- "Artemio," a leader of the Peruvian terrorist group, says it's lost long war
- The Maoist group wants to negotiate with the government, he says
- The government has rejected anything short of complete surrender
- Artemio talked with reporters from a nongovernmental organization
The Shining Path, the Maoist terrorist group that wreaked havoc in Peru in the 1980s, has admitted defeat and seeks to negotiate an end to its war with the government, one of the group's top leaders told a nongovernmental organization.
Reporters working for Legal Defense Institute on Wednesday published a far-ranging interview with "Comrade Artemio," who said his real name is Jose Flores, though the government has disputed that.
At its peak, the Shining Path spread terror in the country through a bombing campaign that targeted buildings and infrastructure such as electricity towers. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the government fought a campaign that greatly reduced the capacity of the terrorist group, but it made a resurgence in recent years.
But the government has responded forcefully to the resurgent Shining Path, and the leader said that the time for armed conflict is over.
The Shining Path has been defeated, Artemio said.
"Yes, that's a fact. We are not going to deny it," he said.
The insurgents have not given up their ideology, he said, but in practice, a war with the government is no longer an option.
What the group wants is to negotiate with the government a deal that would result in members' laying down their arms in exchange for the release of prisoners.
"We don't have the smallest intention to brandish the weapons of war, of armed conflict. Sincerely ... we want a political solution; we want this to end, but through the methods of a negotiation," he told the reporters for the Legal Defense Institute, known as the IDL, the initials for its name in Spanish..
Artemio suggested a truce as a first step toward demobilization, and suggested a group like the Red Cross or the church to act as a mediator with the government.
Since as early as 2003, the Shining Path has sent feelers out to several Peruvian administrations in an effort to begin negotiations, he said.
In recent months, the group has invited the government of President Ollanta Humala to enter into talks.
But the answer the terrorists have been met with -- unconditional surrender, laying down of arms, and coordinates for stockpiles -- is untenable, Artemio said.
The government even offered him reward money for turning himself in, so that he could leave the country after he disbands the group, he said.
"By principle, I cannot accept that," he said.
For the Shining Path, its leader remains Abimael Guzman, who has been imprisoned since 1992 and is serving a life sentence. Any truce that does not include his freedom would be a "betrayal," Artemio said.
No concrete steps have materialized with Humala's government, but the terrorist leader has not given up hope, he said.
The group's intentions are for a lasting peace, Artemio told the IDL interviewers, but it wasn't clear that meant forever.
"By principle we are Marxist. We believe that the only way to change a capitalist system is with a socialist system. But that is not possible at the moment. And if it's not possible, what corresponds in this moment is to end" the armed conflict, he said.
The "moment," one presumes, could change.
Indeed, Artemio said he believes that class struggle will continue, though the war will not.
For now, the group's ideological fight will be political, he said, noting that it meant accepting, to a degree, participation within the confines of a democratic system that Shining Path opposes.
"That is the political trend we have as a nation, (and) as Peruvians, we have to accept it," he told the IDL.
Don't expect the Shining Path to field candidates for Congress, Artemio said, but there exists the possibility that other political organizations, representing its views, could participate in the system.
According to him, the one thing that's definite for now is that "there will not be any type of attacks. This I can guarantee. "
Peruvians with memories of the turbulent '80s will no doubt take that guarantee with skepticism.