Internal conflict in Peru

The internal conflict in Peru is an ongoing armed conflict between the Government of Peru, the Communist Party of Peru (also known as Shining Path or "PCP-SL") and the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. The conflict began on May 17, 1980.[6] It is estimated that there have been nearly 70,000 deaths, making it the bloodiest war in Peruvian history, since the European colonization of the country.

Internal conflict in Peru
Part of the Cold War and the War on drugs

Areas where Shining Path was/is active in Peru
DateMay 17, 1980 – 2000
Low level resurgence since June 22, 2002[1]
Status Ongoing

Peruvian Armed Forces

State-affiliated paramilitaries

Rondas Campesinas
Supported by:
 United States

Shining Path

  • People's Guerilla Army

MRTA (1982–1997)
Supported by:
 Cuba (According to the U.S. government)[2]

Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (According to the U.S. government, until 2011)[2]
Commanders and leaders

Francisco Morales Bermúdez
Fernando Belaúnde Terry
Alan García
(1985–1990, 2006–2011)
Alberto Fujimori

Valentín Paniagua
Alejandro Toledo
Ollanta Humala
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski

Martín Vizcarra

Comrade José
Comrade Raúl
Abimael Guzmán (POW)
Óscar Ramírez (POW)
Comrade Artemio (POW)
Comrade Alipio 
Comrade Mono (POW)

Víctor Polay (POW)

Néstor Cerpa Cartolini 
15,000 (peak)
~250–650 (2015)[3][4]
Casualties and losses
69,280 killed by the conflict (until 2002)[5]
Part of a series on the
History of Peru
By chronology
By political entity
By topic
Peru portal

The high death toll includes many civilian casualties, due to deliberate targeting by many factions. Since 2000, the number of deaths has dropped significantly and recently the conflict has become dormant. There were low-level resurgences of violence in 2002 and 2014 when conflict erupted between the Peruvian Army and Guerrilla remnants in the VRAEM region. The conflict has lasted for over 39 years, making it the second longest internal conflict in the history of Latin America, after the Colombian armed conflict.


Prior to the conflict, Peru had undergone a series of coups with frequent switches between political parties and ideologies. On October 2, 1968,[7] General Juan Velasco Alvarado staged a military coup and became Peru's 56th president under the administration of the Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces, left-leaning military dictatorship. Following a period of widespread poverty and unemployment, Velasco himself was overthrown in a bloodless military coup on August 29, 1975. He was replaced by Francisco Morales Bermúdez as the new President of Peru.[8]

Morales announced that his rule would provide a "Second Phase" to the previous administration, which would bring political and economic reforms.[9] However, he was unsuccessful in delivering these promises, and in 1978, a Constitutional Assembly was created to replace Peru's 1933 Constitution. Morales then proclaimed that national elections would be held by 1980.[10] Elections were held for the Constituent Assembly on June 18, 1978, whilst martial law was imposed on January 6, 1979. The Assembly approved the new constitution in July 1979. On May 18, 1980, Fernando Belaunda Terry was elected president. Between February 1966 and July 1980 approximately 500 people died of political violence.[11]

Many affiliated with Peru's Communist Party had opposed the creation of the new constitution and formed the extremist organization known as the Shining Path. This ultimately led to the emergence of internal conflict, with the first attacks taking place a day before the elections.[11] Despite this, national elections continued and Fernando Belaúnde Terry was elected as the 58th President of Peru in 1980. Terry had already served as the country's 55th president prior to Velasco's coup in 1968.

Shining Path

During the governments of Velasco and Morales, Shining Path had been organized as a Maoist political group formed in 1970 by Abimael Guzmán, a communist professor of philosophy at the San Cristóbal of Huamanga University. Guzmán had been inspired by the Cultural Revolution which he had witnessed first-hand during a trip to China.[12] Shining Path members engaged in street fights with members of other political groups and painted graffiti encouraging an "armed struggle" against the Peruvian state.[13]

In June 1979, demonstrations for free education were severely repressed by the army: 18 people were killed according to official figures, but non-governmental estimates suggest several dozen deaths. This event led to a radicalization of political protests in the countryside and the outbreak of Shining Path's terrorist actions.[14]


Outbreak of hostilities (1980-1982)

