Shining Path in Peru

The Shining Path organization in Peru is commonly viewed as a Maoist Guerrilla Organization. The movement reached its peak in the 80's but had begun development years before. The founder, Abimael Guzman, was a professor at a university in Ayacucho. The San Cristobal of Huamanga University is where he taught philosophy based on the ideology of Karl Marx. It was this very same philosophy that was projected by the organization while it was forming, and still remains a contributing factor to how the organization functions. Guzman promoted a form of Marxism known as Maoism. Maoism, an ideology taught in China under Mao Zedong, focuses on completely removing the state in order to institute change. The way in which this is carried out is through revolutionary warfare. Marx claimed that violent struggle was absolutely necessary in human development and, even more importantly, necessary in order to reach this almost utopian state of political and social equality (Osborn 2007). This theory was applied heavily by Guzman, and it became the foundation for the Shining Path as well as the Peoples War.

The most basic goal of the Shining Path was to essentially overthrow the government and create a system that was rid of oppression towards the poor peasants and lower class individuals. It was easy for the organization to create a movement because the Peruvian government had done so little in previous years to produce mass change for an already indebted and impoverished country. In the 1920's and 1930s two major political parties formed in response to the inequality and subjugation that had been looming for hundreds of years in the wake colonialization of Peru by Spain. These parties known as APRA (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana) and the PCP (Partido Communista del Peru) held positions in Peru that allowed them a degree of influence to produce revolutionary change to the corrupt system of oligarchic land control and servile treatment of the Peruvian people. The problem with these parties lay within the context in which they were formed. Developing under constrain of political pressure and military repression, these parties were forced to compromise their political ideology in order to maintain power. Up until 1980, governmental reform in Peru was not in the least successful. For example, agrarian and economic reform had been overshadowed by consistent coups of administrations like that of Fernando Belaunde Terry by Juan Velasco Alvarado. Further authoritarian rule through Peru’s history imposed a great deal of tension between the state and its people, especially the people who were geographically cut off from important places of power such, like Lima, the capital of Peru. There is also the increased production and sale of coca to drug traffickers. Coca farming had become very popular throughout the 70's, and was thus a leading source of income for rural farmers. For peasant farmers, Coca farming was a billion dollar industry, and was thus a steady source of money. With the Peruvian governments push to eradicate coca fields farmers, whose primary source of income was coca, now had increased pressure to find alternative crops to produce. It was under these conditions of continued failed reformation did the shining path emerge and appeal to so many individuals.

Leading up to the first act committed by the Shining Path in 1980, as was stated, Peru was undergoing a series of failed reformation and increased authoritarian leadership mixed with the urgency of foreign influence and organizations pushing for democracy. The state was going between one extreme and another. It created an even greater divide amongst wealthy land owners, and peasant farmers. With increasing dependency on coca farming, tensions only escalated especially with reform policies being backed by U.S. institutions like the Drug Enforcement Agency. With Peru exporting about 75% of coca resources, creating policies designed to cut this percentage back would mean that the already impoverished rural farmers would now lose their primary source of income. Such actions paved the way for hostility between the Peruvian government and poor rural farmers.

The conditions met for the Shining Path to gain authority were laid out due to negligence of the state to produce mass reform that dealt with infrastructure, the economy and agriculture. The appeal of the Shining Path was not that of its Maoist/Marxist ideology, it was the idea that the organization would pose a direct threat to the state thus bringing to the attention the needs of poor rural farmers. There was this sense of identity created surrounding the Shining Path but the movement itself was not to mobilize agrarian reform. The ultimate goal was total destruction of the state. It just so happened that those willing to put their pleas in the hands of the Shining Path were rural farmers who were not able to maintain a legal, steady flow of income. The Shining Path did appeal to larger groups including younger generations like those that sat in on Guzman’s lecture and read his dissertations. Women were also included in this broad spectrum of supporters. They were able to participate in a way that Peru’s patriarchal society had never allowed them to. While the insurgency occurred, women held power and control, to a certain degree, how ‘terrorist’ acts were carried out. In this sense, women were able to participate on a new level. With such diverse support, the Shining Path was able to mobilize, starting in 1980 when they protested Capitalistic Democracy by burning ballots at an election held in Ayacucho. The results weren’t exactly what the Shining Path was aiming for, but it marked the beginning of revolutionary warfare that was to continue straight into the early 90's. As the movement progressed through the 80's, the Shining Path began to fill the void that had been left by the Peruvian State. They began to set up Popular Committees that were designed to act as representatives of the Shining Path organization within the different locales throughout Peru. They listened to the people’s needs and took the ‘necessary’ action to make sure those needs were met. They also enforced restrictive social orders such as shutting down bars, and brothels. The Shining Path enforced higher taxes on drug traffickers so that the farmers were not getting cheated out of profit. Increase participation in drug trafficking on the part of the Shining Path gave the organization the means to project a stronger national presence and they were able to expand their movement into other regions of Peru from Ayacucho, to Lima and north into the Huallaga Valley. Forms of protest included burning ballots, boycotting markets where campesinos sold their goods, but more importantly armed resistance, which became their primary tactic. The entire set up reflected a lot of a how a clientelistic organization would function in that the Shining Path acted as a protector over its members and in return they would show complete allegiance to the organization.

