Peru's Shining Path: Revolution's End
Peru's Shining Path: Revolution's End
In the 1980s in Peru, Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path) was a feared and brutal revolutionary organization. Still known for kidnapping and murder in support of its cause, it no longer threatens to topple the Peruvian government. Leader Abimael Gúzman Reynoso, also known as Comrade Gonzalo, a charismatic scholar, believed and taught the Maoist philosophy of violent agrarian revolution.
- The Shining Path is a communist (Maoist) organization and supports the radical redistribution of land and other resources.
- Many of Peru's Catholics embraced, for a time, liberation theology, which advocated on behalf of the poor and persecuted, using the Christian scriptures as justification.
- Opposition parties have been periodically outlawed in Peru, leading to increased radical political beliefs.
• The Peruvian government was unable to address issues of trade and agriculture, resulting in increasing impoverishment and dislocation, and disaffection with the government.
• The Shining Path was primarily comprised of Indians—natives to Peru prior to European colonization—who felt marginalized and discriminated against in contemporary Peru.
In May 2000, a small band of terrorists attacked the offices of the largest telephone operator in Peru in the town of Huancayo, less than one hundred miles outside of the capital of Lima. The Maoist organization Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso in Spanish) claimed responsibility for the attack. The attack burned some records and damaged the building, but there were no reported deaths.
In February 2000, Shining Path rebels made headlines on two occasions. On the second of February, Shining Path rebels killed three park rangers and robbed several tourist buses in the central Andes Mountains, which run through the middle of Peru. These terrorists were seeking money for their organization and were seeking to demonstrate that despite massive arrests of Shining Path members in 1997 and 1999 the organization still existed. On the ninth of February, rebels held in the notorious Yanamayo Prison deep in the Andes mountains outside of the province of Ayacucho released twenty-four hostages they had taken almost two months earlier and surrendered to prison officials.
Earlier, in October 1999, a Shining Path guerrilla force ambushed Peru's army, killing five soldiers. The attack came as two hundred members of the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) planned to surrender to government forces. Throughout 1999, Shining Path rebels carried out numerous attacks against government, business, and civilian targets in an effort to keep their dying movement alive. Shining Path rebels have been at war with the Peruvian government since 1980 when SP founder Abimael Gúzman Reynoso led a small band of rebels into the central Andes town of Chuschi to destroy election ballots and to disrupt national elections. While this action failed to create more than a small problem for the Peruvian government, it was a harbinger of almost twenty years of murder, violence and political unrest in southern Peru.
The Shining Path organization has been called "the most dangerous and violent terrorist organization in the world" by the Terrorism Research Center. Despite the arrest of Shining Path founder Abimael Gúzman Reynoso (also known as Comrade Gonzalo) in 1992 and second-in-command Oscar Alberto Ramirez Durand (known as Feliciano) in 1999, the organization has continued its guerrilla war against the Peruvian government. This war began officially in 1980 as an effort to topple the existing regime and establish an Indian-run socialist system emphasizing agricultural development and Marxist-style government. In the following twenty years of Shining Path's existence, it has murdered as many as twelve thousand Peruvians.
Geography and History
Peru is a small South American nation of 496,223 square miles. It is slightly smaller than Alaska (586,412 square miles), and approximately the same size as South Africa (471,010 square miles). Peru is located on the western coast of South America and is bordered to the south by Chile and Bolivia. To the east is Brazil, the largest nation in South America. Peru is directly south of Colombia and Ecuador. The northern part of Peru is slightly below the equator, which means its weather is largely tropical. The Andes Mountains, which run all along the Western coast of South America, cover most of Peru.
Peru's population of approximately 26.6 million (1999 estimate) is primarily employed in agriculture or service industries. Most of the industry that exists in Peru is what is called First Sector industry—mining of metals, drilling for oil, producing raw textiles, and fishing. Peru's primary exports include copper, zinc, coffee, cocoa, and wheat and other grains. Most Peruvians are severely under-employed. Some figures indicate that since 1980 wages in Peru have dropped over seventy percent. This intense poverty played a significant role in creating support for the Shining Path rebels in the early 1980s and 1990s.
