Internal conflict in Peru
Part of the Cold War (1980–1991)
War on terrorism in Peru.png

Top-down, from left to right: Combatants of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) fighting against Peruvian forces, the Lucanamarca massacre committed by the Shining Path, the Frecuencia Latina bombing by Shining Path, a replica of the old Japanese embassy in Peru that was taken over by members of the MRTA, a poster that promotes the ideology of Shining Path and clothes from exhumed remains of a missing infant from a mass grave around the country.
DateMain phase:
17 May 1980 – December 2000[2][3][note 2]
Low-level resurgence:
22 June 2002 – present[4]
Status Ongoing


State-affiliated paramilitaries:

Rondas campesinas
Supported by:
 United States

Communist Party of Peru

  • People's Liberation Army

Militarized Communist Party of Peru[note 1]
Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (1982–1997)
Commanders and leaders

15,000 militants (peak)
~250–650 (2015)[6][7]
~200 militants (peak)
Casualties and losses
~50,000–69,280 killed in total (1980–2002)[8][9][10]

The internal conflict in Peru is an ongoing armed conflict between the Government of Peru and the Maoist guerilla group Shining Path. The conflict began on 17 May 1980,[11] and from 1982 to 1997 the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement waged its own insurgency as a Marxist–Leninist rival to the Shining Path. It is estimated that there have been between 50,000 and 70,000 deaths, making it the bloodiest war in Peruvian history, since the European colonization of the country.

The high death toll includes many civilian casualties, due to deliberate targeting by many factions. Since 2000, the number of deaths has dropped significantly and recently the conflict has become dormant. There were low-level resurgences of violence in 2002 and 2014 when conflict erupted between the Peruvian Army and guerrilla remnants in the Valle de los Ríos Apurímac, Ene y Mantaro region. The conflict has lasted for over 40 years, making it the second longest internal conflict in the history of Latin America, after the Colombian conflict.


Prior to the conflict, Peru had undergone a series of coups with frequent switches between political parties and ideologies. On 2 October 1968,[12] General Juan Velasco Alvarado staged a military coup and became Peru's 56th president under the administration of the Revolutionary Government of the Armed Forces, left-leaning military dictatorship.[citation needed] Following a period of widespread poverty and unemployment, Velasco himself was overthrown in a bloodless military coup on 29 August 1975. He was replaced by Francisco Morales Bermúdez as the new President of Peru.[13]

Morales announced that his rule would provide a "Second Phase" to the previous administration, which would bring political and economic reforms.[14] However, he was unsuccessful in delivering these promises, and in 1978, a Constitutional Assembly was created to replace Peru's 1933 Constitution. Morales then proclaimed that national elections would be held by 1980.[15] Elections were held for the Constituent Assembly on 18 June 1978, whilst martial law was imposed on 6 January 1979. The Assembly approved the new constitution in July 1979. On 18 May 1980, Fernando Belaúnde Terry was elected president. Between February 1966 and July 1980 approximately 500 people died of political violence.[16]

Many affiliated with Peru's Communist Party had opposed the creation of the new constitution and formed the extremist organization known as the PCP. This ultimately led to the emergence of internal conflict, with the first attacks taking place a day before the elections.[16] Despite this, national elections continued and Fernando Belaúnde Terry was elected as the 58th President of Peru in 1980. Terry had already served as the country's 55th president prior to Velasco's coup in 1968.[citation needed]

The Shining Path

Areas where Shining Path was/is active in Peru
Areas where Shining Path was/is active in Peru

During the governments of Velasco and Morales, the Shining Path had been organized as a Maoist political group formed in 1970 by Abimael Guzmán, a communist professor of philosophy at the San Cristóbal of Huamanga University. Guzmán had been inspired by the Chinese Cultural Revolution which he had witnessed first-hand during a trip to China.[17] Shining Path members engaged in street fights with members of other political groups and painted graffiti encouraging an "armed struggle" against the Peruvian state.[18]

