March 2, 2012
By W. Alex Sanchez
While international attention is currently centered on issues including the protests and violence in Syria, the ongoing spats between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland/Malvinas islands, and the presidential race in the U.S., there seems to be a lack of attention regarding the new critical development regarding Peru’s national security situation which took place in February. On Sunday, February 12, Peruvian military and police forces captured Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, commonly known as Artemio. He is the last major leader of the Peruvian terrorist movement Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso – SL), which has waged war against the government since 1983 (though this group was founded in the late 1960s). Artemio’s capture counts as a huge victory not only for Peruvian intelligence capacity and security services but also for President Ollanta Humala, who has been in office for just over six months. Nevertheless, it is still too early to consider placing a “Mission Accomplished” banner outside the government palace in downtown Lima.
According to international media reports and statements by Peruvian officials, the key to Artemio’s capture was the recruitment and cooperation of one of his troops who became a defector. From what has become public information, it appears that the individual was approached by Peruvian police intelligence officers, and chose to act as a government informant. Both the individual’s identity and motives are still unknown, though he may have been enticed by the five million dollar reward offered by the U.S. government for the capture of Artemio.
In February, Artemio and his entourage were led by the mole to an area in the Amazon’s Huallaga Valley, where they were ambushed by Peruvian police and military troops who were waiting for them. In the ensuing firefight, Artemio was shot in the stomach and severely injured in the left hand. It has been speculated that the mole actually shot at his former leader but the rifle he used was faulty and the bullet took a skewed trajectory once it was fired, and ending up hitting Artemio’s hand.
Three of Artemio’s troops, known as Leo, Browning and Elias carried their wounded leader onto a raft, and managed to escape the security forces down a river. A Peruvian nurse who works in an isolated health center, close to where the firefight took place, received Artemio in his home during the middle of the night. The nurse later told the media that he had treated Artemio for severe injuries, and he fully expected the Shining Path leader to die if he did not receive surgery in a timely fashion. Soon after, on Sunday, February 12, Artemio was finally captured, along with two of his troops, in a hut in Puerto Pizana, a small town in the Upper Huallaga. He was promptly flown to Lima and was sent to the Peruvian Police Hospital where he received an operation. He spent 10 days in said hospital and was then handed over to the country’s anti-terrorist police, the Counter-Terrorist Directorate – Direccion Contra el Terrorismo,who will hold him until his eventual trial.
In any case, Artemio’s fate seems to already have been decided even before his eventual trial (which will take place later this year), as the Peruvian government has stated that he will receive a life sentence. In an interview with COHA, a researcher in The Netherlands who focuses on international law in internal armed conflicts argues that:
The Peruvian government’s statement that he will be given a life imprisonment is rather premature. Artemio is entitled to fair trial rights and judicial guarantees under both international human rights law and international humanitarian law. This includes the right not to have a sentence pronounced against him except pursuant to a conviction by a court of law offering essential guarantees of independence.
After Artemio’s capture, COHA interviewed a retired Peruvian army colonel, who preferred not to be identified. The retired officer stated that:
Artemio’s capture is a victory at three different levels: first of all it is a victory for the country’s intelligence operations. Then it is a victory for the entire Peruvian security forces for their continuous operations that weakened and trapped Artemio and his troops over the years. Finally it’s a political victory for President Ollanta Humala.
Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the capture operation, Humala, unsurprisingly, is experiencing a surge in his domestic popularity. For the past decade, since the capture of Oscar Ramirez Durand, also known as Comrade Feliciano, Artemio had become the last free major Shining Path leader. Successive governments, from Alejandro Toledo to Alan Garcia Perez, had vowed to capture him and finally defeat Shining Path; but it would be Ollanta Humala – himself, a one-time military officer who at times has been compared to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez – who finally managed to achieve this suppression of the SL. After the capture, Humala declared that he was pleased that he had managed to accomplish such a victory, this time as a civilian head of state, after having spent years fighting this insurgent group while he was a member of the armed forces.
