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This August, newspapers in Peru splashed headlines across their front pages about the huge blow the government had dealt to what is left of the infamous Shining Path—a brutal Maoist guerrilla group that has spent the past 20 years hanging out in the jungle slaughtering peasants and smuggling coke. The headlines announced to the world that Comrade Alipio, the group’s military leader, had been killed.
Alipio's death was as cartoonish as it was dramatic. A coc aine trafficker who had links to Shining Path, but who'd turned informant for the police, lured an armed column of rebels towards a hut that he owned. Most of the fighters stayed outside, guarding the building while Comrade Alipio and two other Shining Path bigwigs, Comrades Gabriel and Alfonso, went into what was meant to be a safe house, expecting to meet some ladies of the night, all organized by the drug trafficker.
Crucially, what Alipio and company didn’t know was that the army had rigged the house with ANFO explosives. As soon as the three rebels had made themselves comfortable, the whole hut went up in one big blast. The charred bodies had to be identified through DNA tests.
As soon as news of the killing came out, my phone wouldn’t stop ringing: I have the arguable privilege of being the only journalist to have met Comrade Alipio, and the local media were desperate for a soundbite.
Back in September 2010, I received a call on behalf of the leadership of the Shining Path, who had agreed to meet me if I travelled, unaccompanied, to Peru's Valley of the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro rivers, known by the acronym VRAEM. It's a jungle region that routinely serves as the battleground between armed forces and drug lords. The Shining Path contacted me after I sent them a message while I was reporting in the area, tailing some anti-narcotics police patrols a few months prior.