In June 1979, demonstrations for free education were severely repressed by the army: 18 people were killed according to official figures, but non-governmental estimates suggest several dozen deaths. This event led to a radicalization of political protests in the countryside and the outbreak of the PCP's terrorist actions.[19]

Course of the conflict

Outbreak of hostilities (1980–1982)

When Peru's military government allowed elections for the first time in 1980, the Communist Party of Peru was one of the few leftist political groups that declined to take part. They opted instead to launch guerrilla warfare actions against the state in the province of Ayacucho. On 17 May 1980—the eve of the presidential elections—members of the Shining Path burned ballot boxes in the town of Chuschi, Ayacucho. The perpetrators were quickly caught and additional ballots were brought in to replace the burned ballots; the elections proceeded without any further incidents. The incident received very little attention in the Peruvian press.[20]

The Shining Path opted to fight in the manner advocated by Mao Zedong. They would open up "guerrilla zones" in which their guerrillas could operate and drive government forces out of these zones to create "liberated zones". These zones would then be used to support new guerrilla zones until the entire country was essentially a unified "liberated zone". There is some disagreement among scholars about the extent of Maoist influence on the PCP, but the majority of scholars consider the Shining Path to be a violent Maoist organization. One of the factors contributing to support for this view among scholars is that PCP's economic and political base were located primarily in rural areas and they sought to build up their influence in these areas.[21]

On 3 December 1982, the Communist Party of Peru officially formed an armed wing known as the "People's Guerrilla Army".[citation needed]

The Peruvian guerrillas were peculiar in that they had a high proportion of women, 50 per cent of the combatants and 40 per cent of the commanders were women.[22]

Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement

Main article: Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement

In 1982, the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) launched its own guerrilla war against the Peruvian state. The group had been formed by remnants of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left and identified with Castroite guerrilla movements in other parts of Latin America. The MRTA used techniques that were more traditional to Latin American leftist organizations, like wearing uniforms, claiming to fight for true democracy, and accusations of human rights abuses by the state; in contrast, the Shining Path did not wear uniforms, nor care for electoral processes.

During the conflict, the MRTA and the Shining Path engaged in combat with each other. The MRTA only played a small part in the overall conflict, being declared by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to have been responsible for 1.5 percent of casualties accumulated throughout the conflict. At its height, the MRTA was believed to have consisted of only a few hundred members.[23]

Government response (1981)

Gradually, the Shining Path committed more and more violent attacks on the National Police of Peru until the Lima-based government could no longer ignore the growing crisis.[citation needed] In 1981, President Fernando Belaúnde Terry declared a state of emergency and ordered that the Peruvian Armed Forces fight Shining Path.[citation needed] Constitutional rights were suspended for 60 days in the Huamanga, Huanta, Cangallo, La Mar, and the Víctor Fajardo Provinces.[citation needed] Later, the Armed Forces created the Ayacucho Emergency Zone, where military law superseded civilian law.[citation needed] The military committed many human right violations in the area where it had political control, including the infamous Accomarca massacre. Scores of peasant farmers were massacred by the armed forces.[24] A special US-trained "counter terrorist" police battalion is known as the "Sinchis" became notorious in the 1980s for their violations of human rights.[25]

The PCP's reaction to the Peruvian government's use of the military in the conflict was to increase violent warfare in the countryside. Shining Path attacked police officers, soldiers, and civilians that it considered being "class enemies", often using gruesome methods[citation needed] of killing their victims. These killings, along with Shining Path's disrespect for the culture of indigenous peasants[citation needed], turned many civilians in the Sierra away from the group.

