Shining Path and Its Impact

Peru Table of Contents

The social history of the 1960s and 1970s is background for the emergence of the disturbing Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso-- SL) movement. Its many violent actions have been directed against locally elected municipal officials and anyone designated as a gamonal in the departments of Ayacucho, Huancavelica, Apurímac, Junín, Huánuco, and portions of Ancash and Cusco departments, as well as some other areas designated as emergency zones where government control was deeply compromised. The Maoist-oriented SL opposed Lima as the metropolis that usurps resources from the rest of the nation. Like most past revolutionary movements (as opposed to peasant revolts) acting on behalf of the poor, the SL leadership has consisted of disgruntled and angry intellectuals, mestizos, and whites, apparently from provincial backgrounds. Many adherents have been recruited from university and high school ranks, where radical politicization has been a part of student culture since the late nineteenth century. Others have come from the cadres of embittered migrant youths living in urban lower-class surroundings, disaffected and frustrated school teachers, and the legions of alienated peasants in aggrieved highland provinces in Huancavelica, Ayacucho, and adjacent areas.

Peru's socioeconomic and political disarray has taken on its present pattern after four decades of extravagant demographic change, a truncated land reform that never received effective funding or ancillary support as needed in education, and incessant promises of development, jobs, and progress without fulfillment. The SL has sought to eliminate the perpetrators of past error to establish a new order of its own. The SL's vengeful approach appeared attractive to many, coming at a time when the migration pathway to social change appeared blocked, the ability to progress by this method stymied by the economic crisis, and rural development was at an all-time low ebb.

The immediate impact of the terror-inspiring violence of SL actions and the correspondingly symmetrical responses of the Peruvian Arm (Ejército Peruano--EP) has had a devastating effect on rural and urban life, public institutions, and agricultural production, especially in the emergency zone department of Ayacucho. Since the SL's first brutal attack on the defenseless people of Chuschi, its actions and the violent reactions of the police and army have produced chaos throughout the central highlands and deep problems in Lima.

From 1980 to 1990, an estimated 200,000 persons were driven from their homes, with about 18,000 people killed, mostly in the department of Ayacucho and neighboring areas. In five provinces in Ayacucho, the resident population dropped by two-thirds, and many villages were virtual ghost towns. This migration went to Lima, Ica, and Huancayo, where disoriented peasants were offered little assistance and sometimes were attacked by the police as suspected Senderistas (SL members). Many communities have responded to SL attacks by organizing and fighting back. Towns or villages in La Libertad and Cajamarca departments, in particular, greatly amplified the system of rondas campesinas. Elsewhere, the army organized local militias and patrols to combat and ferret out SL cadres. Unfortunately, in addition to providing for defense all of these actions left room for abuses, and there were numerous cases of personal vendettas taking place that had little to do with the task.

There was no question that the SL's revolutionary terrorism was producing major disruptions and profound changes in Peruvian society. Surveys indicated that 71 percent of Peruvians agreed that poverty, social injustice, and the economic crisis were together the root cause of the SL's revolution, and that 68 percent identified the SL as the nation's most serious problem. Drug trafficking was ranked a distant second by only 11 percent of respondents. At least one conclusion, however, seemed abundantly clear: Peruvians had to address their longstanding and deeply interrelated ills of poverty, inequity, and ethnoracial discrimination if they hoped to take control of the situation.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress