Discover more from The Low Country
Shining Path's traumatic legacy endures
In its desperate efforts to cling to power and quell disturbances, the besieged government of Dina Boluarte is resorting McCarthyite "red scare" tactics that play on Peru's painful past.
The situation in Peru continues to deteriorate, with deadly clashes in Cuzco:
Independent journalist Ben Norton flagged a news report revealing that the government of Dina Boluarte, which ousted the previous left-wing president, Pedro Castillo (now being held on charges of sedition and high treason), is resorting to “red scare” rhetoric and tactics:
The first name in the highlighted section, Abimael Guzmán, was the leader of Shining Path (Senderoso Luminoso) (Guzmań was imprisoned in 1992 and died in 2021.) The news item further quotes the chief of the Peruvian National Police calling for an investigation to determine whether the once notorious guerrilla movement is being re-established in certain provinces. Whether this actually happening remains to be seen, but the explicit references to Guzmán, Marx, Lenin, and Stalin evoke disturbing echos of the past.
During my extended sojourn in the Andes many years ago, I stayed with a Peruvian family in Huancayo. El señor, chairman of the anthropology department at the regional university, introduced me to the work of the Peruvian Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui, whose Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian Reality (1928) I found a jewel of book for its exploration of Western Marxism in the context of indigenous, post-colonial Latin America. Over one of our many enjoyable meals together the family told me that in earlier times they subscribed to a Spanish-language, family-oriented Soviet popular science and culture magazine which published stories on space travel and the like. During the Shining Path years, it became dangerous to have any such materials even casually related to the Soviet Union in one’s possession, let alone Karl Marx, so they collected all the back issues they had on hand and burned them one night in the backyard.
That story was related to me some twenty years ago, when the memories of the Shining Path era were still seared in the public consciousness. In 2003, the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation released its final report, in which it estimated that some 70,000 people had been killed during the conflict, with some 30,000 deaths attributed to the state. Alberto Fujimori was subsequently convicted of organizing death squads, among other serious crimes. During his time in office, as well as the two preceding presidents, the Peruvian military and police routinely committed serious human rights abuses, including torture and extrajudicial executions. No side came out of the conflict with reputation intact.
That the current government in Lima, in its efforts to quell the ongoing strikes and protests and thereby remain in power, is resorting to red-baiting and fear-mongering, exploits in a truly shameful way lingering memories from the Shining Path era. For insecure and repressive governments like Boluarte’s, that traumatic legacy is the gift that keeps on giving.
The Shining Path movement identified itself and is continues to be labelled Maoist, but perhaps the very first thing one learns about the Long March (1934-5) of Mao Zedong and the People’s Liberation Army is that they worked tirelessly to build support among the rural peasantry. Their achievements doing so contributed greatly to their ultimate success in 1949, as many readers will know. However dedicated a “Maoist” Abimael Guzmán may have considered himself and his comrades to be, what did they ultimately achieve with their singular brand of military adventurism, with their massacres of campesinos, with their assassinations of community organizers? The ill-fated movement left the socialist project in Peru with a toxic reputation that endures to this day.
Shining Path is of course hardly the only such resistance group in modern history to turn political violence, examples abound. If you are Irish, you may have strong feelings about the political violence committed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during its heyday. To its credit, the IRA also had a competent and effective political wing, Sinn Féin, which was eventually able to reach a political settlement with the British government (the 1988 Good Friday Agreement). Sinn Féin now looks well on its way to coming to power nationally and achieving the long-overdue unification of the once troubled Emerald Isle (“Is Irish Reunification on the Horizon? Sinn Féin Wins Historic Victory in Northern Ireland Election” Democracy Now!, 9 May 2022) Now that would be a lasting achievement! The Senderosos went down the wrong path.