The early 1960s was a period characterized by broad-based poverty exacerbated by double-digit inflation in Peru. By the end of the decade, the military government of General Juan Velasco announced a sweeping new national land reform policy in response to the continued economic difficulty. Under this plan, much of the lands in the rural regions of the country would be seized and redistributed to the peasants in the form of communal ownership. (M.Tammen, Drug War vs. Land Reform in Peru, USA Today Magazine, Vol. 120, No. 2560, January 1992, p.50).
The goal of the policy was to transfer land control from the predominately White, rural economic elites-the owners of the haciendas-into the hands of the predominately indigenous peasants. Nonetheless, the plan was ill-conceived and encountered serious problems from the very beginning. The reforms were slow to take shape and were not as comprehensive as the problems of the nation required. At the time of the termination of the program in 1976, only about seven million hectares of the total nineteen million subject to expropriation by the government had been placed into the hands of peasant families. And, by 1979, only 13 percent of the rural lands of Peru were actually under the control of the peasants. Most of the land remained under the control of the state itself. This created disillusionment and in some instances indignation in many of the rural peasant communities. It led many to believe that even a government seemingly sympathetic to their economic plight could not be trusted. Rather than rely on a top-down approach to reform, many believed that it was time to take action at the grass roots level.
In addition to the problems in the rural regions, the national government's fiscal condition grew worse in the 1970s. By 1978, the Peruvian national treasury was almost bankrupt and the nation was unable to pay the service on its foreign debt obligations. As a result, inflation of Peru 's currency became a persistent, frightening problem throughout d1e 1980s. From the difficult level of 60 percent in 1980, inflation accelerated. In 1984, the rate was 100 percent. In 1988 it had soared to a rate of 1,722 percent, 2,600 percent in 1989, and 7,650 percent in 1990. As a result, the nation's financial markets were in chaos; the Gross National Product declined and real wages nose-dived.
In addition to economic catastrophe, the people were forced to cope with the government's reduced ability to care for the needs of its citizens. Healthcare and other social services declined significantly. The availability of clean drinking water and adequate waste facilities deteriorated to the point that "an estimated forty percent of Lima 's mushrooming population and approximately seventy-five percent of Peru 's rural population did not enjoy access to clean water or sewage.” (Cynthia McClintock, Revolutionary Movements in Latin America, 1998, p.193).
Many people during this period, particularly in the rural regions such as Ayacucho, came to believe that they completely lacked sociopolitical mobility, as well as the basic necessities of life and d1at no remedy was in sight. Indeed, conditions continued to worsen. For the peasantry, even relying on the legitimate political and legal system, as they had for so many years, no longer appeared to be a viable option.
For those that had done so, attending the university and receiving a formal education had provided them with very little-jobs were not forthcoming and their status had not changed. In most cases they returned to their own villages after graduation in order to become relatively low-paid teachers. Nonetheless, their education had opened their eyes to their relative deprivation and acted as an agent of mobilization for action. Life in urban areas was no better. Unemployment and underemployment rates remained high. Those that had migrated to the cities often found themselves in a worse situation than they had left. Many people lived in growing urban shantytowns and, in contrast to life in the country, had no way to grow their own crops for food. In fact these conditions, set the stage for the rise of an indigenous movement that could offer the people hope, while at the same time taking care of pressing human service needs as much as possible. The Shining Path/ Sendero Luminoso (hence called Sendero for that is what they are called in their country in Peru ) first began to organize grass roots support for their movement in 1973. Their initial step was the creation of the organizmos generados or party-generated organisms. These were characterized as "natural movements generated by the proletariat in the different organizational fronts. (D.Poole and G.Renique, Peru: Time of Fear, 1992, p. 40).
A variety of organizmos generados came into being including the Popular Women's Movement (MFP), the Poor Peasants' Movement (MCP), the Class Workers' and Laborers Movement (MOTC), d1e Popular Intellectual Movement (MCP), and the Neighborhood Class Movement (MCB). Beginning in the 1970s, in the region surrounding Ayacucho, Sendero workers began the process of establishing and maintaining the notion of the popular school. These grass roots institutions, directed at the poorest strata of the Peruvian population, sought to overcome the inadequacies of the state schools and bring education to all of the people. By the 1980s, the popular school concept had expanded to a national campaign.In 1979, Sendero also established a military school in order to train cadres to lead the armed struggle. The purpose of the school was to continue the training process and prepare guerilla fighters in military tactics. (See Gaociela Tarazona-Sevillano and John B. Reuter. Sendero Luminoso and the Threat of Narcoterrorism, 1990).