When Peru's military government allowed elections for the first time in 1980, Shining Path was one of the few leftist political groups that declined to take part. They opted instead to launch guerrilla warfare actions against the state in the province of Ayacucho. On May 17, 1980—the eve of the presidential elections—members of Shining Path burned ballot boxes in the town of Chuschi, Ayacucho. The perpetrators were quickly caught and additional ballots were brought in to replace the burned ballots; the elections proceeded without any further incidents. The incident received very little attention in the Peruvian press.[15]

Shining Path opted to fight in the style taught by Mao Zedong. They would open up "guerrilla zones" in which their guerrillas could operate and drive government forces out of these zones to create "liberated zones". These zones would then be used to support new guerrilla zones until the entire country was essentially a unified "liberated zone". There is some disagreement among scholars about the extent of Maoist influence on the Shining Path, but the majority of scholars consider Shining Path to be a violent Maoist organization. One of the factors contributing to support for this view among scholars is that Shining Path's economic and political base were located primarily in rural areas and they sought to build up their influence in these areas.[16]

On December 3, 1982, the Shining Path officially formed an armed wing known as the "People's Guerrilla Army".

Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement

In 1982, the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) launched its own guerrilla against the Peruvian state. The group had been formed by remnants of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left and identified with Castroite guerrilla movements in other parts of Latin America. The MRTA used techniques that were more traditional to Latin American leftist organizations, like wearing uniforms, claiming to fight for true democracy, and accusations of human rights abuses by the state; in contrast, Shining Path did not wear uniforms and did not care for democratic processes.[17]

During the conflict, the MRTA and Shining Path engaged in combat with each other. The MRTA only played a small part in the overall conflict, being declared by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to have been responsible for 1.5 percent of casualties accumulated throughout the conflict. At its height, the MRTA was believed to have consisted of only a few hundred members.[17]

Government response (1981)

Gradually, Shining Path committed more and more violent attacks on the National Police of Peru until the Lima-based government could no longer ignore the growing crisis. In 1981, President Fernando Belaúnde Terry declared a state of emergency and ordered that the Peruvian Armed Forces fight Shining Path. Constitutional rights were suspended for 60 days in the Huamanga, Huanta, Cangallo, La Mar, and the Víctor Fajardo Provinces. Later, the Armed Forces created the Ayacucho Emergency Zone, where military law superseded civilian law. The military committed many human right violations in the area where it had political control, including the infamous Accomarca massacre. Scores of peasant farmers were massacred by the armed forces.[18] A special US-trained "counter terrorist" police battalion is known as the "Sinchis" became notorious in the 1980s for their violations of human rights.[19]

The Shining Path's reaction to the Peruvian government's use of the military in the conflict was to increase violent warfare in the countryside. Shining Path attacked police officers, soldiers, and civilians that it considered being "class enemies", often using gruesome methods of killing their victims. These killings, along with Shining Path's disrespect for the culture of indigenous peasants, turned many civilians in the Sierra away from the group.

Shining Path massacres (1982-1989)

Faced with a hostile population, Shining Path's guerrilla campaigns began to falter. In some areas, fearful, well-off peasants formed anti-Shining Path patrols called rondas. They were generally poorly equipped despite donations of guns from the armed forces. Nevertheless, Shining Path guerrillas were attacked by the rondas. The first reported attack was near Huata in January 1983, where some rondas killed 13 guerrillas. In February in Sacsamarca, rondas stabbed and killed the Shining Path commanders of that area. In March 1983, rondas brutally killed Olegario Curitomay, one of the commanders of the town of Lucanamarca. They took him to the town square, stoned him, stabbed him, set him on fire, and finally shot him.[20] Shining Path responded by entering the province of Huancasancos and the towns of Yanaccollpa, Ataccara, Llacchua, Muylacruz, and Lucanamarca, where they killed 69 people.[20] Other similar incidents followed, such as ones in Hauyllo, the Tambo District, and the La Mar Province. In the Ayacucho Department, Shining Path killed 47 peasants.[21]

Additional massacres by Shining Path occurred, such as one in Marcas on August 29, 1985.[22][23]

The Shining Path, like the government, filled its ranks by conscription. Thousands of child soldiers were recruited by Shining Path.[24]

Administration of Alberto Fujimori (1990–2000) and decline

Under the administration of Alberto Fujimori the state started its widespread use of intelligence agencies in its fight against Shining Path. Some atrocities were committed by the National Intelligence Service, notably the La Cantuta massacre, the Barrios Altos massacre and the Santa massacre.