Shining Path massacres (1982–1989)

Faced with a hostile population, Shining Path's guerrilla campaigns began to falter. In some areas, fearful, well-off peasants formed anti-Shining Path patrols called rondas. They were generally poorly equipped despite donations of guns from the armed forces. Nevertheless, Shining Path guerrillas were attacked by the rondas. The first reported attack was near Huata in January 1983, where some rondas killed 13 guerrillas. In February in Sacsamarca, rondas stabbed and killed the Shining Path commanders of that area. In March 1983, rondas brutally killed Olegario Curitomay, one of the commanders of the town of Lucanamarca. They took him to the town square, stoned him, stabbed him, set him on fire, and finally shot him.[26] Shining Path responded by entering the province of Huancasancos and the towns of Yanaccollpa, Ataccara, Llacchua, Muylacruz, and Lucanamarca, where they killed 69 people.[26] Other similar incidents followed, such as ones in Hauyllo, the Tambo District, and the La Mar Province. In the Ayacucho Department, Shining Path killed 47 peasants.[27]

Additional massacres by Shining Path occurred, such as one in Marcas on 29 August 1985.[28][29]

Administration of Alberto Fujimori (1990–2000) and decline

Under the administration of Alberto Fujimori, the state began its widespread use of intelligence agencies in the fight against Shining Path. Some atrocities were committed by the National Intelligence Service, notably the La Cantuta massacre, the Barrios Altos massacre and the Santa massacre.

On 5 April 1992, Fujimori made a self-coup with the aim of dissolving the opposition-controlled Congress of Peru[30] and replace the Judiciary branch.[31] The 1979 Constitution was abolished and a Constitutional crisis took place. Fujimori also announced that Peru would no longer be under the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

As Shining Path began to lose ground in the Andes to the Peruvian state and the rondas, it decided to speed up its overall strategic plan. Shining Path declared that it had reached "strategic equilibrium" and was ready to begin its final assault on the cities of Peru. In 1992, Shining Path set off a powerful bomb in the Miraflores District of Lima in what became known as the Tarata bombing. This was part of a larger bombing campaign to follow suit in Lima.

On 12 September 1992, Peruvian police captured Guzmán and several Shining Path leaders in an apartment above a dance studio in the Surquillo district of Lima. The police had been monitoring the apartment, as a number of suspected Shining Path militants had visited it. An inspection of the garbage of the apartment produced empty tubes of a skin cream used to treat psoriasis, a condition that Guzmán was known to have. Shortly after the raid that captured Guzmán, most of the remaining Shining Path leadership fell as well.[32] At the same time, Shining Path suffered military defeats to peasant self-defense organizations.[citation needed]

Guzmán's role as the leader of Shining Path was taken over by Óscar Ramírez, who himself was captured by Peruvian authorities in 1999. After Ramírez's capture, the group splintered, guerrilla activity diminished sharply and previous conditions returned to the areas where the Shining Path had been active.[3] Some Shining Path and MRTA remnants managed to stage minor scale attacks, such as the January 1993 wave of attacks and political assassinations that occurred in the run-up to the municipal elections, which also targeted US interests; these included the bombing of two Coca-Cola plants on 22 January (by Shining Path); the RPG attack against the USIS Binational Center on 16 January; the bombing of a KFC restaurant on 21 January (both by the MRTA) and the car-bombing of the Peruvian headquarters of IBM on 28 January (by Shining Path).[33]: 2–3  On 27 July 1993, Shining Path militants drove a car bomb into the US Embassy in Lima, which left extensive damage on the complex (worth some US$250,000) and nearby buildings.[33]: 7–9 

Shining Path was confined to their former headquarters in the Peruvian jungle and continued smaller attacks against the military, like the one that occurred on 2 October 1999, when a Peruvian Army helicopter was shot down by Shining Path guerrillas near Satipo (killing 5) and stealing a PKM machine gun which was reportedly used in another attack against an Mi-17 in July 2003.[34]

Despite Shining Path being mostly defeated, more than 25% of Peru's national territory remained under a state of emergency until early 2000.[35]

