Hot Issue — On The Rebound: Shining Path Factions Vie for Control of Upper Huallaga Valley

Photo Credit: Reuters

After the Peruvian army captured Comrade Artemio on February 12 and two potential successors on March 4 and April 3, President Ollanta Humala declared that the Shining Path was “totally defeated”—a prediction that is already proving to be premature. The Shining Path faction in the Upper Huallaga Valley retains a core group of loyal fighters capable of conducting military operations to pressure the government for Artemio’s release, but they are more dangerous for their apparent alliance with Movadef, a rising political movement that the government sees as a “front” for the Shining Path. Meanwhile, the 500-fighter faction of the Shining Path led by Comrade Jose in the VRAE has made clear its desire to expand its international narco-trafficking enterprise into the Upper Huallaga Valley and exploit the power vacuum with Artemio out of the picture. A takeover of the Upper Huallaga Valley would elevate Comrade Jose to the level of one of South America’s premier narco-trafficking bosses. Neither Shining Path faction is near surrender, and questions linger about whether President Humala’s new four-year anti-drug strategy underwritten by millions of dollars of U.S. aid will tame or enflame the country’s narco-trafficking insurgencies.


The Shining Path consists of a 500-fighter faction in the River Apurimac and River Ene Valley (VRAE) led by Comrade Jose and a smaller 150-fighter faction in the Upper Huallaga Valley led until February 12 by Comrade Artemio. The VRAE and Upper Huallaga Valley factions split in 1999 after the capture of then leader Comrade Feliciano (Oscar Ramirez Durand). Comrade Artemio succeeded Feliciano in 1999 and remained loyal to Shining Path founder, Abimael Guzman (Chairman Gonzalo), who was captured in 1992. After Feliciano’s capture, Comrade Jose’s faction disavowed the Shining Path of Guzman, Feliciano and Artemio, who they criticized for alienating the campesinos during the war against the State in 1980s and for offering truces to the government once Guzman was captured.

Both factions officially espouse turning Peru into a Marxist state, but they depend on their capitalist narco-trafficking enterprises for financial survival. It is no coincidence that the two surviving factions of the once 15,000-fighter Shining Path operate in the country’s two main coca producing regions—the VRAE and the Upper Huallaga Valley, which produce 75% of Peru’s coca. With Peru expected to surpass Colombia as the world’s largest coca producer (61,200 hectares) in 2012, both factions stand to benefit. [1]

Alliance with Movadef Post-Artemio

Comrade Artemio was captured on February 12 when a member of his inner-circle defected to the state and set Artemio up for an ambush in Tocache, possibly with the motive of receiving a U.S. $5 million reward for Artemio’s capture. Since then, the Shining Path in the Upper Huallaga Valley has been leaderless; one potential successor, Walter Diaz Vega, was captured in Huanuco on March 4 (Andina, March 4). Another potential successor known as Artemio’s “right-hand man,” Comrade Braulio, was arrested on April 3 in Santa Rosa de Yanajanca (Peru21, April 4). Still at-large is comrade Tiburcio, a potential successor who operates in the Azpuzana Valley, but he lacks the legitimacy of Artemio, who was the last senderista to have fought alongside with Abimael Guzman from the first days of the Shining Path insurgency in the 1980s (La Republica, March 5). Another member of Comrade Jose’s inner-circle, Comrade Leo, has reportedly fled with thousands of dollars in narco-trafficking money taken from Artemio on the night that he was captured (La Republica, March 1). Peruvian security forces are now in pursuit of the remaining 22 members that were in Artemio’s column.

Artemio’s faction may never return to its unified form since a leader with Artemio’s credibility will not emerge from the current group of young fighters. However, a core group of fighters have shown their continued loyalty to Artemio. One day after Artemio’s capture nearly 50 Shining Path fighters engaged in flash rallies in Papaplaya and Tocache calling for a general amnesty, political negotiations and Artemio’s release (RPP Noticias, February 14). Two weeks later, Peruvian intelligence officials uncovered a plot to kidnap President Humala’s jailed brother during a prison transfer in order to pressure the government into releasing Artemio (El Comercio, March 5). On the morning of April 9, 80 Shining Path fighters carried out the first mass kidnapping of foreign workers in Peru since 2003 when they took hostage 30 workers from the Swedish natural gas firm Skanska in Kepashiato, an area near the VRAE. According to an early report, the fighters released 23 of the hostages immediately, but demanded Artemio’s release in return for the remaining seven (, April 9).

