One of the oldest indigenous communities of Peru, which predates the Conquest, now finds itself between the hammer of the Peruvian government and the anvil of remnants of Sendero Luminoso – the ‘Shining Path’ Maoist communists who plagued the Andean republic for decades. The Machiguenga people of the mid-altitude forested slopes of the Andes and the Amazon Basin now appear to be suffering a reprise of a conflict that was initiated by Sendero in 1980. Sendero was well-known for its brutal tactics, which included the murder of uncooperative peasants.
The Peruvian government, under President Alberto Fujimori, was largely successful in combating the Maoist group but at the cost of numerous human rights violations and disappearances of persons associated with Sendero. The group’s leader, Abimael Guzmán, was captured in 1992, even while armed encounters with government forces continue sporadically. Between 1980 and 2000, some 70,000 Peruvians perished or disappeared as a result of the conflict.
The damage caused by the armed conflict near Cusco, in the province of La Convención, has been varied. These included casualties on the part of the army and police, as well as innocent civilians. The decades-long conflict, which continues sporadically, has meant that Peru has had a revolving door of ministers with portfolios for Defense and Internal Affairs. Home-made bombs and mines continue to claim lives.
Little has been reported about the impact continued confrontations have had on indigenous communities living the in the valleys of the Apurimac and Ene rivers, or in La Convención, where Shining Path has been associated with narcotrafficking. Last week, however, reports began coming out of the area adjacent to the Amazon Basin near the Camisea natural gas fields that are being developed with aid from the Inter-American Development Bank. Sendero uses the area for its narcotics operations and, according to Radio Netherlands, tolerates legal private enterprises in exchange for tolerance for their own illicit activities.
In the Lagunas district of Alto Amazonas, a region in northern Peru, improvised explosive devices emplaced by Sendero have claimed the lives of members of the Machiguenga community and also caused serious injuries. In La Convención, in southern Peru, 110 members of the Machiguenga community have taken refuge at a community center operated by the Machiguenga Council of the Urubamba river region near the famed Machu Picchu ruins. Disappearances of Machiguenga people have been reported by Pedro Yaranga, a Peruvian writer based in Ayacucho who writes on narcotrafficking.
The Machiguenga people have suffered removal from their traditional lands because of fighting between Sendero and government forces. In addition, younger members of the community have been forced into Sendero’s ranks. This recalls memories of the armed conflict between 1980 and 2000, which is now re-emerging under a new guise.
The forced displacement of the Machiguenga people and other Peruvians was a tactic used by Sendero, according to Peru’s Commission for Truth and Reconciliation (CVR), that was used to satisfy its logistical requirements. The worst case of mass captivity involved the Ashaninka community. So many members of the Ashaninka people died at the hands of Sendero that the CVR recommended the filing of genocide charges against its leadership.
According to the CVR, Sendero forced minors into its ranks as replacements for others lost in battles with government security forces. Sendero used violence, entrapment, and threats against family members of the recruits. The CVR documented in a final report that ‘child pioneers’ were used by Sendero as spies, sentries, messengers, or to deliver munitions and weapons. Children as young as 12 years of age were trained in the use of weapons by Sendero.
Critics of the Peruvian government conduct of it war on narcoterrorism are calling on the police and armed forces to ally themselves with people living in the conflict area, especially the Machiguenga. These critics say that improved government services, especially medicine, as well as respect for the Machiguenga people and their customs would go a long way towards resolving the ongoing conflict.
In April 2012, the Peruvian army sent more than 1,500 troops into La Convención after Sendero abducted 36 hostages from Peruvian and Swedish contracting firms. When Sendero and the military engaged, three soldiers were killed, along with two Sendero combatants. Sendero released the captives, who had to hike through miles of jungle to reach safety. The two firms involved denied that a ransom of $10 million was paid.