Capturing peace in Peru: 25th anniversary of Shining Path leader’s arrest

World Today

Twenty five years ago in Peru, the founder of the Shining Path rebel group was captured.

His detention brought an end to one of the bloodiest episodes in the country’s history.

CGTN’s Dan Collyns reports from Lima.

Some shaky video footage inside an ordinary looking home marks a key moment in Peru’s history.

It was in a middle-class Lima suburb, that police captured Abimael Guzman, the ideological leader of a violent and fanatical rebel group.

Known as the Shining Path, the communist guerillas’ aim was to overthrow the state. Experts said they came close but for the painstaking work of a police intelligence unit known as the ‘GEIN’.

“We didn’t know for sure if he was really in there,” says Ana Cecilia Garzon, a GEIN police intelligence officer, “but there we had a discovered a whole series of clues that indicated he could be inside.”

Garzon, codenamed ‘Seagull’, had been surveying the house for months alongside fellow police intelligence officer Julio Becerra, codenamed ‘Squirrel.’

Although they eventually got married, at the time they pretended to be a couple and managed to get into the hideout and capture the terror group’s leader.

Becerra describes the moment of the arrest: “I went in with a very big revolver and I put it in his face and I said if he moved I would kill him. At that moment the two women who were with him launched themselves at me, pulling my hair, but I felt the rest of the team were right behind us.”

In an instant, the terror group’s leadership collapsed.

Twenty five years ago on a quiet street a police intelligence unit effectively ended one of the bloodiest episodes in Peru’s history. By capturing Abimael Guzman they in effect cut the head off a monster which had brought the country to its knees.

Behind bars, Guzman was shown to the world.

His legacy is a conflict in which some 70,000 people were killed between 1980 and 2000, according to a government commission.

“They were part of an extremely violent organization,” explains Marco Miyashiro, Chief of the GEIN Police Intelligence Unit. “But the element of surprise and the speed of the operation meant there was no armed resistance.”

“They were neutralized and he was captured alive and fully respecting his human rights, up to the point that today he is still alive and serving a life sentence.”

This real-life terror story has been turned into a film called ‘La Hora Final’, or ‘The Final Hour’, and there’s a book by the same name.

The author of the book, Carlos Paredes, says that, “Back then, we were on the edge of the abyss, and in the Maoist logic of Abimael Guzman it was the turning point; they were about to take power. That’s why what this police group did was so important. It was THE most important victory.”

The country still faces challenges, of course. But most Peruvians enjoy freedom and peace today thanks to the brave men and women of the GEIN Police Intelligence Unit.