In addition to functions that promoted overt party goals, these organizations also provided services for Sendero members. For example, Popular Aid of Peru, founded in 1982, consisted of several smaller aid groups that offered medical, legal, transportation, food, and housing assistance to Sendero adherents. Rather than a rigid structure, the organization of Sendero Luminoso was quite fluid, allowing its adherents to rise to higher and more responsible levels as they proved themselves to be worthy. As they gained positions of higher authority they received additional party indoctrination. As a result, by the time an individual reached the top echelons of party hierarchy they were fully committed to its cause and methods.In addition to its primary hierarchy, the party structure contained intermediate and ancillary support organizations that helped the movement run smoothly. These were designed to assist the party leadership in coordinating and supporting regional committees. These included the Department for Organizational Support, the Group of Popular Support, the Department of Finance, and the Departmcnt of International Relations. Many Sendero members claimed that socioeconomic misery drove them to join the movement. Others claimed that government duplicity and incompetence were important reasons. In short, they saw society as corrupt. Nonetheless, these were not the only variables at work in the movement's membership and mobilization.( McClintock, Revolutionary Movements in Latin America , 273).
For many, the problems of Peru stemmed from a society dominated by people who were perceived by the Indians as foreigners in their own land. They were convinced that if this dominant and seemingly "foreign" class of elites could be removed from the positions of power in Peruvian society, the country's problems would be much closer to being solved. The movement perceived of violence and terror as agents of rebirth and renewal. As Abimael Guzman himself asserted:
Revolution will find its nest in our homeland; we will make sure of it ... the people's war will grow everyday until the old order is pulled down, the world is entering a new era; the strategic offensive of world revolution. This is of transcendental importance ... The people rear up, arm themselves, and rise in revolution to put the noose around the neck of imperialism and the reactionaries, seizing them by the throat and garroting them. The trumpets begin to sound, the roar of the masses grows, and will continue to grow, it will deafen us, it will take us into a powerful vortex ... there will he a great rupture and we will be the makers of a definitive dawn. We will convert the black fire into red and the red into light. This we shall do, this is the rebirth. Comrades we are reborn. (Quoted in G. Gorriti, The Shining Path, 1990,34-35).
The symbolism here is clear: conflict, dark, light, death, sacred intervention, destiny, rebirth, paradise. The war that the Shining Path found itself engaged in was to be the most significant in the history of Peru . It was of transcendental importance, and would result in the solution of all problems that now faced society. Sendero military operations were well organized and purposeful. In their methods, for example, they followed a well-disciplined plan of five steps that came to constitute an effective tactical policy. Step one required a decision by party leadership on a specific plan of action before its execution. The second involved an assessment of the physical and manpower assets that were needed to complete the operations and guarantee its success. The third and fourth steps involved thorough preparation and the actual carrying out of the plan. Operations could take one of many different forms: street protests, recruitment, disruption of daily life in the country-such as destruction of power plants or a physical attack on individuals or other groups--confiscating agricultural harvests in the rural regions to meet the needs of the party, and armed confrontation with agents of the state structure, for example, the Civil Guard or the Republican Guard. The fifth step called for an after-action report that involved a detailed analysis of the action. This report was forwarded to party leadership where it was utilized in the formulations and preparation of new party action. (Ibid.65.)
Between 1980 and 1993, it is estimated, that the war carried out by Sendero resulted in the deaths of about 30,000. ("Flickers from the Past: How Big a Threat Is the Shining Path?" The Economist, Vol. 368, No. 8333, July 19, 2003, p.28).
For a background understanding of the Shining Path one should among others know that despite the theoretical liberalism of the new Peruvian constitution and the practical necessities of the development of a modern market-based economy, postcolonialism in the region created little more than a revamping of the previous antiquated and inefficient feudal system. This system served the-exclusive needs of and was dominated by Creole Peruvians, particularly the old land -owning families of the colonial period. As a result, many indigenous inhabitants of the new state did not perceive that what had happened in throwing off the yoke of Spanish imperialism was of value to them at all. The burdens that they had known throughout the colonial era would continue with little improvement.
