides grew out of control. So once again, Alan Garcia is the president, and once again, he has ordered troops into the highlands to try to control this organization, though it's really much, much smaller. We're only talking a few hundred - a hundred guerillas at most.
NEARY: All right, thanks so much for joining us, Juan.
FORERO: Thank you.
NEARY: NPR's Juan Forero in Bogota.