On April 5, 1992, Fujimori dissolved the Congress of Peru and abolished the Constitution, initiating the Peruvian Constitutional Crisis of 1992. The reason for these actions was that Congress was slow to pass anti-terrorism legislation. Fujimori set up military courts to try suspected members of the Shining Path and MRTA and ordered that an "iron fist" approach be used. Fujimori also announced that Peru would no longer be under the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

As Shining Path began to lose ground in the Andes to the Peruvian state and the rondas, it decided to speed up its overall strategic plan. Shining Path declared that it had reached "strategic equilibrium" and was ready to begin its final assault on the cities of Peru. In 1992, Shining Path set off a powerful bomb in the Miraflores District of Lima in what became known as the Tarata bombing. This was part of a larger bombing campaign to follow suit in Lima.

On September 12, 1992, Peruvian police captured Guzmán and several Shining Path leaders in an apartment above a dance studio in the Surquillo district of Lima. The police had been monitoring the apartment, as a number of suspected Shining Path militants had visited it. An inspection of the garbage of the apartment produced empty tubes of a skin cream used to treat psoriasis, a condition that Guzmán was known to have. Shortly after the raid that captured Guzmán, most of the remaining Shining Path leadership fell as well.[25] At the same time, Shining Path suffered embarrassing military defeats to peasant self-defense organizations – supposedly its social base – and the organization fractured into splinter groups.

Guzmán's role as the leader of Shining Path was taken over by Óscar Ramírez, who himself was captured by Peruvian authorities in 1999. After Ramírez's capture, the group splintered, guerrilla activity diminished sharply and previous conditions returned to the areas where the Shining Path had been active.[26] Some Shining Path and MRTA remnants managed to stage minor scale attacks, such as the January 1993 wave of attacks and political assassinations that occurred in the run-up to the municipal elections, which also targeted US interests; these included the bombing of two Coca-Cola plants on January 22 (by Shining Path); the RPG attack against the USIS Binational Center on January 16; the bombing of a KFC restaurant on January 21 (both by the MRTA) and the car-bombing of the Peruvian headquarters of IBM on January 28 (by Shining Path).[27]:2–3 On July 27, 1993, Shining Path militants drove a car bomb into the US Embassy in Lima, which left extensive damage on the complex (worth some US$250,000) and nearby buildings.[27]:7–9

Shining Path was confined to their former headquarters in the Peruvian jungle and continued smaller attacks against the military, like the one that occurred on October 2, 1999, when a Peruvian Army helicopter was shot down by SP guerrillas near Satipo (killing 5) and stealing a PKM machine gun which was reportedly used in another attack against an Mi-17 in July 2003.[28]

Despite Shining Path being mostly defeated, more than 25% of Peru's national territory remained under a state of emergency until early 2000.[29]

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Alberto Fujimori resigned the Presidency in 2000, but Congress declared him "morally unfit", installing the opposite congress member Valentín Paniagua into office. He rescinded Fujimori's announcement that Peru would leave the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) to investigate the conflict. The commission was headed by the President of Catholic University Salomón Lerner Febres. The Commission found in its 2003 Final Report that 69,280 people died or disappeared between 1980 and 2000 as a result of the armed conflict.[30] A statistical analysis of the available data led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to estimate that the Shining Path was responsible for the death or disappearance of 31,331 people, 45% of the total deaths and disappearances.[30] According to a summary of the report by Human Rights Watch, "Shining Path... killed about half the victims, and roughly one-third died at the hands of government security forces... The commission attributed some of the other slayings to a smaller guerrilla group and local militias. The rest remain unattributed."[31] According to its final report, 75% of the people who were either killed or disappeared spoke Quechua as their native language, despite the fact that the 1993 census found that only 20% of Peruvians speak Quechua or another indigenous language as their native language.[32]

Nevertheless, the final report of the CVR was surrounded by controversy. It was criticized by almost all political parties[33][34] (including former Presidents Fujimori,[35] García[36] and Paniagua[37]), the military and the Catholic Church,[38] which claimed that many of the Commission members were former members of extreme leftists movements and that the final report wrongfully portrayed Shining Path and the MRTA as "political parties" rather than as terrorist organizations,[39] even though, for example, Shining Path has been clearly designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, and Canada.