In the early nineteenth century, a modest peasant movement in the village of Huancavelica asked to embrace the figure of Santiago , the patron saint of the community. They believed that Santiago would usher in a new, more prosperous age. According to contemporary accounts:
Santiago told the Indians that if they followed him, he would lead them in a return to the past in which there would be produce in abundance and no one would die of hunger.(Quoted in David D. Gow, "The Roles of Christ and Inkarri in Andean Religion," Journal of Latin American Lore, Vol. 6, 1980,283).
Beginning in the early twentieth century, Peru began to move increasingly into the mainstream of international life in the western hemisphere. Largely as the result of British and American investment in copper mining, cotton and sugar production, a growing network of railroads, and hastened by the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, Peru became increasingly integrated into a growing modern world economy. Nonetheless, this rapid economic change, in turn, roused unexpected social and political turbulence.(Frederick Pike, The Politics of the Miraculous in Peru: Haya de la Torre and the Spiritualist Tradition , 1986,14).
To many Peruvians, especially among those in the middle and lower classes the vast majority of the population-life became increasingly confusing and unpredictable. There was a persistent anxiety over their diminishing socioeconomic and political status within a society that was undergoing profound change.
For example, between 1920 and 1973 the population of Peru more than tripled. (The population of Peru in 1920 was 4.828 million and in 1973 it was 14.628 million. Population Statistics, University of Utrecht, available at www.library.uu.nl/wesp/populstatjamericas/peru.htm).
Yet, during this same period, many traditional Indian communities in the rural regions of Peru were destroyed in order to make land available for modern industrial and mining use. The combination of these two variables-rapid population growth and the redirection of traditional lands-forced large numbers of the peasant Indian class to forsake their traditional village life and move to new mining, industrial, or agricultural centers or to the larger, urbanized areas closer to the coast. Traditional kinship relationships were disrupted. In addition, many Indians found themselves victimized by an alienating world that increased their awareness and exposure to racism, relative deprivation, and sociopolitical discrimination at the hands of the minority, yet powerful, non-Indian elite class. Many members of the peasant class found themselves to be isolated, culturally estranged, and marginalized from an increasingly prosperous center of Peruvian life. As a result, Peru was accumulating an under mass made up of people partially adrift, no longer fully integrated into community or manorial life. Also racism has been a persistent problem in the history of Latin America and this is no less true in Peru . Given the socioeconomic gap between the so called races, perhaps not surprisingly, the Indian communities came to fear the process of modernity. (See Fiona Wilson, "Indians and Mestizos: Identity and Urban Popular Culture in Andean Peru ," Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 26, No.2, June 2000).
The Criollos (Peruvians of White, European ancestry) perceive of the majority Native American population as an inferior race to be relegated, automatically, to a lower socioeconomic status. The result is a massive chasm between upper class Whites and lower-class Indians. The process of economic development beginning in the early twentieth century exacerbated this problem. By the 1960s, as the economy of Peru continued to get bigger, class differences worsened as the uneven growth expanded the know that twentieth-century Radicalism in Peru was closely identified with the indigenismo movement, among primarily coastal Peruvian intellectuals, seeking to address the grievances and alleviate the deplorable conditions of the Indian population. Here, intellectuals on both the Left and the Right began to speak of the need to break the back of the Peruvian oligarchy and Western imperialism that seemingly now dominated the life of the country. Of particular importance were the writings of Carlos Mariategui. His efforts ultimately led to the formation of the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) in the 1930s.
Twentieth-century radicalism in Peru was closely identified with the indigenismo movement among primarily coastal Peruvian intellectuals seeking to address the grievances and alleviate the deplorable conditions of the Indian population. Also Mariategui was deeply distrustful of the traditional political process in Peru and, probably as a result, never worked out a broad-based ideology grounded in Western-style Leftist thought. Rather, his Marxism was based on the reality of the experience of the Peruvian indigenous peasant and the urban poor. In his most significant work, Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality, he argued that all of Peru 's problems of class, poverty, race, and social conflict could be traced to two factors: a semifeudal economic system and neocolonialism. Peruvian unity is still to be accomplished ... what has to be solved is a dualism of race, language and sentiment born of the invasion and COI1quest of indigenous Peru by a race that has not managed to merge with the Indian race, eliminate it, or absorb it. (J.C.Mariategui, Seven Interpretive Essays, University of Texas,1971, p. 164).
