Slaughter of Peru Villagers Stirs Dark Memories, Roils Election

The slaughter of villagers in a remote valley on Sunday is roiling Peru’s election campaign by reviving memories of political mass murder from the nation’s recent past.

Leftist presidential frontrunner Pedro Castillo condemned the attack, and signaled that his opponents are trying to use the killings to undermine his campaign.

Slaughter of Peru Villagers Stirs Dark Memories, Roils Election

His opponent Keiko Fujimori, who advocates a tough line on security questions, described the perpetrators as terrorists and urged people to go out and vote in defiance of them.

The government blamed an offshoot of the Maoist guerrilla group known as Shining Path for the massacre, in which 16 people died. The incident took place in a poverty-stricken region known as the VRAEM, which is a center of cocaine production.

The killings could impact the June 6 vote, since Castillo’s Marxist political party has repeatedly been accused of having members connected to remnants of Shining Path, said Rodolfo Rojas, a partner of the Lima-based Sequoia political advisory group.

“This opens wounds that we thought were healed, and poisons and polarizes the election even more,” Rojas said in an interview. “The news of this terrible massacre generates a reaction against terrorism, and against Shining Path.”

What took place is still unclear, but if Peruvians believe the government’s version of events that Maoists were responsible for the killings it will tend to benefit Fujimori’s campaign, Rojas said.

Slaughter of Peru Villagers Stirs Dark Memories, Roils Election

Military Offensive

The Shining Path terrorized Peru in the 1980s and 1990s. Fujimori’s father oversaw a military offensive against the guerrillas which dramatically weakened them when he was president in the 1990s. He is now in jail for human rights violations committed during his crackdown.

The massacre, whose victims included a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old girl, is related to the election, Defense Minister Nuria Esparch said in a radio interview on Tuesday. The armed forces said that pamphlets left at the scene urged people to boycott the vote.

There were also terrorist attacks by illegal armed groups ahead of elections in 2011 and 2016. The current president, Francisco Sagasti, isn’t linked to either of the candidates.

Illegal Airstrips

The violence “appears to be a desperate attempt by the remnants of the Shining Path to have some kind of relevance in the lead up to elections in Peru,” Jeremy McDermott, co-founder of Insight Crime, a think tank that studies organized crime.

The group may have fewer than 100 fighters, and is largely confined to one remote region where it survives by regulating and protecting the drug trade, protecting illegal airstrips and escorting cocaine loads out of the area, McDermott said in an interview.

Recent polls show Castillo’s lead widening ahead of the vote. Peru’s bonds and currency have been whipsawed in recent weeks by the election campaign, with a sell-off whenever Castillo gains ground. One survey published at the weekend showed Castillo with 44.8% support, compared to 34.4% for Fujimori.

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