A 2019 study disputed the casualty figures from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, estimating instead "a total of 48,000 killings, substantially lower than the TRC estimate" and concluding that "the Peruvian State accounts for a significantly larger share than the Shining Path."[40][41]

Reemergence in the 21st Century (2002–present)

Over the last two decades, there have been a number of incidents relating to internal conflict within Peru. On March 20, 2002, a car bomb exploded at "El Polo," a mall in a wealthy district of Lima near the US embassy.[42] On June 9, 2003, a Shining Path group attacked a camp in Ayacucho, and took 68 employees of the Argentine company Techint and three police guards hostage. The hostages worked at the Camisea gas pipeline project that takes natural gas from Cuzco to Lima.[43] According to sources from Peru's Interior Ministry, the hostage-takers asked for a sizable ransom to free the hostages. Two days later, after a rapid military response, the hostage-takers abandoned the hostages. According to some sources, the company paid the ransom.[44]

In 2015 the United States Treasury declared the Shining Path a narco-terrorist organization engaged in the taxing of production, processing, and transport, of cocaine. The allegations of Shining Path drug trafficking have been made by the Peruvian government before the United States' decree. This decree will freeze all Shining Path financial assets in the United States. US treasury official John Smith states the decree would help "the government of Peru's efforts to actively combat the group".[45]


