Shining Path Rebellion in Peru 1980-Present

[ 1980 - 2014 ]

The economic collapse of the early 1980s, continuing the long-term cyclical decline begun in the late 1960s, brought into sharp focus the country's social deterioration, particularly in the more isolated and backward regions of the Sierra. Infant mortality rose to 120 per 1,000 births (230 in some remote areas), life expectancy for males dropped to 58 compared with 64 in neighboring Chile, average daily caloric intake fell below minimum United Nations standards, upwards of 60 percent of children under five years of age were malnourished, and underemployment and unemployment were rampant. Such conditions were a breeding ground for social and political discontent, which erupted with a vengeance in 1980 [as of May 17, 1980] with the appearance of the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso--SL).

Founded in the remote and impoverished department of Ayacucho by Abimáel Guzmán Reynoso, a philosophy professor at the University of Huamanga, the SL blended the ideas of MarxismLeninism , Maoism, and those of José Carlos Mariátegui, Peru's major Marxist theoretician. Taking advantage of the return to democratic rule, the deepening economic crisis, the failure of the Velasco-era reforms, and a generalized vacuum of authority in parts of the Sierra with the collapse of gamonal rule, the SL unleashed a virulent and highly effective campaign of terror and subversion that caught the Belaúnde government by surprise.

After first choosing to ignore the SL and then relying on an ineffective national police response, Belaúnde reluctantly turned to the army to try to suppress the rebels. However, that proved extremely difficult to do. The SL expanded its original base in Ayacucho north along the Andean spine and eventually into Lima and other cities, gaining young recruits frustrated by their dismal prospects for a better future. To further complicate pacification efforts, another rival guerrilla group, the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru--MRTA), emerged in Lima.

Counterinsurgency techniques, often applied indiscriminately by the armed forces, resulted in severe human rights violations against the civilian population and only created more recruits for the SL. By the end of Belaúnde's term in 1985, over 6,000 Peruvians had died from the violence, and over US$1 billion in property damage had resulted. Strongly criticized by international human rights organizations, Belaúnde nevertheless continued to rely on military solutions, rather than other emergency social or developmental measures that might have served to get at some of the fundamental, underlying socioeconomic causes of the insurgency...

The social history of the 1960s and 1970s is background for the emergence of the disturbing Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso-- SL) movement. Its many violent actions have been directed against locally elected municipal officials and anyone designated as a gamonal in the departments of Ayacucho, Huancavelica, Apurímac, Junín, Huánuco, and portions of Ancash and Cusco departments, as well as some other areas designated as emergency zones where government control was deeply compromised. The Maoist-oriented SL opposed Lima as the metropolis that usurps resources from the rest of the nation. Like most past revolutionary movements (as opposed to peasant revolts) acting on behalf of the poor, the SL leadership has consisted of disgruntled and angry intellectuals, mestizos, and whites, apparently from provincial backgrounds. Many adherents have been recruited from university and high school ranks, where radical politicization has been a part of student culture since the late nineteenth century. Others have come from the cadres of embittered migrant youths living in urban lower-class surroundings, disaffected and frustrated school teachers, and the legions of alienated peasants in aggrieved highland provinces in Huancavelica, Ayacucho, and adjacent areas.

Peru's socioeconomic and political disarray has taken on its present pattern after four decades of extravagant demographic change, a truncated land reform that never received effective funding or ancillary support as needed in education, and incessant promises of development, jobs, and progress without fulfillment. The SL has sought to eliminate the perpetrators of past error to establish a new order of its own. The SL's vengeful approach appeared attractive to many, coming at a time when the migration pathway to social change appeared blocked, the ability to progress by this method stymied by the economic crisis, and rural development was at an all-time low ebb.

The immediate impact of the terror-inspiring violence of SL actions and the correspondingly symmetrical responses of the Peruvian Arm (Ejército Peruano--EP) has had a devastating effect on rural and urban life, public institutions, and agricultural production, especially in the emergency zone department of Ayacucho. Since the SL's first brutal attack on the defenseless people of Chuschi, its actions and the violent reactions of the police and army have produced chaos throughout the central highlands and deep problems in Lima.

From 1980 to 1990, an estimated 200,000 persons were driven from their homes, with about 18,000 people killed, mostly in the department of Ayacucho and neighboring areas. In five provinces in Ayacucho, the resident population dropped by two-thirds, and many villages were virtual ghost towns. This migration went to Lima, Ica, and Huancayo, where disoriented peasants were offered little assistance and sometimes were attacked by the police as suspected Senderistas (SL members). Many communities have responded to SL attacks by organizing and fighting back. Towns or villages in La Libertad and Cajamarca departments, in particular, greatly amplified the system of rondas campesinas. Elsewhere, the army organized local militias and patrols to combat and ferret out SL cadres. Unfortunately, in addition to providing for defense all of these actions left room for abuses, and there were numerous cases of personal vendettas taking place that had little to do with the task.


Burt, Jo-Marie and Jose Lopez Ricci. "Shining Path After Guzmán." NACLA Report on the Americas 28/3 (Nov-Dec 1994): 6-9. 

Discusses the future of Sendero Luminoso after Guzmán began calling for peace talks with the Peruvian government one year after his capture [on or before September 13, 1992]. Sendero continues under the leadership of Oscar Ramirez Durand, known as "Comrade Feliciano". Although the violence in the country has decreased drastically, Sendero still strikes periodically.

Related Conflicts

No Releted Conflicts