In recent years, religious movements have emerged in the Andean region that carry on the millenarian traditions of the past. The congregation of Jehovah or the Mision Israelita del Nuevo Pacto Universal del Peru (Israelite Mission of the New Universal Pact) believe that their founder, Ezequiel Ataucusi Gamonal, is a prophet and son of God. Created in 1955, the movement now claims a following of over three million. Gamonal preached that the world would end before the year 2000 and that all who joined the congregation must strictly follow his teachings. The organization's headquarters is located near the city of Huarochiri . Los Israelitas, as it is commonly known, possesses symbols and theology uniquely crafted from both Judeo-Christian and pre-Columbian Indian sources.
Nonetheless it appears to be "explicitly Peruvian and implicitly Andean in its use of symbols and sacrifice." As new members join the movement they must submit to rigorous indoctrination that informs them "of the absolute literal truth contained within the Old Testament." Nonetheless, the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is entirely omitted from their teachings. Rather than a worship of Christ, Israelitas worship Israel as the "personified place of the Old Testament." (Sarah Lund Skar, Lives Together, Scandinavian University Press, 1994, p. 246).
In the 1970s, a wandering preacher and visionary named Jose Francisco da Cruz, a Brazilian by birth, began to spread his message in the villages along the Amazon River and its tributaries in Peru . He' declared that the destruction of the world was imminent and on the direct instructions of Jesus Christ he was forming the "Third Universal Reform of Christianity" to assist people in preparing for the approaching end time. In its aftermath, the world would be one of abundant wealth and universal peace.
Over time, da Cruz's movement, known as the Orden Cruzada, has attracted over 10,000 followers in Brazil and Peru . Despite its overtly Christian foundation and character, some argue that its doctrines can be connected to the ancient Tupian search for the "Land without Evil.” (Jaime Regan, "Mesianismo Cocama: Un movimiento de resistencia en la Amazonia Peruana," America Indigena, Vol. 48, 1988,p. 132).
Abimael Guzman was born in the town of Tambo, not far from the southern Peruvian coastal city of Mollendo , on December 3, 1934. He was the illegitimate son of a wealthy, import wholesaler. His mother, Bernice Reynoso, lived not too far from his father's store. At the age of five, Guzman's mother died. Eventually, he went to live with his father in the city of Callao and it was here that he began school. Within a few years his father moved once again to the more upscale city of Arequipa , where he and his family lived in a large and stylish home in an expensive neighborhood. Today, this home is a school in Arequipa , and has been named the College of the Divine Master, in honor of Guzman. (James R.Rinehart, Revolution and the Millennium,1997, 117-120).
At the age of nineteen, Guzman entered the National University of . San Agustin in Arequipa to study both law and philosophy. Here, he began to cultivate a strong interest in Marxism and in the late 1950s decided to join thee Peruvian Communist Party (PCP). Then in 1961, while completing his second doctoral theses, Guzman began to interpret the economic and political history of the Andes in a revisionist Marxist perspective. And concluded that all oppressed societies possess an unqualified right to rebel against their oppressors. Following the completion of his graduate studies, Guzman was offered the opportunity to teach at the newly reopened University of In addition, Guzman was appointed director of Personnel for the university, which allowed him to control the hiring and firing of faculty and staff, dismissing those that did not support his political agenda and ideology and replace them with those who did. Many of these individuals would eventually form the senior leadership of Sendero Luminoso. (Gabriela Tarazona-Sevillano and John B. Reuter, Sendero Luminoso and the Threat of Narcoterrorism, 1990,p. 6).
By 1970 he had recruited and organized a solid base of socialist cadres. Following their academic and ideological experience, many of these individuals returned to their local villages as teachers. As a result they were in a position to both influence and recruit new young people to the cause. (Gustavo Gorriti, The Shining Path,1990, p. 18).