The people of Peru represent several distinct ethnic groups. Peru, unlike Mexico or Brazil, has a large indigenous population (forty-five percent), followed by the mestizo (thirty-seven percent). Mestizos are Latinos of mixed ancestry, often by intermarriage between native Indians and European settlers. Those of European descent account for about fifteen percent of the population. Other nationalities account for about five percent of the Peruvian population. Despite this population distribution, those of European descent control most political and economic institutions. This disparity is responsible for much of the political conflict in Peru during the twentieth century.
The vast majority of Peruvians are Roman Catholic, although the Catholic church in Peru is split between traditional Catholics and those who follow liberation theology. Liberation theology is a merging of Marxist and Christian philosophies regarding governmental and individual obligations to the poor of Peru. Most Liberation Theologians generally advocate wider dispersion of wealth. In Peru's case, Liberation Catholics have called on the government to take the wealth of landowners and give that wealth to the poor native people. Peru's Catholicism is a result of Spanish conquest and settlement in the 1600s and 1700s. Peru did not gain its independence from Spain until 1826.
Peru's modern history may be broken into four broad sections: the period from 1936 to 1948, marked by the rise of the Peruvian Communist Party (PCP); the period from 1948 to 1968, marked by increased tension between socialist forces in Peru and the Peruvian military; the period from 1968 to 1980, marked by military rule and broad economic collapse; the period from 1980 to the present, marked by democratic reform and defeat of Peru's communist factions by government forces. This is the period in which Shining Path emerged as a distinct military and political force in Peru's politics.
From 1936 to 1948
Peru's independence from Spain in 1826 did not produce an immediate solution to its economic or political woes. Peru's (largely European) political leadership chose to develop the nation's international export trade rather than to develop domestic commerce. To that end, the Peruvian government created an export business for guano, the droppings from seabirds. This was an excellent fertilizer widely used by commercial farmers in the United States and Europe. Peru's decision to pursue this kind of trade distorted economic development in the small nation and left Peru vulnerable to international markets and trade. The economic downturns of the 1873 and 1893 depressions, coupled with a war against Chile to the south, led to serious political unrest in the mountainous nation. Only by agreeing to allow Great Britain to build a railroad in Junín, a department in south-central Peru ("departments" are like states or counties in the United States or Australia; Peru has twenty-four departments), was the government able to survive. The railroad was designed to allow Peruvian mining companies to extract important minerals and then ship them to the coast for transport to Britain and elsewhere.
This contract seemed to bolster Peru, but by 1920 over eighty percent of Peru's commercial and manufacturing enterprises were foreign-owned. This substantial foreign investment angered many domestic firms who could not compete against these international corporations. In order to attract foreign investment, the Peruvian government often offered tax incentives and profit sharing plans that overseas businesses found very appealing. By the mid-1920s, many small businessmen, university professors, and department governmental officials began to call for more "nationalistic" economic policies. Peruvian economic elites wanted Peru's international policies to emphasize domestic companies and products, not imported products. This conflict is a second component of Peru's political difficulties in the twentieth century.
One consequence of the political unrest caused by the government's inability to solve the trade and farm issues was the growth of national socialist and labor organizations. APRA (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance) was one of the earliest and largest of these unions. In its early years, APRA called for the inclusion of the indigenous and mestizo masses in the economic boom created in the 1880s. While extremely unpopular with the politically powerful Peruvian military, APRA followers (called apristas) demonstrated excellent political judgment. During the free elections of 1945, APRA won a majority of seats in the Peruvian legislature and three seats on President Jose Bustamante's cabinet. In this position of power APRA was able to implement some political reforms and to increase the power of labor unions in Peru.
Unfortunately, these reform efforts, coupled with continuing rumors that APRA intended to resort to political violence if its demands for faster reforms were not met, weakened APRA's popular support. In 1948, President Bustamante was forced by the military to outlaw the People's Party, a coalition of socialist and extreme liberal parties of which APRA was a key member. The military wanted more action taken, but Bustamante refused. A coup d'état followed, removing Bustamante from power and placing several military commanders in control of the Peruvian government.