In terms of domestic implications, Artemio’s capture could serve as a message to potential international investors that Peru is now a safe country in which to do business. This is particularly important for Humala, who recently traveled to Spain to promote new investment in his Andean nation,and who wants to continue dismissing the idea that he will nationalize companies and scare off investors like Venezuela’s Chavez has done. The faction that Artemio led is located in the San Martin region, which is one of Peru’s poorest and most undeveloped areas. More military successes against this Shining Path faction will help not only to promote security in the country, but also will be, as the saying goes, “good for business”. In an interview with COHA, a researcher who works for a U.S.-based consulting firm took a less sanguine position arguing that “investors won’t come running in to Peru just because of Artemio’s capture. The country is still a major drug producing state so even if Shining Path disappears, investors will be wary of shadowy drug trafficking networks, the potential for a presence of Mexican cartels and general protests and violence like in the Conga [an area in northern Peru]”, where a controversial gold mine is under construction.
To accentuate the importance of the capture, even foreign leaders have expressed their congratulations for the achievement. In one such example, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos stated on his official Twitter account on February 14,, that he had just spoken with President Humala to congratulate him on Artemio’s capture and wanted to schedule a meeting between the two heads of state. In addition, the U.S. already has promised that it will pay a five million dollar reward for Artemio’s capture. Washington has offered an additional five million dollar for information that will lead to the capture of the next major terrorist leader known as Jose.
While it was feared that Lima-Washington relations would worsen with a Humala presidency, for the most part they have generally remained unchanged. In fact, only several weeks ago, Washington gave $2.3 million worth of military equipment (sensors, night-vision goggles and other non-lethal high-tech equipment) to Peruvian security forces to aid them in fighting drug trafficking and narco-terrorism. When Washington pays the bounty for Artemio’s capture, it will be another strong sign that bilateral relations between the two governments will remain as solid as they have ever been. After learning of Artemio’s capture, U.S. ambassador to Peru Rose Likins stated that “this reward goes to those outside the government, the civilians who cooperated with this effort.”
Amidst all of the ventilated hype surrounding Artemio’s capture, it would nonetheless be inaccurate to say that Shining Path has disintegrated. One oft-overlooked aspect of Shining Path’s contemporary operational structure is the fact that there are two separate factions of the organization still functional. Artemio was the leader of the faction that operates in the Huallaga Valley in the San Martin region – now harshly weakened by his capture. The other faction is led by Victor Quispe Palomino, also known as “Comrade Jose,” who now becomes the next target for the Humala government. Artemio’s faction is now under the orders of Servando Herrera, known as Diablo (Devil), but the Peruvian police think the faction is severely weakened at this point. The aforementioned Peruvian colonel interviewed by COHA explained that “I wouldn’t be surprised if Jose tries to merge the two remaining factions under his command, but it’s unclear what the Huallaga block without Artemio will choose to do.” Meanwhile, the aforementioned research consultant interviewed by COHA added, “look at what happens in Mexico, whenever ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s men are eliminated, another individual is appointed, sometimes more brutal than the previous one; there’s simply too much money to be made in drug trafficking.”
From an academic point of view, an interesting issue regarding Shining Path, when it comes to Latin American researchers, will be determining how to label this Peruvian insurgent group after Artemio’s fall. Should the remaining factions still be collectively defined as a narco-terrorist organization? Does this violent group still fight for a political ideology (to install Maoist Socialism in Peru with Abimael Guzman as president)? Or, are the remaining members of Shining Path nothing more than a group of criminals, profiting from drug trafficking and who pretend to wage combat for a political ideology instead of financial gain?
As important as Artemio’s capture is, there are still Shining Path members on the loose, including Jose, leader of the faction in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (Valle de los Rios Apurimac y Ene – VRAE), and the aforementioned Diablo, who is the next leader of the Huallaga faction. Will Shining Path break down into a drug trafficking operation, or will Jose manage to maintain some kind of cohesion between the other factions still on the loose? Only days after Artemio’s capture, 30 armed Shining Path members visited a town in Papaplaya, in the San Martin region, where they shouted in the town square, demanding that their leader should be freed. Hence it is no secret that there are still Shining Path members among the Peruvian population. According to a recent report by the Peruvian police’s intelligence services, Jose may have as many as 360 troops under his command, between men and women, divided into 12 units of 30 people.
In addition, for years there have been concerns that the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – FARC), have a growing presence in Peru (as they have in Ecuador and Venezuela), as the Colombian security forces score victory after victory in their homeland. A major concern for Lima would be that the remaining Shining Path factions may agree to some alliance with the FARC. There is also the concern that Mexican cartels will try to expand into the Peruvian cocaine market. Only recently it was reported that the Peruvian government is thinking about reinstating visas once again for Mexican citizens if they want to visit the Andean country. The reason for this is that between 2010 and 2011, 98 Mexican citizens were arrested in Peru, accused of drug trafficking and being tied to different cartels.