His feelings were deeply influenced by the recent victory of Fidel Castro and his movement in Cuba ; an event that bolstered Marxist based political parties throughout Latin America and brought a renewed sense of urgency and meaning to their cause. But in addition to pressures from within the region, in the early 1960s the Communist party of Peru (PCP) became caught up in the much larger international schism between orthodox party officials in the Soviet Union and the Maoists in China; a split that affected national communist parties around the world.
In 1964, at the Fourth National Party Conference of PCP, the split into two important factions. The first was a pro-Maoist minority that formed the Bandera Roja (red flag). Second, the pro-Soviet group chose to follow the political line that continued to be fostered by Moscow . The pro-Chinese faction in turn, came to be convinced that the only path to liberation from Western imperialism was to follow the example of Mao and mobilize the peasantry throughout the rural regions and pursue violent struggle, and became the foundation of Sendero Luminoso. (Martin Koppel, Peru's Shining Path: Anatomy of a Reactionary Sect, 1993, p.11).
It was within this context in the mid-1960s that Abimael Guzman began to develop a political philosophy that eventually became known to his followers as the "Fourth Sword." Guzman insisted that Sendero Luminoso be grounded ideologically in a thorough and fundamental approach to the study of the classic Communist writings of Marx, Lenin, and Mao. These were increasingly presented by the movement as possessing a kind of scripture- like quality. Sendero ideology was built on this firm and seemingly sacred foundation, utilizing basic principles derived from them and then. In addition to the philosophies of Marx, Lenin, and Mao, Guzman was deeply influenced by the ideas of Mariategui who had asserted that "the shining path of socialism" could lead Peru to an idealized future. Guzman began calling his new movement Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path. (Colin Harding, "The Rise of Sendero Luminoso," in Rory Miller, ed., Region and Class in Modern Peruvian History, University of Liverpool, 1987, 186).
The Sendero movement, operating from its base in Ayacucho, was initially considered rather inconsequential by the government of President Fernando Belaunde Terry in the 1970s and the movement was allowed to develop rather freely with little interference from the capital. Even after Sendero violence began to emerge in the Ayacucho province, the Belaunde government largely ignored the rebellion for nearly two years and only dispatched small special police units to the region in response. As a result, during the first two years of armed conflict the Sendero movement was allowed to take almost unrestrained action. This allowed the movement to recruit new members, train its personnel, and expand its base of operation in a remarkably unfettered environment. In 1974, in a bold move reflecting the rapid growth of the movement, Guzman relocated the headquarters of Sendero to Lima itself. The move was out of organizational necessity and a clear recognition of its growing influence. The total number of party cells had grown rapidly and Sendero Luminoso now had strong followings at most of the major universities in Peru.
By the early 1980s, Sendero Luminoso began to prosecute a persistent war of terror in Ayacucho and elsewhere. Their tactics not only included the bombing of local government buildings and physical attacks on property owned by the private sector but, eventually expanded to include the assassination of local politicians. In relatively short order their activities became so dangerous that the state police were forced to leave the area. A more general violence ensued following a daring raid and jailbreak from the Ayacucho prison in March 1982. (Strong, Shining Path, 22).
By December 1982, the escalation of violence, bombings, and power blackouts resulting from Sendero attacks on power stations forced the government to declare a state of emergency across five provinces; an expansive area encompassing roughly 60 percent of the population of Peru.In early 1983, the state launched a counterinsurgency campaign that was both abusive and brutal. Sendero responded in 1984 with a new offensive that was even more violent than past operations. The government declared a state of emergency and suspended constitutional rights in the area encompassed by the "emergency zone." As a result, Sendero Luminoso really came into its own in the early 1980s within a background of rapid sociopolitical and economic change and profound crisis in Peru.
Guzman and his colleagues worked diligently to craft an ideology that successfully merged the millenarian stream of the Inca past with the dialectic of Marxism. Nonetheless, Guzman's conscientious and meticulous manipulation of Indian traditions was subtle. At the same time, his supporters were quite aware of the syncretic mixture that he had created and were comfortable with it. One poetic interpretation of the "people's war" declared:
Thousands of Indians and Mestizos Descend to the town Like a red avalanche With muscles of steel And voices of thunder, shouting "freedom'" Because they know that the days of Pachacutec And the Inkarri have arrived. (Quoted in Strong, ShiningPath, 61).
