Shining Path crippled -- for now

September 14, 1992|By Andres Oppenheimer | Andres Oppenheimer,Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI -- The capture of Shining Path's leader, Abimae Guzman, is the most devastating blow the Maoist guerrilla group has suffered since it began its 12-year terror campaign.

There is widespread agreement among terrorism experts that Mr. Guzman's arrest will cripple Shining Path's operations in the short run, although few are willing to forecast the group's definitive demise.

Much of the experts' optimism is based on the fact that, perhaps more than any other Latin American guerrilla group, Shining Path has been built on a quasi-mystical personality cult for "Presidente Gonzalo," as the 57-year-old former philosophy professor is known to his followers.

A shadowy figure who has rarely given interviews, Mr. Guzman was believed dead at various times during the 1980s. In recent times, his continued success in eluding the armed forces' persecution had given him an aura of invincibility.

"We can't forget that Shining Path is a fundamentalist group centered on the omnipresence of its maximum leader," said Enrique Bernales, the former head of the Peruvian senate's commission on terrorism. "This has been Shining Path's biggest setback ever."

"The fact that Guzman didn't die in combat, but turned himself in after being found in an elegant Lima home, is humiliating," Mr. Bernales said. "It will hurt his image as a hero among his followers and make it more difficult to recruit new members."

Shining Path is believed to have nearly 5,000 armed members and perhaps twice as many followers in various peasant and labor support groups.

"It is very conceivable that they will soon launch a campaign of violence in retaliation for Guzman's arrest," said Enrique Zileri, publisher of the weekly newsmagazine Caretas in Lima.

But Mr. Zileri and most analysts note that the police raid also captured several of his top aides involved in the organization's tactical-military command.

"These arrests will result in a great deal of intelligence on hideouts, people and weapons," said another Lima-based terrorism expert.

"I foresee a period of calm in the cities lasting about two months," said Fernando Yovera, a Peruvian journalist who has followed the group's tactics. "After that, they could come back with a big strike."

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