/** nacla.report: 278.0 **/
** Topic: Shining Path Today by Carlos Reyna: July/August 1996 **
** Written 1:46 PM Aug 27, 1996 by nacla in cdp:nacla.report **
Reprinted from the July/August 1996 issue of NACLA Report on the Americas.
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Carlos Reyna Izaguirre is a sociologist and journalist who has written extensively for the Lima bi-monthly, Quehacer, published by DESCO. Translated from the Spanish by NACLA.
By declaring the start of a "prolonged popular war" in 1980, Abimael Guzman, the leader of the Communist Party of Peru, known as Shining Path, plunged Peru into a brutal cycle of violence. For the next 13 years, Shining Path was the lead actor in the country's drama. In the fall of 1993, one year after his arrest, Guzman brought this cycle of violence to an end when he offered to negotiate a peace agreement with the Fujimori government. His peace proposal, which split Shining Path into two factions, opened up a new, more muted phase of violence in Peru.
Guzman's original script was premised on a double hypothesis: that Peru's state-led capitalism would disintegrate, and that democratic institutions in place since 1980 would collapse. He argued that any political project based on these two pillars was destined to fail. The only option was to leap outside the system, announce its impending collapse, recruit the millions of marginalized Peruvians, educate them with dynamite, denigrate and execute conciliators, create power vacuums, and slowly fill them with Shining Path's popular committees. The final episode would take place in Lima--the headquarters of the reactionaries--which would fall exhausted beneath a portrait of Guzman painted on a red background.
Some of Guzman's prophecies had a grain of truth to them. Peru's so-called bureaucratic capitalism did collapse under the weight of hyper-inflation and Fujimori's neoliberal reforms. Fujimori's autogolpe dealt the final blow to Peru's fledgling democracy in 1992. Since then, all the political parties have either drowned completely or are barely holding their heads above water.
Guzman's predictions were, however, mistaken on a number of other counts. These errors were decisive in the ultimate failure of his strategy for taking power. In particular, Guzman underestimated the resilience of the survival mechanisms that the Peruvian people have developed over decades, and the faith in progress that underscores their Sisyphean efforts. He failed to appreciate the true dimensions of this age-old game of resistance and adaptation, of skepticism and expectations, and of simultaneous rejection and acceptance of the rules and the predominant institutions.
The idea of radical rupture is profoundly alien to Peruvians. Shining Path sought to implant it through the use of terror. They killed hundreds of campesinos for bettering themselves as traders and sellers, for serving as state officials, for voting in elections, and for being mayors or grassroots leaders opposed to the armed struggle. They tried to boycott elections, development projects, and the markets where campesinos sold their products. They wanted to turn every protest march into a general "armed strike." They tried to impose the fiction of their own authorities and popular committees. They had some success, but it was precarious. In the end, they invited military repression and intervention in the areas where they organized.
In this way, the spiral of terror grew from both sides. But the pragmatism of the campesinos eventually led them to forge an alliance with the army, since it had both more power and the representation of the state. Despite the military's record of brutality, tens of thousands of campesinos began forming, under military tutelage, civil-defense patrols to fight off Shining Path.
Shining Path's insurrection thus became a revolution of campesinos against campesinos--a popular war against the people. Shining Path had most appeal among social groups located on the periphery of productive activity: students, teachers, unemployed young people from the shantytowns. With this membership, Shining Path grew more as a sect than as a movement with a popular base of support. This lack of consistent social support would prove to have dire consequences for the Party.
Between 1989 and 1992, Shining Path stepped up its armed activities in Lima, badly shaking the government's confidence. During this same period, after several years of striking out blindly against the population, the state began to reformulate its counterinsurgency strategies. Even though the police and the military did not coordinate their efforts- -indeed, there was a great deal of rivalry between the two institutions--these shifts hastened Shining Path's demise. Through stepped-up intelligence efforts, the police were able to arrest a number of key intermediate-level leaders, weakening Shining Path's internal organization. By the time Fujimori and the military announced the autogolpe in 1992, the Special Intelligence Group (GEIN), a small elite police unit, had already uncovered a trail of clues that would eventually lead them to Guzman.
The cycle of political violence begun in 1980 came to an end during the brief period framed by two watershed events: Guzman's arrest in September, 1992, and the declaration by Shining Path leaders still at large of their opposition to Guzman's peace proposal in February, 1994. "It is a norm of the Communist movement that Party leadership cannot be exercised from prison," said the dissident faction in direct allusion to Guzman. The play's final scene is the division of Shining Path into Guzman's pro-peace faction, and the faction that continues to wage war.
Both factions are trying to resolve the same problem: how to keep Shining Path alive and relevant after suffering defeats in several social spheres and in both military and political terms. For Guzman, saving the Party requires halting all sabotage and guerrilla activities and engaging in unarmed political activities for several years. Those who oppose him, led by Oscar Ramirez Durand ("Comrade Feliciano"), the Party's only salvation lies in continuing its armed activities, though with less intensity than before, and emphasizing the reconstruction of its grassroots cells via the classic ant-like work of its clandestine militants.
Despite their opposing prescriptions for action, both sides perceive that Shining Path has entered a new phase of its existence. Guzman has even said so explicitly in his new manifestos. Feliciano and his comrades, by reducing their activity and prioritizing underground political activity, implicitly recognize that times have changed. Aware that Shining Path has lost the leading role that it held in the early 1990s, both groups share the common goal of remaining in the wings, like understudies, in anticipation of better times.
It is unlikely that Shining Path will disappear from Peru's political stage any time soon. But given the reduced size of both factions, the violence will be low-key and will take place mainly in parts of Peru that are of little political or economic importance, such as shantytowns in Lima and towns in the jungle or Andean highlands.
Shining Path is no longer proclaiming--to audiences in Peru and the rest of the world--the existence of their popular committees or their impending overthrow of the state. Rather, they are hoping to exercise a combination of political hegemony and terror at the local level. Occasionally, they will carry out a spectacular act of sabotage or ambush a military patrol. These activities will not endanger the stability of the state or even cause foreign investors to leave Peru in search of safer pastures. The principal aim of such activities is to remind everyone of their continued presence in the corners of the stage. Shining Path poses few risks to Peru's stability in the short term, but the risks may grow as time marches on.