Sendero forces, when crying out acts of violence against the state, purposely utilized the widely known Inkarri myth of Indian resurrection. In addition, in 1980, they chose to openly celebrate the one hundred and ninety-ninth anniversary of the execution Gose Gabriel Condorcanqui, Tupac Amaru II. This was a highly symbolic action and afterward, one can clearly discern that consistent and meaningful elements of Quechua Indian culture and ritual pervaded the Shining Path and significantly influenced their activities.
Guzman viewed Sendero at the forefront of a revolutiorr, which, he believed, would accompany "humanity's third millennium." In a speech entitled "For the New Flag" delivered at a Sendero conference in 1979, Guzman divided Peruvian history into three important epochs. First, he referred to "how darkness prevailed," a clear reference to the colonial period. Second, he asserted, was an age that explained "how light emerged and steel was forged." Finally, he concluded with "how the walls were destroyed and the dawn spread."These three epochs were designed to purposely coincide wim me transformation in the colonial period of the initial five ages of the Andean world. According to traditional Indian myth, each of these five ages lasted 1,000 years and was made up of two distinct halves. By tlle time of Juan Santos Atahualpa, the five ages had been cut to three-the age of the Father, the age of the Son, and the age of the Holy Ghost. It was in this third age that the separation between the Indian and European worlds would be reestablished. (See Stefano Varese, The Ethnopolitics of Indian Resistance in Latin America, in Latin Latin American Perspectives Vol. 23, No.2, Spring 1996, 58-7).
Sendero Luminoso furthermore utilized symbolism to enhance Abimael Guzman's image as a savior of the people.51 For example, many of Guzman's closest advisors were known as the "holy family." (Poole and Renique, Peru: Time of Fear, 43. See also, Gorriti, The Shining Path, 25).
This appeared to indicate the stature possessed by Guzman and how simply being linked to him could somehow raise the status of mortal men to that of the near sacred. As the perceived "father of a new age in Peru" Guzman was portrayed as a "bright, soaring flame, burning with ideological passion and power." (Tarazona-Sevillano and Reuter, Sendero Luminoso, 22).
The literature of the Sendero Luminoso was dotted with messianic referel)ces designed to strengthen the belief that they were leading the people to a new age. Sprinkled throughout is a significant sense of determinism and inevitability that they were destined to ultimately prevail. "Our people know consciously and completely that the wheel of history cannot be declined, that's why they continue to struggle heroically alongside the PCP striving for a new dawn to come." ("Statement of the Political Prisoners and War Prisoners of Peru," translated by Peru's People's Movement, The New Flag, The People's War in Peru.)
Biblical references often :lppeJred in party pampWets circulated around Ayacucho. In particular, these glorified the image and symbol of Guzman, asserting, "we are communists as your image and as your simile ... fortunate the eyes that see you, fortunate d1e eyes that heat you." In this way, Guzman's role as a god-like figure was embellished and "the principles of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism were internalized as dogmas." (Jefrey Gamarra, Conflict, Post-Conflict and Religion: Andean Responses to New Religious Movements." Journal of Southern African Studies Vol. 26, No.2, June 2000, 271-287).
In an interview with EI Diario, Guzman asserted,We believe that bureaucratic capitalism has entered into a general crisis. Moreover, we believe that this bureaucratic capitalism was born sick, because it derived from semi feudalism (or is tied to it) and from imperialism. What kind of child could come from these two parents condemned to death by incurable disease? A sick, stunted monster that has entered its phase of destrucrion. We believe that the crises will become sharper and sharper, l"lnt, even as some economists say, there have been more or less thirty years of crisis ti'om which we have not emerged except for some small ripples of recovery. We can see thar each new crisis is worse than the previous one. And if we add to rhis rhe two critical decades ofthe 80s and 90s, bacle-to back, the situation becomes clear. (El Diario Interview with Chairman Gonzolo, 57-58).
Thus, according to Guzman, the only hope of situation for the Peruvian masses is to completely destroy liberaI democratic capitalism and build a socialist state and a reframed Indian identity on tap of the ashes. Indeed, they assert, such a scenario is inevitable.