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Latin America Team Dispatch

The Dark Side of the Shining Path

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"The blood of the people has a rich perfume, and smells like jasmine, violets and daisies. "
- From "Broom Flower," the unofficial anthem of the Shining Path

It started out simple enough. In the 1960's the Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, was nothing more than a peaceful coalition group that met under the leadership of philosophy professor Abimael Guzman. The group voiced opinions and discussed issues that concerned them much like any other political organization today. However, sometime in the mid-1970's, things spun out of control, and what started out as civilized dissension blew up into fitful rage. The Shining Path emerged from this rage to become one of the most violent guerrilla groups in the world.

The isolation of Ayacucho in the rural Central Highlands of Peru made it the perfect place for philosophy professor Abimael Guzman to spread his ideas and be heard by an already susceptible audience. The people that lived in Ayacucho lived simple lives compared to other parts of the country and were overwrought with poverty and oppression. So when Guzman spoke, the people listened. Much like hopeful political candidates today, he was able to analyze local conflicts and tell the people what they wanted to hear, cleverly feeding off their resentment.

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This picture, from the cover of a Shining Path pamphlet from the late 1980s, advocates world revolution
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The Shining Path is commonly referred to as a Maoist group (named after the Communist leader from China, Mao Zedong), but its beliefs stem from many political ideologies, most importantly Marxism and Leninism, as well as Maoism. Mainly, this means that he was against the division of people based on economic and social status. Instead, he believed in elevating the rights of the common people and returning their land. Eventually, momentum behind these beliefs escalated and Guzman called for the total destruction of governmental power and social elite. In his speech entitled "We are the Initiators" given on April 19, 1980, he says, "The future lies in guns and cannons. " Through violent revolution, he hoped to build his perfect Maoist society.

"Blood makes us stronger...and if it is flowing, it is not harming us but giving us strength. "
- Shining Path guerilla

For the Shining Path, violence was not something unfortunate that they tried to avoid in their struggle. It was something to be admired, and eagerly pursued. Indeed, strategy meetings were help about how to increase general violence in the country. The idea was to "transform the war into the central preoccupation of all Peruvians through a radical increase in violence, to raise the stakes and turn the trickle of blood into a flood. "

Part of being in the Shining Path was not just a willingness to kill, but you had to be willing to die, to even expect that you would die. This was called "the quota. A Shining Path guerilla wrote a song that ends with these words: Today the quote must be filled. If we have to give our blood for the revolution, how good it will be.

In the end, over 23,000 people died as a result of the guerilla war.

The 1980's brought the end of Guzman's teaching career and the beginning of ongoing terrorism all over Peru, but mainly in the Central Highlands. Many people that may have once believed in Guzman's ideas fell away as the violence escalated. Guzman and the Shining Path, like the Kamikazes in Japan during World War II, romanticized death. They believed death was a small price to pay for the rewards that awaited them beyond what Guzman referred to as the "river of blood. " Many innocent civilians were abducted, raped, tortured and killed.

During this time, specifically between 1983-1985, emergency zones grew from only 9 provinces to a whopping 27 almost overnight. Further, over one percent of the population died brutal deaths related to political violence. Guzman, now commonly known as "President Gonzalo, " and The Shining Path especially sought out and killed people of modest means including teachers, mayors and civic leaders to further their cause.

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Even in jail, in 1992, Guzman predicted a Shining Path victory
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The strife between the Government of Peru and the Shining Path for control over the country continued on cruelly through the '80s. Finally, however, in 1992, Abimael Guzman was captured and sentenced to life imprisonment. With his absence, the rampant violence ceased. However, irreparable damage has already been done. Thousands of people have lost loved ones through death or dislocation. This permanent imprint of loss is forever etched into society and becomes evident in popular culture. Ayacucho songwriter Ranulfo Fuentes sings a song called "Huamanguino": "Months and years have passed / Where could she be? Perhaps under the stony ground / becoming earth / or among the thorns / budding like wildflowers. "

Unlike most guerrilla terrorist groups, the Shining Path actively recruited women. In fact, in 1982, Edith Largos, a member of the group, was killed in a police ambush, which made her a hero among the Shining Path.
The Shining Path is far from a distant memory. In fact, the group is still alive and acting under the same principles against the government of Alberto Fujimori. Supposedly they remain loyal to the leadership of the imprisoned Abimael Guzman and although they commit small acts of violence from time to time, they are relatively powerless against Peru as a whole today.

The Shining Path has certainly lost the grip that it once had on this beautiful country. Perhaps, even though the people may not be able to forget, they can at least live their lives with a sense of peace.

The Team
 

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!
Kavitha - There's a Guerrilla in the House: The Sendero Luminoso in Peru's Central Highlands
 
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