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There's a Guerrilla in the House: The Shining Path in Peru's Central Highlands

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Looks can be deceiving! University of San Cristobal is definitely unique!
When I first arrived at The University of San Cristobal de Huamanga in the Central Highlands of Peru, it seemed like any other university. Students walked leisurely to classes and hung out on the lawns of the pretty-flowered campus just like anywhere else in the world. There are, however, a few differences. For example, how many universities have you been to where there are sheep grazing as you walk to class?

But there is a much more significant difference hidden in the university's past. How many universities do you know that once employed a professor that founded and ran a terrorist group on campus?

Abimael Guzman once taught philosophy here.  Aren't you glad you weren't in his class?!
Yes, the University of San Cristobal was the home of Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path, one of the most violent and famous guerrilla groups in the Western Hemisphere. The Shining Path, emerged in the 1960's in the midst of years of dictatorships, coups, and economic instability. Due to lack of air, ground, and telephone communications, the rural regions of Peru's central highlands remained isolated as one of the poorest parts of the country. It was in this desolate environment of poverty that the Shining Path was born. In the beginning, the Shining Path was nothing more than a nonviolent political discussion and dissent group that met under the leadership of its founder, Abimael Guzman, a philosophy professor at the University. However, by the mid-1970's, whispers of pro-active uprisings were heard and the threat of violence became apparent. Guzman continued to teach until the early 1980's and, as the clash between the government and his terrorist group escalated, he went into hiding.

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Violence and terror in the Central Highlands of Peru caught the world's attention in the 1980's. Actions taken by both the Shining Path and the military were criticized because of the vast killings of innocent civilians. During this reign of terror and fear, over 23,000 people lost their lives.

The Shining Path is considered a "Maoist group", with "communistic aims" seemingly derived from the overthrow of Peru's so-called democratic system. Many people in the central highlands agreed that there was a need for change. The Shining Path preyed on these desires, calling for the destruction of everything that had anything to do with the upper classes controlling Peru and for a reclaiming of land for the peasant farmers. However, even though people recognized these things as common goals, they refused to support the Shining Path because of the violence.

"Those were very dangerous years here in Ayacucho, " recounts our friend Magda from ABA (the organization I've been working with), who was attending the University during the Shining Path's peak in the early 80's. "It was like a pest that kept growing, but there was nothing we could do. We were too scared and the violence came from both sides--the government and the Shining Path. "

"It's a very touchy subject, and you shouldn't just ask people here about it," warned my friend Victor, who has lived in Ayacucho his whole life. I appreciated the advice, but figured I could probe a little further, since we were friends. "Alright, if you really want to know. Yes, it was a very difficult time. Have you ever witnessed people getting killed?" Actually no. Fortunately, all my life I have been sheltered from such horrific experiences. "Well, those of us that have lived through the 80's here in Ayacucho have seen a lot. Many people fled to the coastal region and there were absolutely no outside visitors since all the roads were controlled by the Shining Path - they were too dangerous to pass. Tourists, like you, have only now just started coming back to our area - only in the past few ears."

In 1992, Guzman and other leaders of the Shining Path were finally captured and sentenced to life imprisonment. Despite a brief resurgence that was quickly quelled in 1994, the terrorist activity that froze the Central highlands for so many years seems to have ceased. Lucky for us, because just a few years ago, Abeja and I would not have been able to visit this beautiful region of Peru and learn the traditional ways of the Quispillaccta region's indigenous people, who we are happy to see today living in peace.


Kevin - Temple O' Temple! Make Our Garden Grow!
Abeja - ...And We'll Put the Mini-Mall Over There, Where Those Alpaca are Grazing
Shawn - Dry Land is not a Myth!
Kevin - Help! Call 911! Identity Crisis in Peru!
Team - The Dark Side of the Shining Path

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