There is a lot of lying about the new Sendero, and next to nothing about the smaller MRTA in Peru. The MRTA is said to be defunct, but actually about one person is arrested every three weeks on charges of being an MRTA member. Why the group is still illegal is not known, since they have not waged any attacks in 14 years. However, the state refuses to negotiate a peace treaty with them, so members are still on the run.
Recently, the remains of the MRTA in San Martin Region took off for Colombia with a column of FARC guerrillas. A column of Shining Path guerrillas also took off for Colombia with the FARC. In the past, Sendero hated both the FARC and MRTA as revisionists. The new Sendero is much more moderate and reasonable, and they are working with both organizaitons.
FARC also now has a large presence in Peru, though they are not waging any attacks. Instead, they are just building a movement in rural areas. There are about 1,200 FARC members in Peru, members of FARP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Peru). There are also FARC branches in Venezuela (FARV – 2,000 members), Ecuador – FARE, and Brazil, FARB, where they operate in the Dog’s Head region.
In Peru, FARP is mostly in the northeast, but they have been spotted all the way down to Pucallpa. In contrast to often poorly equipped MRTA members, FARC members in Peru are extremely well-equipped, dazzling peasants with their gear.
Sendero’s numbers are vastly underreported. First of all, there is a huge network of the old Sendero, mostly gone to ground for many years now, often over a decade. They have not carried out attacks since 1993, but the government is still arresting them as members of an illegal organization. This is Abimael Guzman’s old group who are still loyal to Guzman. They seek a peace treaty with the state and to form a legal political party for the time being.
The other groups are mostly centered around the VRAE and the Upper Huallaga Valley to the north. The state usually says that there are 300 fighters total in these groups, but there are more than that. Recently they upped it to 600. There must be more than that even. In recent years, one person is arrested per day on charges of being members of Sendero Luminoso. So 350 Senderistas are arrested every year for several years now. In one year, the entire 350 man group would be arrested.
In recent years, Sendero has started coming back to some of their old hideouts. In 2003, they were recruiting again in Villa El Salvador, a huge slum in Lima. They are returning to many of their old haunts in Ayacucho. They recently made an appearance in Chuschi, where the revolution started in June 1980. They have also shown up in Cangallo. There have recently been arrests at the University of Huamanga in Ayacucho, where Guzman was a professor and where the revolution began. A huge march in the city demanded the release of several students arrested for being Senderistas.
Sendero has a presence once again in the Cuzco Region, mostly in the jungle in the west near Vilcabamba. They have shown up recently in Sicuani in the south of Cuzco in the high Andes. They once again have a presence in Huancayo, the mining village in Junin. They have been seen recently in eastern Ancash, where they had not been seen in years. This is probably a movement west from the Huallaga. Similarly, there have been a couple of sightings in eastern La Libertad near Tayabamba.
They have moved all through the Amazon to the area where Peru, Colombia and Brazil come together. These reports indicate that Sendero may even be present in the Dog’s Head in Brazil and in far southern Colombia.
The new Sendero has refused Guzman’s orders to surrender, lay down arms and seek peace. Since the state offers them nothing but arrests until they die, they may as well fight on. Why not? The VRAE and Huallaga factions are both now working very heavily with local cocaine traffickers. For this sin they have been heavily critiqued by the old Sendero as mercenaries. However, they are making a lot of money. They have brand new uniforms, new weaponry and have excellent gear.
Reports indicate that in the old days, Sendero was very brutal. Villagers said they killed people “for no reason.” Others say that they entered villages, stole whatever they wanted, and then shoot up the village if they refused to join the insurgency. Sendero’s brutal tactics were quite successful, but they also horribly alienated the poor peasants. Many are still angry to this day.
However, the new Sendero leaves the people alone, or, if they deal with them at all, is good to them. When they come into towns, they buy whatever they want, leave pamphlets, ask if anyone wants to join, and then leave. Most villagers have a positive opinion of them these days. Even the local rondas that Peru set up to fight Sendero (local village militias) refuse to fight them anymore. Sendero is now allied with other regional guerrillas and they have issued positive statements on the New Left movements in Venezuela, Bolivia and elsewhere. Previously, such folks were condemned as revisionists.
Bottom line is this is a much more reasonable organization. Whereas I used to hate them, now I support them 100%.
Here it is 30 years after Sendero started its war in Peru, and I hardly think Peru is any better off now than then. Peruvian capitalist society is just crap, and it seems to be unreformable. Let’s just get rid of it altogether and start anew.
It would be nice if a Peruvian Chavez would come along, but that’s not in the stars.