LIMA – The Maoist-inspired Shining Path guerrilla group has detained indigenous people since the 1980s in slave camps in remote parts of the Peruvian Amazon, where around 500 individuals are currently being held today, the authors of a newly published book told EFE.
The text also recounts numerous other atrocities that were committed by the rebels against the native population and resulted in thousands of deaths.
The historical memory of these events, comparable to the crimes of Pol Pot’s regime and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, has been rescued by Peruvian journalists Jose Arrieta and Victor Tipe in “El valle de la muerte. Las masacres ocultas de Sendero Luminoso,” which translates roughly as “The Valley of Death: The Shining Path’s Hidden Massacres” and was published by G7 Editores.
Arrieta and Tipe told EFE they obtained never-before-published testimonials from rescued individuals in southern Peru’s conflict-ridden and coca-growing Valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers (VRAEM) area, where remnants of the Shining Path guerrilla group continue to operate more than 25 years after the insurgency was defeated at the national level.
The authors’ goal was to ascertain what life was like in the camps and how the Shining Path treated this group of kidnap victims, according to Tipe, who said “an enormous number of people” – Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission put the number at roughly 5,000 in the 1990s – were held against their will.
Arrieta added that they also have sought to raise awareness among governments and the general public about the situation of the slaves, mostly members of the Ashaninka and Machiguenga indigenous groups but also people who had settled in the area from the Andean cities of Ayacucho, Huancayo and Huancavelica.
The Shining Path arrived in that region in the early 1980s on orders of the central committee led by the group’s founder, Abimael Guzman, and later took “all the populations under their control into the mountains surrounding the VRAEM at the end of that decade, when security forces launched a large-scale operation aimed at reclaiming that region.
“They began living there in these tiny camps, moving every two, three months, never in stable locations. In any given moment, there must have been around 100 camps. Now it’s unclear how many there are,” Arrieta said.
Over decades, the Shining Path has maintained the same policy toward the indigenous people and settlers they have held captive in the VRAEM, both when the group’s operations there were under the command of Oscar Ramirez Durand, alias “Feliciano,” and in recent years under the direction of Victor Quispe Palomino, alias “Jose.”
Arrieta said the Shining Path separated family members in different camps to keep them from escaping and for years used women to “produce children for the revolution.”
“There are even testimonials from women who had (as many as) seven children and never knew any of them,” he added.
Tipe said he and his co-author heard spine-chilling accounts such as the ill being killed so their fat could be extracted and used to lubricate the guerrilla group’s weapons, as well as cases of cannibalism.
Arrieta said they initially were skeptical about these accounts but later lent them credence when people of different ages who had never known one another provided similar reports.
The authors also learned about previously unknown events such as a clash in the Etzoniari community on July 28, 1993, that left between 300 and 500 people dead. Both regard that incident as the Shining Path’s worst-ever massacre, even though it was not mentioned in the Truth Commission’s 2003 report.
“A large column entered at 6 am that day, based on the accounts of some 500 people, including indigenous and settlers ... and took the community by surprise,” Tipe told EFE.
A clash erupted and ended about six hours later when the Shining Path’s superior weaponry won out over the indigenous population’s spears and arrows, followed by the brutal execution of prisoners, including the burning alive of 25 children who had been tied up and locked in a hut, he added.
“There are testimonials of that. This was probably the largest single-day massacre known to have occurred in the entire era of violence,” Tipe said.
The journalist said the clash in Etzoniari was the “final battle” of the indigenous resistance.
Afterward, the Shining Path thoroughly controlled the region and many communities disappeared, although survivors returned years later to re-settle those areas.
Around 70,000 Peruvians died in politically motivated violence between 1980-2000. The biggest share of the killings is attributed to the Shining Path, with the security forces’ accounting for most of the rest.
Former President Alberto Fujimori is credited with defeating the Shining Path during his 1990-2000 rule.
But that ex-head of state, a son of Japanese immigrants, was sentenced to 25 years behind bars in 2009 for ordering military death-squad killings as part of his government’s effort to crush the group, whose core elements were smashed in 1992.