July/August, 1983

Shining Path Heats Up Peru
Paul DeRienzo

A fire of rebellion has swept the Andean nation of Peru in recent months. Insurgents of the Communist Party of Peru, better known in the press as Sendero Luminoso, which means "Shining Path," have established base areas in the Southern province of Ayacucho. Recently their activities have expanded into northern Peru and the capital, Lima. Well coordinated bombing attacks against power lines on May 27 blacked out the capital for 90 minutes.

The insurgents, professing the doctrines of Chairman Mao and the gang of four, have carried out dynamite attacks on the Chinese embassy followed by the hanging of dead dogs labeled Deng Xioping from Lima lamp posts. The rebels also have attacked the U.S. and soviet embassies as well as Peru’s presidential palace.

Sendero Luminoso began in the city of Ayacucho among revolutionaries and students disenchanted with the official "Marxism" practiced by Peru’s parliamentary left. They launched the first wave of hostilities against the regime of President Fernando Belaunde Terry after elections in May 1980 ended 12 years of military rule. Three thousand actions have followed since then according to information released by Sendero Luminoso.

The guerilla documents call for a Maoist strategy of winning base areas in the countryside and then isolating the cities. Their tactics, as expressed in these same documents, have been "agitation and armed propaganda." In practice this has meant seizing radio stations, distributing leaflets and inciting people to take up arms against the Peruvian government.

The guerillas have also encouraged and engaged in the destruction of fields, factories, banks and elite schools. The Sendero calls these actions "Sabotage which hits and undermines the economic and social system." Other acts which the Sendero documents report are crop seizures from the large feudal landowners and the driving out of landlords and state managers, including officials of the parliamentarian leftists.

The Peruvian government has responded by sending in-their U.S. trained counter insurgency force, the Sinchis. Reports from a have taken to hacking apart living peasants and leaving pieces of the bodies for others to find. These same reports said that some Sinchis who took part in one such action were themselves later found hacked to death.

In March 1982, 120 men and women Sendero guerillas laid siege to the prison at the north end of the city of Ayacucho, a city of 80,000. Armed with stolen army weapons and using traditional Indian slingshots to hurl dynamite, the guerillas blasted their way into the prison and freed hundreds of prisoners, including many captured revolutionaries.

In September one of the revolutionary leaders, 19 year old Edith Lagos, who had been freed in the March attack, was found hacked to death in Ayacucho. Over 30,000 people jammed the narrow streets of the city for her funeral.

There are over 200 "suspected terrorists" of Sendero Luminoso held on the island prison of El Froton. They have been subjected to intense harassment including the cutting off of food and water. Yet reports smuggled out from the prison indicate that the spirit of the captives has remained defiant. In early May two guards gunned down prisoners. On May 13th 1,000 people marched with the red flag draped coffins of the two brothers through the streets of Lima, an almost unheard of event.

There is also a Woman’s prison in Callo on the main land where the same conditions of torture are prevalent.

The recent upsurge of revolutionary violence in Peru has prompted a sudden series of articles in various U.S. newspapers. The Wall Street Journal has warned that Sendero Luminoso has "the allegiance of most of the peasants." The New York Times has used the occasion to advise the Reagan administration in an editorial that their preoccupation with problems in El Salvador and Nicaragua threaten to undermine U.S. preparedness on a global scale.

The next few months will see if the Maoist legacy has returned with a vengeance.

Historical Background

The rise of Sendero Luminoso is the latest in a series of guerilla uprisings in Peru which began with a widespread anarcho-syndicalist movement which led to the successful struggle for an 8 hour day at the turn of the century.

In the late 1950’s, guerillas influenced by the Cuban revolution carried the "guerilla foco" theory of Che Guevara into the mountainous, often inaccessible Peruvian countryside. Peasants had sprung to political life for the first time and began to seize the estates of the ruling landowners.

In 1961 the peasant squatter's movement became so widespread that the army was sent in to restore control of the situation. Skirmishes followed in which police stations were attacked and soldiers ambushed.

Trotskyists such as Hugo Blanco, who was himself strongly influenced by the Cuban revolution and spent time there studying its aftermath, influenced the peasant unions formed out of all this. Blanco followed the line that the Cuban revolution had been led by the peasants who swept up the urban workers into the revolution.

This view coupled with the "foco," concept that emphasizes direct action above ideology (along the lines of Che Guevara) led Blanco to direct several strikes and military actions by peasants. But in 1963 the Peruvian army smashed the peasant uprisings and Blanco was arrested and sentenced to 25 years on the island prison of El Fronton.

In 1965 emergency U.S. military "aid" including counterinsurgency advisors was rushed to Peru. Napalm was used extensively against the guerilla base area.

The Military Takes Over

In the 1930’s three major political parties challenged the rule of the traditional land owning oligarchy. They were the right wing populist Apristas, the Peruvian Communist Party (PCP) and the industrial capitalist controlled Popular Action Party led by Fernando Belaunde Terry. These parties were aligned against the traditional agro-mining interests who held state power at the expense of workers, peasants and industrialists.

The landowners’ economic policies had by the 1960’s caused a financial collapse, which devastated the country. Belaunde, who had come to power in the 1962 elections, was unable to push the industrialist’s program past the landowners or compromise with them. In 1968 his regime was overthrown by the military.

What happened next was remarkable for a Latin American nation. Where the military has traditionally intervened to defend the big landowners, the Peruvian military did the opposite. It intervened to overthrow the latifundia system, to gain popular support and stabilize Peru’s economic situation with populist reforms.

Headed by Gen. Juan Velasco, the military financed these reforms with huge U.S. loans. Peru’s foreign debt eventually topped the $11 billion mark, making Peru one of the highest per-capita debtor nations in the world.

During this period trade between the Soviet Union and Peru grew at an unprecedented rate, reaching $168 million a year by 1978. In fact the Soviet Union maintains a corps of 150 military advisors in Peru to this day.

Return to Civilian Rule

The gravy train didn’t last for long. By 1974 the U.S., going through severe economic problems of its own, forced Peru to accept austerity." The result was a 70% forced reduction in wages and 800% inflation. Two general strikes broke out in response.

In 1980 the military government in an attempt to pacify the rebelling workers agreed to elections in which Belaunde, after 12 years, was returned to power.

Rise of Sendero Luminoso

The left in Peru is divided into political parties led by pro-Soviet, Trotskyists and pro-Chinese communist parties. The Apristas are discredited, their ties to the CIA having been exposed.

Sendero Luminoso grew out of splits with the PCP in 1964 at about the time of the Soviet-Chinese split. The organization was further formed by splits with pro-Chinese forces after the arrest of the gang of four and again after the exit of some admirers of Albanian strongman Enver Hoxa.

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