Shining Path

Founded in the 1960s but not active in guerrilla activities until May 1980, the Maoist-oriented Communist Party of Peru (Partido Comunista del Perú), popularly known as the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), was the brainchild of former university professor Abimael Guzmán.

For 12 years, from 1980 until Guzmán’s capture by the Peruvian military on September 12, 1992, in Lima, Shining Path waged a rural and urban guerrilla campaign against the Peruvian state.

Based mainly in rural areas, Shining Path controlled sections in the south and central part of the highlands, and had taken their struggle to the shantytowns of Lima and other cities. The insurgency prompted a security crackdown by three successive presidents in which the Peruvian military committed tens of thousands of documented human rights abuses. The Shining Path movement provided President Fujimori with a pretext for his “self-coup” of April 1992, when he dissolved the Peruvian Congress and suspended constitutional guarantees, soon followed by a purge of the judiciary and his assumption of dictatorial powers. The Shining Path movement, in conjunction with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru, MRTA)—and the state repression that these guerrilla movements engendered—had the effect of heightening the militarization of the country and creating a legacy of violence and impunity that endured into the 21st century.

The ideology inspiring Shining Path’s guerrilla movement was an amalgam of various strains of leftist and Marxist theories of imperialism, capitalism, and armed struggle that gave primacy to the political thought of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong. Senderistas (as members of the group were known) rejected the concept of “human rights.” In keeping with this ideology, Shining Path’s principal weapon was its use of terror and violence against civilians it identified as its enemies. Alienating large sectors of the peasantry, not only by its brutality but by its lack of respect for indigenous and rural customs, the group also tried to outlaw alcohol, ban community celebrations, and close markets in city and countryside, with the aim of starving Lima and ultimately seizing state power. Many peasant communities responded by forming rondas, or community patrols, to defend themselves against Sendero assaults. The group survived its leader’s 1992 capture, though its activities dropped off markedly, and it no longer posed a threat to the state. According to the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation of Peru, in the final two decades of the 20th century a total of 69,280 civilians were killed or disappeared by Shining Path, the MRTA, paramilitary squads, and the Peruvian military, with the Shining Path responsible for more than half (54 percent) of the total.

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