Guzman, a former philosophy lecturer, has been giving security forces the slip since he launched a 'people's war' against the Peruvian state in May 1980. He apparently spent much of his time not in the Andean fastnesses where his People's Guerrilla Army was based, but in smart residential districts of Lima, the Peruvian capital. Rumours that Guzman, 57, was dead or terminally ill have circulated for years, only to be scotched by the capture in 1990 of a video showing him dancing to Zorba the Greek at a party in a Lima safe house. On that occasion, Guzman got away.
His capture, along with seven other members of the party's all-powerful central committee, is the climax of a drive against the organisation by the increasingly sophisticated security forces, particularly the anti-terrorist police, Dircote. The reputed second-in-command of Shining Path, Osman Morote Barrionuevo, is already behind bars, and several other captured leaders were killed during a jail mutiny earlier this year.
However, it would be premature to assume Shining Path is finished. Although a strong personality cult has built up around 'Chairman Gonzalo', as Guzman is known to his followers, and the party's leadership is extremely centralised, it also has a highly-developed cellular structure and local committees are known to act with a considerable degree of operational autonomy.
The organisation has not only survived many previous blows which the authorities regarded as fatal at the time, but has continued to grow. In the short term, Shining Path can be expected to react to the arrest of its top leadership by stepping up its campaign of car bombs and assassinations that has been under way since Mr Fujimori's 5 April 'coup'.
Shining Path, which its members refer to as the Communist Party of Peru, first saw the light of day in the city of Ayacucho in the south-central Andes. It emerged from the Sino-Soviet split of the mid-1960s, which led to particularly virulent internal struggles in Peruvian communism, and was originally based in Ayacucho's university of San Cristobal de Huamanga, where Guzman was head of personnel.
He and his disciples were eventually forced out of the university by left-wing rivals, and went underground in the mid-1970s. The first action of the 'people's war' was an assault on a polling station during the presidential elections of May 1980. By then the party had built up a clandestine organisation covering most of Peru. The army was drafted in to fight the guerrillas in late 1982, and now exercises day-to-day control over more than half of Peru's territory.
Guzman's followers venerate him as the 'fourth sword' of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and regard Shining Path as the current centre of the world revolutionary movement which must inevitably spread, whatever the current setbacks, to all other countries. The party has incorporated 'Gonzalo thought' into the canon of revolutionary ideology, and expects admirers in other parts of the world to defer to the Peruvian party's leadership. Guzman's main contribution to Marxist theory is held to be his development of Mao Tse-tung's theory of peasant war to include urban warfare at an earlier stage than envisaged by the Chinese leader.
Shining Path's metropolitan committee, including Lima, is believed to be its most powerful, and actions in the cities have been growing in number and importance in recent years. Earlier this month a 600 lb car-bomb exploded at a petrol station on the northern outskirts of Lima, killing seven people and injuring dozens more.
At least 26,000 people have died in 12 years of conflict, many of them innocent peasants caught in the crossfire between the ruthless revolutionaries and the increasingly frustrated armed forces. Recently, Shining Path has targeted elected local representatives, many of them from rival left-wing parties, and has made large areas of the country virtually ungovernable.
The arrest of the Shining Path leader, while providing a welcome morale boost for the Peruvian authorities, also presents them with something of a dilemma. Guzman is potentially as dangerous behind bars as he was at liberty. His followers can be expected to move heaven and earth to free him, and while in captivity he will remain a rallying-point for the revolutionary struggle.
Some observers are surprised that the police did not quietly kill him; if he had been taken by the army, as Che Guevara was in Bolivia in 1967, that could very well have been his fate - although then he would have been a martyr. In any case 'Gonzalo thought' lives on.Reuse content