Government response to the actions taken by the Shining Path range from complete ignorance of the events taking place to extreme action resulting in the violation of human rights from both sides of the spectrum. Up until President Alberto Fujimori was elected in 1991, government action started off by ignoring the problem because it was the belief of Presidents Juan Velasco Alvarado and Fernando Belaunde Terry that recognition of the organization would only undermine their administrations. Regardless, little was done in the way that effectively put an end to the movement. Military action was taken by the Peruvian Armed forces, but this resulted in even more bloodshed and violence, making the Shining Path appear to be the least of the civilians worries. As the movement progressed towards bringing down the state, the organization began to lose some of its support. This was due to the extreme brutality towards the very people they had sought out to help and this too led to the killing of thousands of innocent peoples. With the Shining Path, if you did not support the revolution, then you were its enemy, and the enemy had to be destroyed. It goes back to the fundamental belief that, for the sake of the revolution, action must be taken no matter what the cost, even if that means taking a life. The violence escalated into the early 90's when Alberto Fujimori won the vote and became President of Peru. Under Fujimori, much reform was taken towards infrastructure, economic policies and more importantly towards taking down the Shining Path. He implemented various civil defense committees which gave legal rights and status to groups like the Ronderos, who were organized campesinos that received training from the Peruvian Armed Forces and were allowed to bear arms in order to combat local intrusions committed by the Shining Path. But when Fujimori took extreme action, like when he suspended the constitution and shut down congress in 1992, the violence didn’t end. It was until 6 months later, with the help of a more organized intelligence agency, did the administration manage to arrest Guzman and several top officials in a safehouse in Lima.

At the present time, the Shining Path remains mobile, but not the extremity that is was in the 80's. The group has broken into two factions, one that corresponds with Guzman’s peace negotiation with the Peruvian government in 1994 and the other that maintains a revolutionary mindset. Despite this, the two remain in accordance with one another and have made headlines with terrorist car bombings and kidnapings. Conferences are still held every now and again, headed by individuals such as Guzman’s lawyer, who acts as Guzman’s voice of reason. Smaller sub-groups have been created to bring support back to the organization such as the Association of Family Members of Political Prisoners. The way that the organization operates at this point is based on speculation. Many, after Guzman’s arrest and proclamation of peaceful negotiations, surrendered themselves to the government, thus created a large decline in members. But they still maintain a presence, which leads one to ask, how is an organization such like the Shining Path able to function in a time where social movements have revolved around peaceful mobilization and a push for more political participation of indigenous and poor rural groups? The framework of the movement makes it a new social movement in that it attracts a multitude of identities. Essentially, the commonality that these members shared was not based on race, gender or indigenous culture, but on dissatisfaction with state operated institutions and structure. It also acts out, though in a manner that many have come to understand as ‘terrorism’, to progress and force change on the state. The movement acts as a direct threat to the government in order to force state institutions to reveal their true selves. But what is most interesting about the Shining Path is that its actions have created the foundation for other social movements to develop. In this sense it is a ‘catalyst movement’ which sets the stage for other movements to occur. By creating an environment of brutality, the Shining Path unconsciously paved the way for peasant farmers to take action against them by aligning with the Peruvian government as was seen with the Ronderos. Ultimately, the organization had goals in mind, the major one being to completely remove the current government system, but at the same time they unintentionally made an example out of themselves by showing the government that they were the result of an oppressed minority in the absence of successful economic, political and social reform.

External Links: (Information about Peruvian Communist Party) (North American Congress on Latin America website) (Documentary on Shining Path)

Additional Sources:
Osborn, Ronald. "On the Path of Perpetual Revolution: From Marx’s Millenarianism to Sendero Luminoso." Totalitarian Movements and Political Religion 8 (2007): 115-35.

Burt, Jo-Marie. "Plotting Fear: The Uses of Terror in Peru." NACLA Reports on the Americas 38 (2005): 32-41.

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