Finally it is important to consider how Artemio’s capture should be properly interpreted. While Colombia and present day Mexico are looked at as examples of post-Cold War case studies regarding the highly controversial success of military strategies, Peru is a country that is often overlooked. Unlike Colombia with the M-19 movement in the late 1980s, there were no negotiations with either Shining Path or Peru’s other terrorist group, the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement – MRTA). Such strategy so far has proven to be successful. The MRTA’s last major operation was in 1997 when they took dozens of people as hostages at the Japanese embassy in Lima. Regarding Shining Path, although still operational, and morphed into a drug trafficking organization, the group has become more isolated and with only a few hundred troops compared to the several thousand fighters and sympathizers it enjoyed during the 1980s at the height of its power and control.
With that said, this almost exclusive military strategy came at no small cost, namely mounting human right abuses and a war that has dragged along for almost three decades since Sendero’s first major operation in 1983 in Lucanamarca in the Ayacucho region. It is important to highlight that over 30,000 deaths caused by this internal conflict were not just by Shining Path and the MRTA, but also by abuses committed by Peru’s security forces (i.e. the death squads created by former dictator Alberto Fujimori). Successive governments have carried out civilian operations, like promoting the growth of alternative products so peasants would be convinced not to cultivate coca, which has quickly became the insurgent movement’s de facto currency.
A final issue that will gain prominence in the coming months is how the Peruvian government and the judicial system will treat Artemio; whether or not he will face a fair trial. As mentioned earlier, Lima is fully expecting the Shining Path leader to be handed a life sentence (Peru does not have the death penalty) for his terrorist and drug trafficking activities. In late February, Artemio was charged with terrorism and drug trafficking.
Recently, the Peruvian media reported that Artemio had declared after his capture that he was responsible for the activities carried out by his Shining Path faction in the Huallaga region against the Peruvian police and armed forces, as well as ambushes and the elimination of civilians in Huanuco and San Martin over the past couple of decades. Artemio is on record as having stated to the Peruvian authorities, while in capture, that “I assume [responsibility for] everything. I assume these actions as chief of the Regional Committee of the Huallaga [faction of the Shining Path]. What you have mentioned are acts of war.” He has assumed responsibility of being the master-mind for around 100 attacks, which left 131 people dead (56 members of the military, 43 police members and 32 civilians). Nevertheless, he denied being involved in drug trafficking operations, even though it has been revealed that he has ties with drug trafficking groups that operate out of the Huallaga. 
Lima already has a history of dealing with the judicial process for high-profile insurgent leaders, like Shining Path’s Abimael Guzman or the MRTA’s Victor Polay Campos in the 1990s. As mentioned earlier in this piece, Shining Path’s major leader after Guzman, Feliciano, was tried in 2005. Considering that Artemio’s operations occurred over the span of two decades, it will be interesting to see how Lima can reconcile the Shining Path leader’s legacy with the changes in the country’s laws regarding terrorism and the appropriate punishments. The aforementioned international law researcher in The Netherlands explained to COHA that:
… International humanitarian law is clear; no one should be held guilty of a criminal offence for an act which did not constitute a criminal offence at the time it was committed. Likewise, it states that no one should be punished with a heavier penalty than that which was applicable at the time when the criminal offence was committed.
Certainly, Artemio’s trial will be heavily analyzed not only for the facts that will inevitably come forth, but by how transparent and fair the process turns out to be. Undue influence by Humala’s government to secure a conviction or heavier punishment would look bad on his presidency in the eyes of the international law community, even if it may be regarded as just by those civilians and members of the security forces affected by Artemio’s murderous operations over the years. It is expected that he will have one single trial for all the charges against him, which so far include terrorism and drug trafficking .
It will be interesting to see how Artemio’s capture will impact in the long run both Shining Path and drug trafficking in Peru. In any case Humala, his security forces, and the government can boast of this success. The retired Peruvian colonel concluded by stating that “after being in the army for years fighting Shining Path and the MRTA, I am pleased to see that the new generations of young people that have joined the armed forces continue to fight with the same courage and goals as the homeland orders them to.”
W. Alex Sanchez, Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs
Read all posts by COHA