Saturday, 3 March 2012

Peru: Capture of Artemio vs. Guzman

This post is composed of some preliminary thoughts and does not pretend to be a finished analysis.

It’s now a couple of weeks since Comrade Artemio/Florindo Eleuterio Flores, the top active Shining Path leader, was wounded and captured by Peruvian security forces. The arrest invites comparison with the capture of senderista leader Abimael Guzman back in 1992, but there doesn’t seem to have been much reflection on that as yet. In fact, aside from brief mentions, a Google search only really turned up this:

Fujimori capturó a Abimael Guzmán, ...Humala a Artemio (La Voz Hispana de Connecticut)

It’s illustrated with a nice composite image which highlights the comparison between Fujimori’s triumph over Guzman and Humala’s over Artemio:

But that aside, let’s go back a bit. For old time’s sake, here’s how the New York Times reported the capture of Guzman in 1992:

Fugitive Leader of Maoist Rebels Is Captured by the Police in Peru (NY Times)

Here’s a detailed look at the capture of Artemio:

Peru: Shining Path’s Last Major Leader, Artemio, has been Captured (COHA)

There are various points of comparison here. One is the method of capture itself – despite the fact that Guzman was arrested from a middle-class district of the capital city, while Artemio was hunted down in a remote rural area, I’d say that the major point of overlap is that both were taken alive (albeit injured, in Artemio’s case). By contrast, the MRTA kidnappers who took over the Japanese embassy in 1997 were summarily executed during the release operation. Guzman would likely have been killed too if Vladimiro Montesinos had had his way, but the Shining Path supremo was instead taken in a covert operation by a special police unit. Due process for two of Peru’s most wanted criminals is a positive testament to Peru’s justice system and has the additional advantage of preventing the fallen leaders from becoming martyr figures.

Both Artemio and Guzman were publicly exhibited to the media, leading to the show of defiance on the part of the latter which has become one of the iconic images of the Peruvian conflict.

Then comes the obligatory self-congratulatory speeches by the head of state at the time.

This is followed by attempts to sum up the significance of the capture and to look to the future. The arrest of Guzman was immediately recognized as extremely significant, of course, but there was perhaps not an appreciation that it would lead to the almost total collapse of the group – I say “almost” total, as clearly Sendero Luminoso has limped on into the 21st century. However, it would have been reasonable to assume that another leader would replace Guzman more effectively than actually occurred. A downside of the personality cult he encouraged.

It's a bit premature to gauge the consequences of the downfall of Artemio, but to sum up I would suggest that it's obviously a good thing in that it's a blow to Shining Path, but the group as a whole will continue in some ragged form allied to the drug trade, particularly in the VRAE area led by "comrade Jose". The importance of the arrest is not equivalent to that of Guzman, but it is a step forward. The forthcoming trial(s), I hope, will also be a good opportunity for Peru to discuss memory issues more widely, particularly in light of the recent attempted rise of Shining Path-allied MOVADEF.

For those who are interested, here’s more:

An old post of mine on Abimael Guzman as the iconic prisoner of South America

Another old post of mine on missed opportunities to capture Guzman

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