Shining Path loyalists pose a threat to the state not only because of their military capabilities, but also because of their alleged collaboration with the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (Movadef), a political movement founded in 2009 by Abimael Guzman’s lawyers and admirers of “Gonzalo Thought (pensamiento Gonzalo),” including President Humala’s cousin, Walter Humala. Officially, Movadef’s leaders state that 30% of their members are ex-convicts (i.e., ex-Shining Path members) and 70% youths, and that they “fight for labor rights, the protection of children, and freedom of expression (Caretas, January 19).” One of Movadef’s central policies is to bring about an amnesty for all people who were involved in Shining Path’s war with the state, from soldiers and police to Shining Path members—Guzman, Feliciano, and Artemio included (Caretas, January 19). The 360,000 signatures Movadef gathered for its bid for registration as a political party show that its ideology is still a potent political undercurrent in Peru (Dialogo [Lima], January 27).

Peru’s Human Rights representative calls Movadef a “front” for the Shining Path (RPP Noticias, January 30). Similarly, President Humala has said that Peru cannot make room for violent movements that seek to destroy the country’s democratic institutions (Peru21, February 3). The state suspects that Movadef is using the political process to achieve what the Shining Path could not achieve militarily during the war in the 1980s—establishing a Marxist State. Other officials believe that the Shining Path is underwriting Movadef financially with profits from its drug trafficking activities.

The Shining Path’s response to Movadef’s announcement on January 31 that it would abandon its efforts to register as a political party in the face of “political persecution” shows the nature of the Movadef-Shining Path alliance. Four hours before Movadef made the announcement, Shining Path fighters entered the town of Campanilla in trucks and rounded up the population for a rally in which the fighters made speeches promoting a “political solution.” They painted 200 houses with the Communist hammer and sickle and distributed flyers calling for a ceasefire with the government and a general amnesty (Diario16, February 1). Hours later, on February 1, armed Shining Path fighters entered the town Pucayacu and distributed more flyers (El Comercio, February 1). The next day, on February 2 fighters hung banners calling for a general amnesty in three villages in the district of Campanilla (Voces [Juanjui], February 4).

Comrade Jose Rising

Since 2010, the Shining Path faction in the VRAE has attempted to gain control of the lucrative drug trafficking routes in the Upper Huallaga Valley. In 2010, Comrade Jose sent a group of 10 fighters under the leadership of Comrade Roberto to Tocache to win the peoples’ trust and seize control of territory in order to extract fee quotas from drug traffickers who take coca out of the region ( [Huanuco], July 12, 2010). More recently, in January 2012 Comrade Jose sent 30 fighters in two battalions under the leadership of Comrade Colorado into areas of Tocache, Uchizo, and Nuevo Progreso in San Martin on orders to assassinate Artemio and once again take control of key routes in the Upper Huallaga Valley (Correo [Lima], February 15).

The elimination of Artemio incidentally provided Jose with an opportunity to attempt to gain control in the region again. Following Artemio’s capture, in March fighters from the VRAE entered the Upper Huallaga Valley to distribute pamphlets that described Artemio as an “agent” whose arrest was designed to be a morale boost for the army. The same pamphlet announced the formation of the “East Regional Committee (CRO) in the Huallaga to be led by the Central Committee Communist Party of Peru (PCP) (Correo [Ayacucho], March 8).”

A takeover of the Upper Huallaga Valley would elevate Comrade Jose to the level of one of South America’s premier narco-trafficking bosses. He would be bolstered by his faction’s contacts with Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel and Mexican and Colombian intermediaries who operate in the VRAE and export drugs from Peru mostly to Europe (Peruvian Times, September 17, 2009). There are also concerns in Peruvian military circles that Comrade Jose’s faction could form alliances with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Colombia, which has already established bases in Ecuador and Venezuela as a result of the Colombian government’s efforts to push it out from its bases in Colombia (El Tiempo, March 7, 2010). The April 9 kidnapping in Kepashiato highlights the possibility of the Shining Path adopting FARC tactics, such as kidnapping for ransom. Some early reports state that the Shining Path was asking for a $10 million ransom for freeing the remaining seven hostages (Prensa Latina [Lima], April 10).