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Alberto Fujimori resigned the Presidency in 2000, but Congress declared him "morally unfit", installing the opposite congress member Valentín Paniagua into office. He rescinded Fujimori's announcement that Peru would leave the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) to investigate the conflict. The commission was headed by the President of Catholic University Salomón Lerner Febres. The Commission found in its 2003 Final Report that 69,280 people died or disappeared between 1980 and 2000 as a result of the armed conflict.[36] A statistical analysis of the available data led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to estimate that the Shining Path was responsible for the death or disappearance of 31,331 people, 45% of the total deaths and disappearances.[36] According to a summary of the report by Human Rights Watch, "Shining Path ... killed about half the victims, and roughly one-third died at the hands of government security forces ... The commission attributed some of the other slayings to a smaller guerrilla group and local militias. The rest remain unattributed."[37] According to its final report, 75% of the people who were either killed or disappeared spoke Quechua as their native language, despite the fact that the 1993 census found that only 20% of Peruvians speak Quechua or another indigenous language as their native language.[38]

Nevertheless, the final report of the CVR was surrounded by controversy. It was criticized by almost all political parties[39][40] (including former Presidents Fujimori,[41] García[42] and Paniagua[43]), the military and the Catholic Church,[44] which claimed that many of the Commission members were former members of extreme leftists movements and that the final report wrongfully portrayed Shining Path and the MRTA as "political parties" rather than as terrorist organizations,[45] even though, for example, Shining Path has been clearly designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, and Canada.

A 2019 study disputed the casualty figures from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, estimating instead "a total of 48,000 killings, substantially lower than the TRC estimate" and concluding that "the Peruvian State accounts for a significantly larger share than the Shining Path."[10][46]

Reemergence in the 21st century (2002–present)

.mw-parser-output .hidden-begin{box-sizing:border-box;width:100%;padding:5px;border:none;font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .hidden-title{font-weight:bold;line-height:1.6;text-align:left}.mw-parser-output .hidden-content{text-align:left}This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in Spanish. (August 2019) Click [show] for important translation instructions. View a machine-translated version of the Spanish article. Machine translation, like DeepL or Google Translate, is a useful starting point for translations, but translators must revise errors as necessary and confirm that the translation is accurate, rather than simply copy-pasting machine-translated text into the English Wikipedia. Consider adding a topic to this template: there are already 5,183 articles in the main category, and specifying|topic= will aid in categorization. Do not translate text that appears unreliable or low-quality. If possible, verify the text with references provided in the foreign-language article. You must provide copyright attribution in the edit summary accompanying your translation by providing an interlanguage link to the source of your translation. A model attribution edit summary is Content in this edit is translated from the existing Spanish Wikipedia article at [[:es:Insurgencia narcoterrorista en Perú]]; see its history for attribution. You should also add the template ((Translated|es|Insurgencia narcoterrorista en Perú)) to the talk page. For more guidance, see Wikipedia:Translation.

Since 2002 there have been a number of incidents relating to internal conflict within Peru. On 20 March 2002, a car bomb exploded at "El Polo," a mall in a wealthy district of Lima near the US embassy.[47] On 9 June 2003, a Shining Path group attacked a camp in Ayacucho, and took 68 employees of the Argentine company Techint and three police guards hostage. The hostages worked at the Camisea gas pipeline project that takes natural gas from Cuzco to Lima.[48] According to sources from Peru's Interior Ministry, the hostage-takers asked for a sizable ransom to free the hostages. Two days later, after a rapid military response, the hostage-takers abandoned the hostages. According to some sources, the company paid the ransom.[49]

In 2015, the United States Treasury declared the Shining Path a narco-terrorist organization engaged in the taxing of production, processing, and transport, of cocaine. The allegations of Shining Path drug trafficking had been made by the Peruvian government prior to the United States' decree. This decree froze all Shining Path financial assets in the United States. US treasury official John Smith stated that the decree would help "the government of Peru's efforts to actively combat the group".[50]



  1. ^ Until 2018, the MPCP was unofficially referred to as the Remanentes de Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path remnants) or the Sendero Luminoso en el VRAEM (Shining Path in the VRAEM); the Peruvian government continues to refer to the MPCP as the direct successor to the Shining Path.[1]
  2. ^ After Chairman Gonzalo's capture in 1992, Comrade Feliciano assumed command of Shining Path until his capture in 14 July 1999, then Shining Path dissolved and retreated to VRAEM Valley.


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Post–Cold War conflicts in the Americas