Opinion

Peru marks 20 years since capture of Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán

By Manuel Vigo

September 12, 1992 is a day that lives in many Peruvians’ memory as the moment that marked the decline of the Shining Path.

Peru marks 20 years since capture of Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán

Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman after capture (Photo: El Comercio/Archive)

September 12, 1992 is a day that lives in many Peruvians\’ memory as the moment that marked the decline of the Shining Path, a Maoist guerilla group that terrorized the country during the 1980s and 1990s.


During these years the Shining Path was directly responsible for the death or disappearance of 31,331 people, according to the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


20 years ago today Abimael Guzman, the group’s leader, was captured, landing a significant blow against the Shining Path’s “people’s war”.


Guzman’s capture was the result of intelligence work carried out by the DINCOTE, the country’s anti-terrorism unit. In 1992 the DINCOTE began monitoring several Lima homes, which they believed could be housing suspected terrorists.


Authorities started to pay close attention to a home in Surquillo, which had been operating as a dance studio owned by Maritza Garrido Leca.


Officials became suspicious when they began to notice the house, in which Garrido Lecca supposedly lived by herself, generated more garbage than one person could account for.


The tell-tale sign of Guzman’s presence was the empty tubes of medical creams used to treat psoriasis, a disease he was known to have.


House in Los Sauces, Surquillo, where Abimael Guzman was captured on September 12, 1992.
House in Los Sauces, Surquillo, where Abimael Guzman was captured on September 12, 1992.


On September 12, 1992 Peruvian anti-terrorist agents and police stormed the house and arrested Abimael Guzman and eight other Shining Path members, including Guzman’s partner Elena Iparraguirre.


As police shifted through the evidence from the Surquillo house, they found that on his computer Guzman had recorded specific details about the terrorist group.


The Shining Path, Guzman recorded, had 23,430 members across the country, and had access to hundreds of weapons and explosives.


After a three-day trial, the terrorist leader was sentenced to life in prison. He is currently incarcerated in a maximum-security prison inside a naval base in Callao.


Guzman being transported to San Lorenzo naval base.
Guzman being transported to San Lorenzo naval base.


Today, the Shining Path’s presence may have diminished, and its motivation might have shifted, but the group is still present in several parts of the country.


The guerilla rebels still operate as a narco-terrorist group in the jungle are known as the VRAEM – Peru’s main source of coca leaf production.


Recently the group also made incursions into the political world when Guzman’s lawyer Alfredo Crespo founded the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (Movimiento de Amnistia y Derechos Fundamentales, or MOVADEF in Spanish,) and attempted to have the group recognized as an official political party.


Movadef argued Guzman was a political prisoner and not a terrorist.


"What has happened in our country is not terrorism […] what happened in the 80’s was a political event that had economic and social consequences during a particular moment in the history of Peru,” Crespo said during a television appearance.


Eventually Movadef would back down from its request for official party recognition, after the country’s elections board denied it inscription.


“We may not be a registered party, but we exist and will continue to fight for political transformation,” Crespo was quoted as saying by The Economist.


Abimael Guzmán and Elena Iparraguirre at their second trial in 2004
Abimael Guzmán and Elena Iparraguirre at their second trial in 2004.


To mark the 20th anniversary of Guzman’s capture, La Republica and Peru\‘s Legal Defense Institute hosted a roundtable with officials who participated in his capture, and other key figures that have studied the terrorist group.


Carlos Tapia, a political scientist, argued Movadef should be allowed to join the political spectrum, if only to have their ideas discredited.


“We have to rebuild democracy. You have to give Movadef a voice, let them talk all they want. All political parties need to agree to fight Movadef in the student organizations,” Tapia said to La Republica.


“In this process of ideological struggle we will unite and bring real democracy to all areas that feel identified with this system.”


“The Shining Path always had clear political and military objectives,” said Guillermo Bonilla, a police officer who was part of the anti-terrorist unit that captured Guzman.


“Their political objectives were to form a new state to create a Maoist republic. The military objective was to destroy the democratic system.” 


 



Infamous footage of Abimael Guzman and high-ranking Shining Path members during their first congress in Lima, in 1989. Peruvian authorities would eventually confiscate the tape, and use it to identify key members.