APRA's efforts to cooperate with governmental officials created a split within the party in 1920. Those who followed Victor Raul Haya de la Torre (1895-1982?), APRA's founder, believed that they could best serve the native and poor of Peru by cooperating with government forces whenever feasible, but continually emphasizing Peruvian nationalism against the government's internationalist policies. The Marxists within the organization, led by Jose Carlos Mariátegui (1895-1930), advocated a strong position of militant opposition to the existing government. Mariátegui established the Confederacion General de Trabadores Peruano (General Confederation of Peruvian Workers) to advocate this Marxist line. The governments throughout the 1930s and 1940s suppressed the CGTP as well as the APRA.
The Period of Military-Civilian Government (1948-68)
Following the coup of 1948, General Manuel Odría seized control of the government of Peru. He allowed the legislature to continue to hold elections and to meet, but for all practical purposes he governed as a dictator. Odría had been a cabinet officer under Bustamante, but was disillusioned by the chaos and poor governance he believed lay at the heart of the conservative APRA coalition that had been in power since 1945. During his presidency, he outlawed the apristas and other communist organizations. Odría's rule was marred by political unrest, but it also created economic growth. Much of this economic development was due to the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. During the course of the war, Peruvian mineral and metal exports increased tremendously, as did the price for these commodities. Peru entered a period of relative wealth and economic expansion. However, it was primarily Peru's European economic and military elites who prospered under these developments while the native and mestizo populations suffered greatly. This continued disparity between wealthy Europeans and poor native populations helped to strengthen the PCP (the Communist Party of Peru), which split from the CGTP during Odría's rule.
The importance of agrarian politics in Peru is rooted in its farm system. The farm structure in Peru was based on the hacienda, which was a large farm or plantation whose owner would rent out part of the land to sharecroppers. These sharecroppers would farm the land, and then give to the landowner the majority of their crops, keeping a small amount for their own subsistence. The landowner would sell the crops and keep the profits. By the 1950s, the majority of landowners were of European descent while the croppers were native or mestizo. These croppers grew increasingly disgruntled with the inequitable distribution of wealth and power and during the 1950s hundreds of thousands of them seized hacienda lands and began to farm illegally. Government efforts to control these invasions were hampered by poor coordination and a pitifully small police force, so for the most part the farm owners and "squatters" came to an uneasy truce.
The events of the 1950s solidified a split that had occurred in the 1920s and 1930s in the APRA. As was already noted, in the 1920s, some Marxist apristas split off to create the CGTP. During the 1950s, the CGTP fractured again into several communist parties, including the PCP-Red Flag, which followed communist China, and the PCPIU, which followed Stalinist, or internationalist communism. APRA's cooperation with Peru's governments continued to be a point of contention leaving it often at odds with the various communist organizations in Peru. Many within the emerging PCP advocated violent opposition to the regime, while others advocated a strategy of peasant education. These debates foreshadowed the actions of PCP-SL (Shining Path) would follow thirty years later.
Because of President Odría's policies, the CGTP gained strength among union workers and farmers, particularly in the southern part of Peru. Unrest led Odría to permit regular elections in 1956; these elections would mark the end of his rule in Peru. APRA cooperated with several extremely conservative organizations to help elect Manuel Prado to office and to defeat PCP/CGTP candidates. In exchange for this support, Prado assisted APRA in gaining many seats in the legislature. This cooperation exacerbated the split between APRA and CGTP.
Prado's government, however, turned out to be a disappointment. Rather than chart a new course for Peru, Prado continued many of the controversial internationalist policies of Odría and other presidents. His policies created more economic growth, but failed to resolve the problems of income distribution on the farms. The demands for agrarian reform and land redistribution went largely unanswered. Peru's poor population placed much of the blame for this on the Peruvian legislature. Prado did not run for reelection in 1962.
The election of 1962 was a bitterly contested race between Haya de la Torres of the APRA, Odría (who had formed his own party), and Fernando Belaúnde Terry. Belaúnde, an architecture professor, appeared out of nowhere, but won election in 1963, after military intervention annulled the 1962 elections. While Belaúnde was a dynamic speaker and had tremendous public appeal, his government was marred by a legislature divided between aprista forces and those following Odría. Belaúnde was unable to address agrarian reforms despite increasing numbers of hacienda invasions and increased violence in rural areas. Belaúnde was also unable to chart an effective policy concerning Peruvian oil. Nationalists and socialists demanded that he take over the oil industry from the American companies that controlled oil production. Conservatives, many of whom received profits from the oil trade, opposed such a move. Belaúnde's policies of a gradual nationalization or takeover, met with resistance from both groups.
