[Spanish speakers might want to skip directly to the links given below; in this post, I'm not claiming to be original. I just feel that the issues raised are interesting and worthy of flagging up on an English-language forum]
In view of the upcoming tenth anniversary of the final report of the truth and reconciliation commission (CVR), a debate has been ignited (or rather, reignited) in Peru regarding the use of the term "armed internal conflict" (conflicto armado interno) to refer to Peru's period of political violence.
Some would prefer the term "terrorism" to emphasise the fact that the main culpable parties were the Shining Path and MRTA. Others suggest "civil war".
This piece on Facebook from El utero de marita expresses the debate really well, pointing out that "terrorism" excludes the large numbers of victims caused by the actions of the state (think Accomarca, Los Cabitos, La Cantuta) and those who do not fall easily into either of the two categories (e.g. Uchuraccay). "Civil war", meanwhile, suggests a conflict with two more or less equally-matched and well-defined "sides", which is also not accurate. He concludes "armed internal conflict includes terrorism, but terrorism excludes many victims that we should not forget". Exactly.
Language is always a contentious issue in these contexts. As far as Peru is concerned, I've always acknowledged the particularly bloody violence of the Shining Path, in particular, by referring to them unequivocally as a terrorist group. I don't refer to the Montoneros as such, for example, nor do I call the Argentine dictatorship the "dirty war" (except occasionally in inverted commas). Argentina did experience some terrorist acts before the 1976 coup, but it did not suffer indiscriminate mass murder of unarmed civilians and the response of the state under the military regime was completely disproportionate. This is why, in Argentina, the armed forces were the primary human rights abusers. In Peru, the Shining Path (and to a far lesser extent, the MRTA) were the primary violent actors, but the state contributed a very significant number of victims as well.
So yes, Shining Path were (are) terrorists, but Peru's armed internal conflict had several actors.
Does it matter? I would suggest it does, since the label we give the period is connected to which victims we decide are worth remembering.
Sobre el termino conflicto armado interno (Desde el Tercer Piso)