  • October 13, 2006 – Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison for terrorism.[46]
  • May 22, 2007 – Peruvian police arrested 2 SP members in the town of Churcampa, Huancavelica province.[47]
  • May 27, 2007, the 27th anniversary of the Shining Path's first attack against the Peruvian state, a homemade bomb in a backpack was set off in a market in the southern Peruvian city of Juliaca, killing six and wounding 48. Because of the timing of the attack, the Shining Path is suspected by the Peruvian authorities of holding responsibility.[48]
  • September 20, 2007 – police arrested 3 SP insurgents in the city of Huancayo, Junín province.[47]
  • March 25, 2008 – Shining Path rebels killed a police officer and wounded 11, while they were performing patrol duty.[49]
  • October 15, 2008 – Shining Path militants attacked an army patrol, killing 2 and wounding 5.[50]
  • October 20, 2008 – a group of 30 to 50 Shining Path insurgents entered a camp set up by the mining company Doe Run. After delivering a short Maoist propaganda speech, before leaving, the militants stole communications equipment and food.[51]
  • October 2008 – in Huancavelica province, the senderistas engaged military and civil convoy with explosives and firearms, demonstrating their continued ability to strike and inflict casualties on easy targets. The clash resulted in the death of 12 soldiers and two to seven civilians.[52][53]
  • April 9, 2009 – Shining Path ambushed and killed 13 Peruvian soldiers in the Apurímac and Ene river valleys in Ayacucho, said Peruvian minister of Defense, Antero Flores-Aráoz.[54]
  • August 26, 2009 – two soldiers were killed in two separate incidents outside San Antonio de Carrizales, in the Huancayo Province.[55]
  • August 31, 2009 – 3 soldiers were wounded in an encounter with SL rebels, in the San Antonio de Carrizales, in the Huancayo Province.[55]
  • September 2, 2009 – Shining Path militants shot down a Peruvian Air Force MI-17 helicopter, later killing the two pilots with small arms fire.[55]
  • February 12, 2012 – Comrade Artemio was captured by a combined force of the Peruvian Army and the Police. President Ollanta Humala said that he would now step up the fight against the other remaining band of Shining Path rebels in the Ene-Apurímac valley.[56]
  • April 14, 2012 – A helicopter crashed after an SP sniper killed a police helicopter pilot during a hostage rescue operation in the Peruvian Amazon, 4 soldiers were also wounded in the crash.The operation started when SP took up to 40 hostages, demanding a $10 million ransom, 1500 soldiers were deployed into the abduction area in order to participate in the operation[57]
  • April 27, 2012 – Senderista rebels killed 3 soldiers and wounded 2 others in the aftermath of an ambush.[58]
  • May 2012 – It was reported that since 2008, 71 security forces personnel had been killed and 59 wounded by Shining Path ambushes in the VRAE region.[59]
  • August 11, 2013 – The Peruvian army killed three Shining Path rebels, including senior commander Comrade Alipio.[60]
  • November 8, 2013 – General Cesar Diaz was removed from the position of Chief of the Joint Command of Special Operations and the Intelligence Command in the VRAEM. The decision came in the aftermath of the 16 October aerial bombing of Mazangaro which killed one civilian and injured 4 others.[61]
  • February 2014 – The Shining Path were reported to have attacked a Transportadora de Gas del Peru natural gas work camp in Peru's Cusco region.[62]
  • April 10, 2014 – Peruvian authorities arrested 24 people on charges of SP affiliation.[63]
  • June 18, 2014 – Security forces killed 3 and injured 1 Shining Path insurgents during an apartment raid in the Echarate region.[64]
  • October 5, 2014 – 2 policemen were killed and at least 5 injured when they were attacked by SP rebels in the VRAEM region.[65]
  • October 14, 2014 – One soldier was killed and 4 injured in the aftermath of an ambush conducted between Chalhuamayo and the town of San Francisco, VRAEM. A civilian was also injured in the attack.[65]
  • December 17, 2014 – The garrison of the Llochegua army base, in Huanta province, successfully repelled a Shining Path attack, one soldier was wounded following the skirmish.[66]
  • April 9, 2016 – Two soldiers and one civilian were killed, and 6 other soldiers were injured when guerrillas believed to be part of the Shining Path group, hidden in the jungles of the Junin Region attacked a truck carrying soldiers to protect voting stations in Lima, as Presidential Elections were to be held the following day.
  • August 2, 2016 – The Joint Command of the Armed Forces reported that yesterday at 11 pm suspected terrorists attacked a military base in the mazamari district, in the Valley of the Apurimac River, Ene, and Mantaro (abbreviated commonly VRAEM), leaving the balance of a wounded soldier.[67]
  • September 27, 2016 – At least three people, one soldier, and two civilians were injured in a shooting, there is a detainee in Huancavelica.[68]
  • December 13, 2016 – A policeman died during an operation in the town of Apachita in Vraem region.[69]
  • December 14, 2016 – Two policemen (another was seriously injured) and four narco-terrorists died after a clash in the Vraem region, known for hosting remnants of Sendero Luminoso and the high traffic of drugs.[70]
  • March 12, 2017 – Militants of Sendero Luminoso attacked a helicopter of the armed forces of Peru, the latter responded to the attack leaving as balance several wounded attackers.[71]
  • March 18, 2017 – Three policemen were killed and another injured during an ambush in Ayacucho region.[72]
  • May 31, 2017 – According to Channel N, it would be a narco-terrorist attack in which two members of the National Police of Peru were shot dead in the VRAEM region.[73]
  • July 21, 2017 – Llochegua Clashes: An armed confrontation and attempted rescue rescued 10 policemen and a prosecutor injured in Llochegua, in the department of Ayacucho. A leader of a local armed group was arrested in the operation[74]
  • August 1, 2017 – A Peruvian soldier died and seven other rebels were wounded in an ambush in a clash between the army and remnants of Shining Path.[75] In other incident in the same district at least one soldier was killed and other three were wounded.[76]
  • September 6, 2017 – At least three police were shot dead by suspected militants at approximately 6 p.m. in the province of Churcampa, Huancavelica region.[77][78]
  • September 22, 2017 –
    • A military patrol and a group of Sendero Luminoso remnants clashed Thursday in a sector of the Vraem in Ayacucho without causing injuries, reported the Joint Command of the Armed Forces.[79]
    • A policeman was killed and four injured. A guide were also injured and one missing by the 116 of the Inter-Oceanic road, 15 minutes by motorcycle, in the section of Puerto Maldonado - Mazuko, Madre de Dios.[80]
  • June 7, 2018 - Four policemen were killed in an ambush by terrorists in the Anco district of Churcampa province in the Huancavelica region of Peru.[81]
  • June 11, 2018 - A group of terrorists attacked a military base in the town of Mazángaro in the province of Satipo in Peru. Six soldiers were injured in the shooting.[82]

See also


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