Throughout this period agrarian unrest, particularly among Peru's native population, grew. The PCP helped to foster this unrest. It was also during this time that a young college professor by the name of Abimeal Guzmán Reynoso began teaching at the newly opened University of San Cristóbal du Huamanga in the department of Ayacucho. Ayacucho is a department of Peru with a large number of native people. Guzmán, a life-long social democrat, had become a Marxist during his years in college. During his tenure at the University of San Cristóbal, he would implement his own notions of Marxist revolution through classes and through close ties to the PCP. Guzmán founded the Shining Path branch of the PCP in order to foster a revolutionary spirit among the natives of Ayacucha and its surrounding areas.
It is not too much to claim that Shining Path was Guzmán's creation. During his tenure at the university, Guzmán began to build his organization. His program included offering extension classes on Marxist doctrine to the native population outside the university. He also began gathering together the intellectuals and students who would form the organizational core of Shining Path. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Guzmán continued to preach a Maoist doctrine of violent peasant revolution and to call for the creation of a socialist government dominated by the native people of Peru. Sometime in the mid-1960s, Guzmán took a trip to China, where he encountered many advocates of Maoism. This visit left its mark on Guzmán, whose writings were, from then on, often imitative of Mao's own works.
By 1968 events in Peru had reached a critical period. Negotiations with American oil companies had broken down. Landowners continually faced takeovers by sharecroppers, and an imminent coup by APRA threatened governmental stability. Into this volatile situation stepped the Peruvian military. Taking over the government in 1968, the military would rule Peru until elections in 1980. Military rule in Peru would be marked by many successes, but tremendous failures in promoting civil rights, in solving the agrarian problem, or in gaining popular support for its rule.
The Military Takes Charge (1968-80)
The military government in Peru faced three critical problems. First, of course, was growing peasant unrest over land reform. Coupled with this was the increasing power of the PCP among the peasantry and labor unions. Second, the government faced several international crises. The most critical issues were a show-down with the United States over oil exploration and sale, settlement of a dispute with both northern and southern neighbors about fishing off of coastal waters, and finally, Peruvian international debt, which was enormous. The military government's handling of these issues showed great energy and resolve, but the recession of the mid-and late-1970s, coupled with internal division about how the military should pursue reform, proved insurmountable obstacles.
Domestically, the military government began a program of massive expropriation of private farms. In 1968, ninety percent of farmlands were in the hands of only two percent of the Peruvian population. By 1975, the military regime had appropriated eleven million acres of land, turning much of it into farming cooperatives overseen by military officials. These co-ops employed thousands of farmers and sharecroppers and allowed them to keep the profits of their farms. These coops were not uniformly successful however. By the mid-1970s, four distinct economic cultures existed in Peru.
Most of Peru's major cities, sugar and cotton farms, and all her ports are on the coast. These coastal cities had enormous wealth. In the northern and central Andes, mining operations dominated the local economy until the recession of 1973 reduced the demand for metals. Many mines closed and thousands of workers were either laid off or underemployed. Farmland in the southern Andes is wind-swept, rocky and very dry. This has traditionally been a poor area of Peru. The standard of living in the southern Andes is among the lowest in Peru and in Latin America. The department of Ayacucho, the home of the Shining Path, is still noted for poverty despite many years of efforts to improve conditions. The last area, the jungles of Peru, contains only about ten percent of Peru's population. Other than a thriving cocaine business, this area was and is extremely undeveloped. Almost no governmental or infrastructure services exist, such as roads or water, and the population lives in extreme poverty.
This diversity presented the military government (and subsequent governments) with unique challenges. Attempts to solve the agrarian problem left over half the native population in poverty and without land. Particularly in Ayacucho, this oversight created more unrest and calls for reform and the PCP used this unrest to foment calls for revolution. The military government's successes in foreign policy were more clear. They successfully nationalized Peruvian oil and won exclusive fishing rights within Peruvian coastal waters, but these successes did not solve the poverty of much of the population. Although the government managed to renegotiate its foreign debt, this also failed to increase the military regime's popularity. When it opened the door for popular elections in 1980, few doubted it would be voted out of power.