The VRAE faction’s efforts to gain a foothold in the Upper Huallaga Valley have so far not been successful. One reason is geographic; the VRAE is separated from the Upper Huallaga Valley by 250 kilometers and cannot be penetrated directly from the VRAE. A second reason is that the personality cult that surrounded Abimael Guzman and, to a lesser extent Artemio, continues to be influential among the Shining Path fighters in the Upper Huallaga Valley. However, if Artemio’s faction splinters, then Comrade Jose’s fighters may fill in the power vacuum in the Upper Huallaga Valley and integrate some of Artemio’s fighters in their numbers.

Reviving the Drug War

On March 29, President Humala reneged on his June 2011 campaign promise and announced a four-year plan to destroy 14,000 hectares of coca in Peru in 2012, increasing each year up to 30,000 hectares in 2016. [2] This is the most ambitious plan in recent history; the government has not attempted to eliminate more than 15,000 hectares in one year since the time of the U.S.-allied Alberto Fujimori government in 1996. President Humala’s plan is buttressed by $2.3 million worth of military equipment (sensors, night-vision goggles and other non-lethal high-tech equipment) provided by the U.S. in January 2012 on top of $132 Million that the U.S promised for drug eradication efforts in December 2011 (, January 13; El Comercio, November 29, 2011).

This policy has been met by resistance from cocaleros (coca farmers) in both the VRAE and the Upper Huallaga Valley. 500 cocaleros blocked roads in Ucayali province, northeast of the Upper Huallaga Valley, in September 2011 to protest drug eradication programs (El Comercio, September 12, 2011). There were reports in 2010 that as many as 60 fighters joined Comrade Artemio’s ranks from among the cocaleros who opposed drug eradication efforts and that the leaders of the cocaleros had formed an alliance with Artemio (Peru21, July 29, 2010). Captured fighters from the Shining Path faction in the Upper Huallaga Valley have divulged that the Shining Path targets as recruits the cocaleros who oppose government efforts to forcibly eradicate coca growing.

On the one hand, eradicating coca fields could eliminate the source of funding for the Shining Path and other narco-traffickers in the VRAE and Upper Huallaga Valley. However, the policy also has alienated the cocaleros and provided a source of new recruits for a Shining Path that no longer only relies on winning over peasants’ support through Marxist indoctrination, but also through portraying itself as a defender of the cocaleros. The Shining Path in the VRAE also has history of undercutting the development programs that the state institutes to provide alternate economic opportunities for the cocaleros. Since 2008, in the VRAE 60 Peruvian soldiers and contractors have been killed and nearly 25 government helicopters have been ambushed.


The capture of Comrade Artemio has weakened his faction, but a core group of his fighters continue to engage in shows of military force to support Movadef’s political goals. There appears to be a low likelihood of a Shining Path merger considering that the two groups operate in distinct areas and harbor contrasting motivations. If Artemio’s faction continues to splinter, however, Jose’s faction may gain control of the major drug trafficking routes in the Upper Huallaga Valley and revive the Shining Path under a model like the FARC—a drug cartel with a nominal Marxist ideology. Both Shining Path factions benefit from the country’s increasing coca production, while they are also capable attracting recruits from the cocaleros if the drug eradication plan moves forward. The drug war can only be won if the cocaleros are provided with a substitute to growing coca, but historically the state has struggled to meet this need.

After the capture of Abimael Guzman in 1992, then President Fujimori said, “Sendero has been defeated. I defeated it.” Twenty years later, President Humala shows similar optimism, but the events on the ground suggest that both Shining Path factions will adapt to the realities on the ground after Artemio’s picture and implement new strategies in order to survive.

Jacob Zenn is an analyst for the Jamestown Foundation who specializes in insurgent movements in Latin America, the Middle East, South and Central Asia. He is a lawyer and international security analyst based in Washington, DC. He runs an open-source research, translation, and due diligence team through and can be reached at jaz(at)


1. UN Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2011,

2. Oficializan Estrategia Nacional De Lucha Contra Las Drogas 2012-2016,, March 27, 2012