The residents of the community of Pampas, the site of last week’s firefight that left three high-ranking Shining Path rebels dead, say they fear reprisal from the group, according to a report by daily La Republica.
On Sunday, a joint military-police operation opened fire on members of the Shining Path in Pampas, a village located in Ayacucho region’s Llochegua district. The area is part of the zone strategically named the VRAEM —for the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valleys— which is the last remaining stronghold of the Shining Path.
The area’s isolation has allowed the group to prosper thanks to its involvement in the cocaine trade. The VRAEM is Peru’s top producer of coca, the raw material used to make cocaine.
The rebels killed were Alejandro Borda Casafranca, alias Alipio, and Marco Antonio Quispe Palomino, alias Gabriel, both leaders of the Shining Path’s military structure. Another rebel who was Alipio’s right-hand man was also killed.
Residents in Pampas told La Republica daily that they had not known that the people killed were indeed Shining Path leaders. “Carrying my three children, I escaped to the hill in the dark. There on the hill is where we stayed. Pampas seemed like hell,” said Mery Flores, a resident.
Community official Martin Ayala said that no central government official or human rights organization has come to Pampas since the firefight to check up on the community since the Shining Path leaders, referred to as uncles, were killed.
“We didn’t know that the people who died in the burning house were terrorist leaders,” said Ayala. “We aren’t in favor, nor do we support the Shining Path. We know that the ‘uncles’ walk in the hills and on a few occasions we’ve bumped into them on the path. But what can we do if they are armed. We can’t confront them, we can only watch.”
Ayala said that the community fears the Shining Path’s leader, and older brother of Gabriel, Victor Quispe Palomino, alias Jose, will seek revenge against Pampas residents.
“Now the uncles are going to get their revenge because they think that we knew what was going on,” he said. “The uncles could think that the community participated in the attack, which isn’t true. Now, we can’t sleep quietly and our children cry.”
“With what happened on Sunday, we are no longer safe here. The uncles must be bitter and they could attack at any moment,” he added.
The Shining Path launched a bloody campaign to overthrow the state in the 1980s and impose their Maoist-inspired ideology. The group was largely defeated with the 1992 capture of its founding leader, Abimael Guzman, a messianic philosophy professor.
During the conflict, which led to some 70,000 deaths, poor, rural and indigenous communities bore the brunt of the casualties, trapped between the state and the rebels. Several massacres of communities were carried out by both the Shining Path and military if residents were believed to be supporting one side or another, even if they were forced at gunpoint to do so.
Despite the fall of the Shining Path’s original leadership, a splinter group in the VRAEM has continued to be a major challenge for Peru’s governments. Divested of its original Maoist ideology, the group is now fully engaged in protecting coca producers and drug traffickers. The group has better knowledge of the rugged, isolated terrain than state security forces and is heavily armed thanks to profits from cocaine production.
It regularly kills soldiers and police in the area, as well as attacks private-sector infrastructure forcing companies to pull out of the area.