An outlaw band headed by three crafty brothers has badly shaken Peru’s government by mounting hit-and-run attacks that leave little doubt: A retooled and well-disciplined Shining Path rebel force has taken firm root in the world’s leading cocaine-producing valley.
The Quispe Palomino brothers, who command about 500 combatants, solidified their reputation with last month’s abduction of 36 construction workers near Peru’s main natural gas fields. The guerrillas then killed eight soldiers and police sent to rescue the workers in a fiasco that cost the defense and interior ministers their jobs.
“The Quispe Palomino band remains a very potent, violent, mobile and resilient force,” said analyst Diego Moya-Ocampos, with the IHS-Jane’s Information Group in London.
Since 2008, when then-President Alan Garcia set up army bases in the region where the rebels are active, the renegade band has widened the scope of its attacks on police and soldiers, killing more than 70 with ambushes, sniper attacks and land mines.
“There have only been defeats, not a single victory” for the government, said Fernando Rospigliosi, a former interior minister.
Pedro Yaranga, a leading Peruvian authority on the rebels, said the guerrillas “know how to move around, how to make homemade bombs, mortars and booby traps.” The military, by contrast, “hasn’t changed its behavior in 32 years,” he said.
The Quispe Palominos carefully portray themselves as distinct from the fanatical Maoist movement that largely disappeared after police caught the Shining Path’s messianic founding leader Abimael Guzman in 1992. The capture was seen as a triumph for then-President Alberto Fujimori, who is now serving a 25-year prison term for crimes including killings of noncombatants.
When the Shining Path’s last leader, “Comrade Feliciano,” was captured in 1999, the Quispe Palominos didn’t quit. They branded Guzman a traitor for seeking peace with the government, named their splinter group The Communist Party of Peru and patiently built their new version of the guerrilla group.
The rebels call themselves Maoist champions of the poor, resisting imperialists they say exploit the country. Their ultimate goal is the overthrow the state but they acknowledge they are a small, localized group in a long struggle. They appear to receive no international support and call the United States their principal enemy.