Fourteen men, women and children died in a massacre in a remote coca-growing region of Peru, the Defense Ministry said, reviving memories of the country’s brutal left-wing insurgency just weeks ahead of presidential elections that are playing out along the conflict’s ideological fault lines.
The murders, one of Peru’s worst atrocities in decades, occurred in the town of San Miguel del Ene, the ministry said in a statement on Monday. The country’s police chief said earlier on Monday that 18 people died, adding that his officers were still on the way to the isolated town to investigate.
Authorities have blamed the attack on a dissident faction of the Shining Path, a Maoist rebel group that terrorized Peru before being brutally put down by the authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s. Local media reported that pamphlets attributed to the terrorist group were found with the bodies.
“We are returning to something that we thought we had overcome,” said Pedro Yaranga, a Peruvian security consultant, who said he had obtained copies and verified the Shining Path pamphlets left at the crime scene. “Most in Peru have thought the Shining Path no longer existed. This tragedy shows that this is not the case.”
The mountainous region around San Miguel del Ene, a sparsely populated, forested area in central Peru known for cocaine production and trafficking, is believed to be the last significant operating area for Shining Path remnants.
The massacre could shake up Peru’s political landscape just two weeks ahead of the country’s highly charged presidential vote, which has pitted Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of the now-jailed Mr. Fujimori, against Pedro Castillo, a left-wing teachers’ union organizer.
People on both sides have sought to portray the election as the repeat of the ideological battles of the turbulent 1990s, when Mr. Fujimori’s hard-line policies brought the nation peace at the cost of suppressing democracy and civil rights.
Mr. Castillo’s opponents have accused him of being a Shining Path sympathizer who would plunge the country back into the chaos of the insurgency. Mr. Castillo has denied the charges and has sought to play down his party’s Marxist economic proposals since emerging as the leading candidate in April.
“We condemn the political use that Fujimorism is making of this tragedy,” Mr. Castillo’s spokesperson in Congress, Betssy Chavez, wrote on Twitter.
The latest polls show Mr. Castillo still ahead in the race, though his lead has shrunk in recent weeks, putting Ms. Fujimori within striking distance of victory in most national surveys.
The pamphlets reportedly found on the massacre victims called for residents to boycott the vote and called Ms. Fujimori’s supporters traitors.
Mr. Yaranga said the country could see a further uptick in violence if Ms. Fujimori wins the race. Remaining Shining Path members could step up punitive attacks against the daughter of their nemesis, he said, and Ms. Fujimori could step up anti-terrorist operations.
The trauma of the Shining Path’s war against the Peruvian state still scars the Andean nation decades later. Launched in 1980 by a provincial Maoist academic, Abimael Guzmán, the insurgency sparked an internal conflict that claimed the lives of an estimated 69,000 people. The atrocities committed shocked even a region familiar with Marxist revolts and state oppression.
Mr. Guzmán ordered his followers to put down their arms after his capture in 1992, but a remnant of rebels remained in remote forested areas, where their revolutionary ideology was gradually supplanted by drug trafficking and occasional attacks on security forces.