Saturday, August 27, 2011

Shining Path -- Terrorism in Peru

Recently hearing from a dear friend from our honeymoon days in Peru, brought to mind the reality he and his family face daily while we sit contentedly in our homes -- he has fought the fight we hope we never do here in this country. Oh, indeed, as we move ever closer to the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we are reminded of those families who have been touched by the kind of terror these cruel ideologues can mete out. Perhaps only those who have tasted the bitter tears that terrible day or lost loved ones in the war which followed can begin to fathom at all what it must have been like, what it might be like again, to live under the reign of Guzman and his thugs.  This article is based upon an article written by Kathryn Gregory (Council on Foreign Relations) and upon our conversations and experiences with this brave gentleman and soldier, Carlos, who lived this fight and knew the Shining Path all too well.

First, for a bit a background, and I must emphasize a bit, because the research on this subject is both lengthy and conflicting, there are two primary Peruvian guerrilla groups. Both are leftist. One, best described for our purposes here as Maoist/communist, the Shining Path or Sendero Luminoso, and the other, the Cuban-inspired Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. Both operated most forcefully in the 1980s and early 90s. At that time, Peru's government fought a war against both insurgent groups, costly in terms of both lives and soles (Peruvian currency).

The U.S. State Department continues to recognize the Shining Path as a terrorist organization, but not the Tupac Amaru (since 1999).  The Shining Path, dormant since the 90s and the imprisonment of Guzman, has begun to realize a resurgence  in rural areas  neglected by the government along with a revival in the Peruvian coca trade. It seems if one does not learn from history, one is destined to repeat it -- this is much the same way the Path gained such a following initially.

How did it all begin? The best reports seem to indicate that the Shining Path began with the cultural revolutions of the 60s.  It started in Ayacucho as a small communist revolutionary group led by a philosophy professor at the San Cristobal of Huamanga University named Abimael Guzman.  Just as others of his era, he drew upon the teachings of Marxism and the example of Castro to build a significant and violent guerrilla army that utilized terror tactics  in an effort to destabilize Peru's ruling class.  Their stated goal, replace what Guzman and his followers saw as a bourgeois democracy with a dictatorship of the proletariat.

At one point, members of the Shining Path numbered somewhere around ten thousand, holding tight a country of nearly thirty million, and Guzman adopted the nom de guerre Presidente Gonzalo. He then re-coined their trademark ideology "Marxism-Leninism-Maoism"  in favor of a cult of personality coined "Marxism-Leninism-Maoism-Gonzalo" thought. He further rejected the concept of human rights, stating in part, "...human rights are contradictory to the rights of the people, because we base rights in man as a social product...human rights serve the oppressor class...our position is very clear. We reject and condemn human rights because they are bourgeois, reactionary, counterrevolutionary rights, and are today a weapon of revisionists and imperialists, principally Yankee imperialists."

What was the strategy of Sendero Luminoso? Simply, they used violence to attempt to bring down Peru's democratically elected government, disrupt the economy, destroy the state's reputation among the people, especially in rural areas, and ultimately in the court of public opinion, nationally and internationally. Sadly, this may have been somewhat effective, as I eluded to earlier, the Path is, pardon the pun, on the warpath again and gaining popularity -- in addition, many of those who fought successfully against them, including our dear friend, at the request of his government, were wounded, lost friends, tried essentially as war criminals and now blacklisted from travel in many countries including our own.  An important note which will be expanded later by the gentlemen involved, this soldier was trained along with his fellows to do exactly what he did by our own Navy Seals.  Without them, Peru would be a very different place indeed.

Walk down any street in Lima.  See the beautiful homes in comfortable neighborhoods like Miraflores and San Isidro surrounded by high imposing walls topped with wires or cut glass and often you are met by a guard.  Even modest homes are fortresses.  And this phenomenon is not limited to the capitol city.  This is what corruption and terror do to an ancient culture which has brought us the Inca, the Nazca Lines, and Mario Vargas Llosa with
 a rich history ranging from the Spanish conquistadors to the Viceroyalty through years of pirates and privateers.  In some ways, little has changed -- there are still pirates of a type in Peru, but they are elected and run the government or businesses as they do in any modern civilized nation and the people are as diverse as the geography and climate.   

But amidst all the beauty that is Peru, grew this glaring ugliness that persists today. A New York Times Report notes in a recent article chronicling the extradition of a former military officer that the Shining Path was famous for hacking its victims to death with machetes to save ammunition.  In this New York Times article, they talk about an officer given blanket amnesty in the 90s who has since lost his immunity when the Supreme Court nullified the law.  He now stands accused of several murders.  

The victims of Shining Path, who numbered perhaps seventy thousand during the eighties and nineties are beginning to grow again. In 2008, 26 people were killed, including 22 soldiers and police officers. Yet, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found the human rights violations of the military response to the terrorists a close second to the terrorists themselves and the Catholic Church complicit in failing to do anything to stop the violence. Small wonder the TRC has little credibility with the rise of the Path.  Who will be willing to stand up to fight the terrorists this time?

Originally, the Sendero Luminoso targeted local authorities and political leaders, police, mayors, judges, etc. As the group gained in power and influence, their targets became wealthier and more influential as well.  Frequently a foothold was gained in a small rural community when a dispute occurred over a piece of property of livestock. 

Imagine for a moment the following scenario:  two farmers live in an outlying village.  One accuses the other of stealing his livestock.  The police for the area is non-existent, incompetent, corrupt, or murdered by the Shining Path.  Enter a member of Guzman's Shining Path to mediate the dispute (even though they may have caused it).  "You want your llama back?  We'll take care of it."

The next morning, the farmer has one or two llamas in place of the missing one.  No questions. The other farmer may be missing.  But the first farmer is grateful, and too afraid, to ask any questions and now owes the Shining Path.

What is the US role in all of this?  Initially, Washington lent money and provided military and training (remember the reference to the Navy Seals?) in order to help Peru wage war against the insurgency of the Sendero Luminoso. This continued even after President Alan Garcia defaulted on some of the loans. Then, under President Fujimori, when the US perception was that near absolute power was in his hands, all aid, other than humanitarian was withdrawn, until a return to our definition and perception of democracy.

Finally, September 12, 1992, Abimael Guzman was captured and imprisoned -- but it was years later that he requested a peace deal.  After his second trial in 2004, Guzman received a life sentence in 2006. He is currently incarcerated, fittingly, at a Naval base, Callao.  His subterranean cellmate neighbors include Victor Polay, the head of Tupac Amaru, and Vladamiro Montesinos,  the former head of the National Intelligence Service. The current head of the Shining Path is Comrade Artemio.

So, there you have it. A bit, as I said, of the background, as an outsider, looking in and feeling the pain of a beautiful land and her people while praying we do not follow a similar path.  

Carlos, my friend, please, I am an English teacher -- you lived this.  I have no pride on this issue.  Feel free to correct my misperceptions and inaccuracies.  The floor is yours...

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