During the 1970s, Guzmán was busy as well. He had organized Shining Path into two units. The first continued the educational programs among the native population around Ayacucho, while the second unit began plans for armed combat against the government. By 1977 Guzmán had determined that violence was much more likely than educational efforts to bring about the reforms he desired, and so in 1978 he established a military training school. By 1980 Guzmán and Shining Path were ready to begin a two-decade war against the government of Peru.
The Modern Era: 1980 to the Present
The military regime's efforts had brought some solutions to Peru's international and domestic problems, but once again international markets worked to undermine all the government had accomplished. Beginning in 1974 the international market for oil, sugar, and copper dropped drastically. Peru, which had built much of its prosperity on international commerce, found itself hard-pressed to repay the many loans it had taken to pay for progress. The military government faced an additional hurdle because of its earlier program of nationalizing industries. Many international lenders refused to make new loans to Peru. In order to cope with a growing economic crisis, the military government in 1977 began reversing many of its programs. It opened Peru up for increased foreign investment and involvement in the economy; it began to reduce subsidies to farmers and urban workers; and it changed a very popular job-security law, which had allowed workers to achieve tenure after three months of employment. After 1978 workers had to work for three years before gaining vested rights.
The people hit hardest by these reforms were, of course, the poor agrarian and urban populations. Scholar David Werlich stated in 1984 that these changes in policy resulted in "widespread malnutrition, dramatic increases in poverty-related diseases and a sharp rise in the rate of infant mortality." As protests mounted and demands for reform battered the government, the president called for elections, to be held in 1980.
The 1980 presidential elections were to be a time of great hope, followed by a time of great disappointment. Fernando Belaúnde Terry won the presidential election in 1980. Belaúnde was a conservative candidate committed to opening Peru to increased international trade. His government embarked on a series of tariff reductions, reduced governmental subsidies to domestic companies, and deregulation of gasoline and food prices on behalf of the farmers. Belaúnde also attempted to develop lands to the south, to provide native and mestizo populations with free education, and to improve transportation systems in Peru.
Belaúnde's reforms angered most business owners in Peru. Foreign investors were leery of the new government and so the needed cash infusion never occurred. Moreover, the decade of the 1980s was a time of unusual weather patterns. These weather problems essentially destroyed Peru's agricultural market and brought the Peruvian economy to a state of near collapse. By 1985, sixty percent of Peru's industries were out of business. Wages dropped to one third of what they were in 1980.
The elections of 1985 marked a change in Peru's political power structure. Alan García won election to the presidency. García, a member of the APRA, planned to protect domestic businesses from foreign competition and increase the wages and living conditions of poor Peruvians. This was an aggressive agenda, which appeared to be working in 1986 and 1987. Inflation had been reduced from a pre-1985 high of 258 percent to 63 percent. In contrast, inflation in the United States for the same period was only about five percent; current U.S. inflation is about three percent. García attempted to stimulate the farm industry by allowing farm prices to rise substantially; however, he also capped wages. This meant that while prices were rising in Peru, wages were not.
President García made the economic situation worse by announcing a plan for the Peruvian government to takeover all private banks in 1986. He intended to use this as a means to stimulate investment in domestic industry and slow investment in overseas ventures, but what he actually did was create an economic panic. The fallout was that by 1988, inflation in Peru was at about 2000 percent. Real salaries declined by about half, which meant that workers were in one of the worst economic situations they had faced in more than thirty years.
García faced an additional problem. Shining Path rebels had been on the move since 1980, and by 1990 threatened to topple García's regime and take control of Peru. This turn of events was startling, considering how small Shining Path was and how slowly its rise to power had been.
Shining Path and Revolution
Guzmán's organization had been remarkably successful during the 1980s. Its first activity, an attack against a polling booth, had not indicated the power and success the organization would have. By 1981 Shining Path guerrillas controlled much of Ayacucho. The Shining Path organization was very popular among the sharecroppers and poor of Ayacucho and the surrounding departments in part because it was able to create law and order and provide education for natives, something the government had been unable to do. Shining Path's growth and control of various southern departments presented no real danger to the government at first. By 1982 Shining Path rebels controlled most of southern Peru and began making inroads to the south central Andes. It was not until 1983 that Belaúnde's government began to understand the threat Shining Path represented.
