LIMA, PERU, JUNE 8 -- The house is nondescript, tucked among others like it in one of Lima's tonier neighborhoods with a police station down the street and the headquarters of the Peruvian armed forces just a few blocks away.
But when police seized the building last weekend, they found the apparent headquarters of the Shining Path, the Maoist guerrilla group whose 10-year war against the government has cost more than 15,000 lives.
The safe house shelters a vast archive detailing how the insurgents operate, a shrine filled with finely worked handicrafts honoring Shining Path exploits and a bedroom apparently used by the group's shadowy founder and supreme commander that suggests he is -- contrary to numerous rumors over the years -- still alive.
The house, now tightly guarded by Peruvian police, is the government's biggest prize from a series of raids and searches around Lima last weekend that officials say constitutes the most telling blow struck against Shining Path since the guerrillas began their armed struggle.
The files found inside the house reflect "the brain of this subversive organization," Interior Minister Augustin Mantilla told reporters Monday as police put on display some of the 32 suspected guerrillas arrested in the weekend raids. "There is material for at least 100 other arrests."
"I have seen the bulk of the documents, and it is impressive," said Gustavo Gorriti, a journalist and author who has written extensively about Shining Path. "At this point the government hasn't had time to go through it all, and they really don't know what they have. But if they really have the documents they think they have, it could be a very, very serious blow indeed."
Beginning Friday evening, authorities raided 35 sites in and around Lima, discovering safehouses, a printing press, a depot storing tons of pamphlets and other materials and the "administrative headquarters" in the suburb of Monterrico, according to Fernando Yovera, spokesman for the Interior Ministry.
Among those arrested in the raids, Yovera said, were Sybila Arredondo, widow of the acclaimed Peruvian writer Jose Maria Argueras, and Elvira Zanabria, described as a member of Shining Path's central committee. The raids stemmed from a three-month undercover investigation, according to Yovera, and were scheduled to be carried out Sunday but were moved ahead because of fears that the guerrillas were aware that they were under surveillance.
Yovera called the house a "time capsule of Shining Path." Gorriti, who toured the house Monday, said the material appeared destined "for some future 'Museum of the Revolution.' "
Some of the material bordered on kitsch: red silk banners painstakingly embroidered with hammer-and-sickle insignia and the names of various Shining Path units; bas-relief stone carvings of guerrilla forces on the march; a clock inscribed with slogans marking the insurgency's fifth anniversary. Authorities said these apparently were gifts from various Shining Path units to the central administration.
More significant were stacks of documents detailng past operations and identity cards belonging to more than 250 past and present guerrillas. There were maps, access codes, tracts on strategy and tactics. Most of the material has not yet been examined.
Police also found reams of material apparently written by Shining Path's founder, Abimael Guzman. Guzman, a 54-year-old former university professor who taught in the Andean city of Ayacucho, went underground in 1980 and has been rumored to have died in hiding. He is said to have suffered various medical problems underground.
But the Guzman manuscripts, along with a bedroom in the house that contained what looked like his personal effects, were taken as the strongest indication to date that Guzman is still alive and directing the insurgency.
Also, the Monterrico house was rented just a year and a half ago (for $600 a month), so hard evidence that he had been there would bolster the view that he remains Shining Path's commander-in-chief.
The bedroom that held clothing, eyeglasses and other effects thought to belong to Guzman is austere, even ascetic, its only indulgence an enormous bookcase crammed with works on Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and other Communist leaders. Shining Path doctrine states that Guzman's ideas represent the purest, most "scientific" Communist thought, building on the work of Marx, Lenin and Mao.
The notion that Guzman, leader of a countryside revolution that has had scant success in establishing a toehold in the metropolis of Lima, would consider himself safest around the corner from the headquarters of the army that is trying to hunt him down was striking.
Shining Path is believed to have a main armed force of between 2,000 and 5,000 guerrillas.
Gorriti criticized President Alan Garcia for his decision Monday to publicize the raids in some detail, giving "even the lowest-ranking member of Shining Path" the signal to flee and in effect telling the guerrillas the extent of the damage.
With the runoff presidential election between novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and former university president Alberto Fujimori slated for next Sunday, Yovera said authorities fear Shining Path will strike back with a major, high-profile attack.
"Let's face it, Shining Path is not defeated," Yovera said. "They have to be at the point of hysteria -- their holy shrine has been penetrated. Who knows what their reaction will be?"