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Last Updated: Friday, 6 February, 2004, 19:15 GMT
Colombian rebels beat path to Peru

By Jeremy McDermot
BBC, in Peru

There is revolution in the air in South America once again, with thousands of Marxist guerrillas operating in Colombia, and signs in Peru of a resurgence of the Shining Path, a militant Maoist group which seeks to install a peasant revolutionary authority.

The Shining Path has never been that friendly to journalists, so trying to make contact is very difficult.

Shining Path founder
The Shining Path founder was sentenced to life in prison
In Lima I met members of left-wing parties that have traditionally had links with the Shining Path, and put out the word that I wanted to contact the guerrillas who in the early 1990s brought Peru to its knees.

When the Shining Path leader, Abimael Guzman - known as President Gonzalo - was captured in 1993, the rebel movement all but collapsed. Just a few hard core elements were left, still fighting in the remote highlands.

But recently they have become active again, kidnapping and invading villages to force the local population to listen to their communist rhetoric.

We are recruiting Peruvians for the revolution and now have almost 1000 former members of the Shining Path
El Flaco, FARC

Yet when a contact finally came forward, it was not from the Peruvian but from the Colombian guerrillas.

"I hear that you are based in Colombia and that you know my boss," said an intense looking man known as "El Flaco", meaning the thin one.

He was not from the Shining Path, but rather Latin America's most powerful rebel group, the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, with whom I had spent a great deal of time over the years.

I was surprised by his presence in Peru, and shocked by his message.

"There are many of us here, from the Bolivarian Movement," he said, referring to the FARC's political wing.

"We are recruiting Peruvians for the revolution, and now have almost 1000 former members of the Shining Path."

Colombian connection

It is actually not that surprising that the FARC should be in Peru.

Colombia shares a long and dense jungle border with the country, and there is little army or state presence on either side of the frontier.

The FARC have long used Peruvian territory to escape pursuing security forces, rest between clashes and grow the drugs that fund their 40 year war to the tune of some $400m a year.

They spilt the blood of their own people, but we are building a movement here in Peru that will liberate them all
El Flaco, FARC

Peru has also been a conduit for arms and in 1999 the FARC received 10,000 AK-47 assault rifles through the country.

The former spymaster of President Fujimori, Vladimiro Montesinos, is now on trial accused of brokering the deal which saw the rifles exported from Jordan and parachuted into the Colombian jungles, into the waiting hands of the FARC.

I have often met Colombian guerrillas with these rifles, some with the inscription 'Thanks Fujimori' written on the butts.

The Colombian guerrillas are under pressure at home, as the hard-line president Alvaro Uribe, with billions of dollars of American aid, launches relentless offensives against them.

FARC rebels
FARC now controls large areas of Colombia

The FARC control almost 40% of the country, but it is mostly the low lying jungles of the Amazon where there are few people.

But under pressure from the Colombian army, which is backed by US helicopters and intelligence, the guerrillas have established camps in all the neighbouring counties: Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Panama.

Colombia's war is in danger of becoming much of South America's war.

He was dismissive of the Shining Path, condemning their bloody campaign that saw tens of thousands murdered.

"They spilt the blood of their own people," he said, "but we are building a movement here in Peru that will liberate them all."

The revolution will sweep through Latin America, and the gringos will be sent back home
El Flaco, FARC

The political situation in South America could not be better for the Marxist rebels of the 20,000-strong FARC.

Left wing governments and instability abound.

In Bolivia, the US-backed president was overthrown, and one of the fastest rising new politicians is vehemently anti-American and wants to legalise drug production.

Venezuela's president has been accused of supporting Colombia's guerrillas and is allied to America's old enemy, Fidel Castro of Cuba.

The presidents of Peru and Ecuador - both US allies - are facing low levels of support and street protests.

"Our time is coming," said El Flaco, his eyes burning with fervour.

"The revolution will sweep through Latin America, and the gringos will be sent back home."

With that he shook my hand and strode out of the hotel, leaving behind some guerrilla propaganda.

I never did find the Shining Path. After meeting El Flaco, there seemed no point.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 5 February, 2004 at 1100 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.



SEE ALSO:
Analysis: Peru's Shining Path
11 Jun 03  |  Americas
Colombia's most powerful rebels
19 Sep 03  |  Americas
Peru's violent past
21 Mar 02  |  Americas
Country profile: Peru
16 Dec 03  |  Country profiles


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