Recent History and the Future
In 1985 Shining Path changed its focus from a primarily rural organization to one centered in urban centers. This was due in large part to the spread of Shining Path's revolution into the cities and urban centers near Lima. At the same time, Guzmán and his followers began to moderate their calls for violence and political murder. Some commentators suggest that by 1987, murder and violence were secondary to educational programs as Shining Path's primary revolutionary tools. Shining Path also began to deal and control the drug trade in 1987. This provided the organization with substantial resources with which to continue their revolution.
The election of 1990 spelled the end of Shining Path's power in Peru. Alberto Fujimori, an engineering professor and one-time talk show host, defeated all major party candidates for the presidency. Fujimori promised to rebuild Peru's economy, to privatize large corporations, and to pursue policies of free trade similar to those being pursued in the United States. Fujimori also made defeat of Shining Path a major goal as well. To this end, he gave the police and military extraordinary power to pursue Shining Path rebels through informants, wiretaps, and other methods. These efforts paid off in 1992 with the arrest of Guzmán and two of his top deputies.
Guzmán's arrest seriously wounded Shining Path resistance. In 1993 Guzmán made a televised appearance calling for Shining Path rebels to renounce violence and cooperate with Fujimori's government and most rebels followed his call. However, a small cell of rebels continued to fight, following the leadership of Oscar Alberto Ramirez Durand, known as Feliciano. Those following Feliciano fought until Feliciano's arrest in 1999. After that, Shining Path largely ceased to exist.
All that remains of Shining Path's organization are perhaps a few hundred rebels working out of the Andes Mountains. While these rebels stage the occasional raid against government or police officials, Shining Path no longer controls even the territory around Ayacucho. Most scholars agree that Shining Path was a cult built around the personality of Guzmán and his ideals. Once he was captured and capitulated, the heart of the organization died.
This does not mean that resistance against Fujimori has subsided. The PCP remains an active organization in Peru, despite its many factions. Fujimori's reelection in 2000 was marred by questions of voter fraud and intimidation. Shortly thereafter, a scandal erupted and Fujimori stepped down. With leadership unresolved, opposition groups might resort to political violence again. What is clear is that, despite claims to the contrary by Shining Path members, the organization, which once controlled almost half of Peru, is now a small band of only a few hundred followers. The Shining Path no longer represents a threat to Peru's political stability.
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1826 Peru wins independence from Spain.
1948 Peru's president outlaws the liberal People's Party.
1968-80 Peru is governed by the military.
1980 Belaúde is elected president. Economic chaos ensues throughout the 1980s. The Shining Path conducts its first violent action.
1981 Shining Path guerrillas control much of Ayucucho.
1982 Shining Path guerrillas control most of southern Peru and some of the south-central Andes.
1985 Shining Path moves to the cities.
1987 Shining Path refocuses its efforts on educational programs. At the same time, the Shining Path becomes involved in controlling the drug business.
1992 Abimeal Gúzman (Comrade Gonzalo) is arrested and imprisoned.
1993 Gúzman, in prison, calls on the Shining Path to renounce violence.
1999 The Shining Path's second-in-command Ramirez (also known as Feliciano) is captured.
Political Ideologies in Peru
Marxism: A political philosophy which states that all conflict is economic conflict. Marxists believe that the world is controlled by those who have economic resources. History indicates that at some point in the future, the workers (proletariat) will overthrow the bourgeoisie (owners of goods and businesses) and divide economic wealth equally or fairly.
Leninism: A development of Marxism which claims that the proletariat revolution will occur among agrarian people, not among industrialized nations. Leninism also calls for the export of revolution through the use of vanguard parties, or small groups of party loyalists who educate the workers to their condition of servitude to the bourgeoisie (owners of goods and businesses).
Maoism: An extension of Leninism that argues that peasants must be directed to revolution against the bourgeoisie by a vanguard of armed partisans. This armed revolution then converts itself to a ruling regime until the owners of goods and businesses have been defeated.