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Shining Path Organization Of Peru History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The Shining Path Sendero Luminoso is a terrorist organization in Peru that began a series of guerilla attacks in 1980 and has since continued its barrage on the governmental regime in power (Stern, 1998). Unlike traditional groups of organized crime, terrorist sects such as the Shining Path do not have a specific monetary focus; their goal is tied to political, social, economic or religious change. Founded by a disgruntled professor of philosophy, Abimael Guzman, this group launched its political movement by burning ballot boxes in Chuschi, followed by a set of bizarre instances in which the group aimed to have more publicity in Lima, such as “dead dogs tied to lamp posts and traffic lights.” Through largely violent and misappropriated means, this group gained a large following as it recruited intellectuals from universities along with a large mass of the proletariat (Stern, 1998). However, the group lost the majority of its influence in 1992 when Guzman was captured and has since declined in its ability to have a substantial impact on Peru’s economy and political outcomes (Becker, n.d.).

To begin to understand the motivations which empowered the focus of this group, one must first understand the economic and political underpinnings taking place in Peru. Peru had been wracked with economic difficulties, stemming largely from their lack of governmental direction and proper foresight in the planning of their country’s future gain versus its liabilities. Peru had a large debt in which in it owed the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a staggering amount of 22 billion dollars of foreign commitment. In order to begin repaying the demands of their increasing obligations, the current President, Alberto Fujimori, began to impose severe hardships on the citizens of Peru. Of course, these impositions most harshly affected the workers and those who were in the lowest income bracket throughout the country; they began to strike and protest the conditions that were affording them so little earnings, that in some cases, farmers could not even afford to plant that year’s crop. To make matters worse, in April 1992, Fujimori perpetrated a “self-coup…[and] suspended the constitution, abrogated civil liberties, carried out mass arrests, and closed down Congress and the courts.” As a direct result of these, and worse, actions, “[s]ince 1980, some 25,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands have fled the countryside…” (Koppel, 1993).  These harsh sanctions were among others imposed that drove support away from the government and towards the Shining Path, in which their name was a derivative from a aphorism of José Carlos Mariátegui (who was at the time the head of the Peruvian Socialist Party), the originator of the Peruvian Communist Party in the 1920s: “”El Marxismo-Leninismo abrirá el sendero luminoso hacia la revolución” (“Marxism-Leninism will open the shining path to revolution”)” (Schönwälder, 2012; Palmer, 1994).  Actions such as these led to the eventual imprisonment of Fujimori, in which he serves a twenty-five-year term for rights abuses; however, the impact of his nearly undisputed rule in the 1990s endure within Peruvian society (Schönwälder, 2012).

Originally part of the Communist Party of Peru, Guzman elected to separate and form his own group I which more militant and direct action could be taken. The Shining Path believed that “by imposing a dictatorship of the proletariat, inducing Cultural Revolution, and eventually sparking world revolution, they could arrive at pure communism.” Although, their means of achieving these goals were ill-planned and highly misguided. A large portion of the Shining Path’s ideology was formulated before they were initially founded through the writings of Diaz Martinez. Martinez traveled to China in 1974 and found that many of the proposed programs and reforms were being successfully carried out by Mao; he wrote China: La revolucion agrarian “which provide[d] the language and ideology for Sendero’s declaration of a prolonged peasant war to liberate the semifuedal and semicolonial masses of Peru from bureaucratic capitalism” (Palmer, 1994). 

Although seemingly educated in its tactics for rousing support, Sendero Luminoso evolved into a hypocrisy. While it maintained an effort to recruit supporters and sympathizers to its cause, the group also strong-armed the very demographic is was attempted to appeal to: the lower class, peasants, rural population, and the “slum dwellers.” This estrangement was propagated through the absolute apathy in which the Shining Path administered its violence. That is, the attacks, while generally targeted at its opposition, were not meant to exclude the general public. Often times, civilians would be the sole victims of the violent acts that were meant to draw attention and symbolism. The sect’s bold attempt to appeal to the desperate, impoverished layers of society it was supplementing the destruction of created a schism in which it could ultimately not breach, even though its prospects were optimistic for the first half of its inception (Koppel, 1993). 

In particular, the farmers of Peru and their economic needs were secured directly to the political needs of the Shining Path, simply because Peru was and currently is the largest producer of coca for cocaine – 65% of the total production worldwide. Therefore, the massive drug-control policy that was supported by the government and US efforts was largely rebelled by the farmers who relied on the economic support their crop provided; seeing this as a way to gain favor, the Shining Path took it upon themselves to leverage their support of the crop and further involve themselves in illegal manipulative behavior (Palmer, 1994). 

Another more successful tactic was taking the time to convince representatives from each group or layer of society, including women, as exemplified in the following quote: “Peruvian feminists, who rightly opposed first-generation neoliberalism as particularly detrimental to women, mistakenly accepted the premise that second-generation reforms were essentially gender neutral” (Schönwälder, 2012). They also skillfully attained the support of key women figures, such as Augusta La Torre who worked closely with the Women’s Popular Movement. Augusta La Torre was an important figure to the women demographic as she frequently condemned Peru’s military government and had a large range of influence among the mindsets of women throughout Peru. For example, La Torre gave a speech in 1975 in which she threw barbs against the military’s performance within the government claiming that the regime was “utilizing women for capitalist, pro-imperialist and feudal interests.” Another instance of her public support of a non-governmental group can be found in her words from the First Convention of Women Workers in Lima. Augusta attacked the government’s motives, naming them as callous and capricious to its people’s needs and quality of life; she labeled them as “bloodthirsty and inhumane,” and she stated that the goal of that Women Workers’ Convention was to “unite the people against the regime” (Heilman, n.d).

At one point, Sendero had seventeen unions under their influence; their labor movement was able to exert some influence over the economic market, as some of the workers would go on strike to send a message that the Shining Path declared. These unions included the four major industries at the time and group leaders would organize fundraisers, pot lucks, and community wide support for workers during the strikes to make joining the cause more appealing and less of a risk. Although, this tactic did not always work in their favor as they often ‘convinced’ only a minority if the workers to refuse work; many of the sit-ins would leak violence in which the Shining Path offered no support, but rather, would further instigate the situation and put their supporters in danger. Sendero also controlled the two national teachers’ union (SUTEP); it used these as avenues for proliferation of its propaganda; by reaching out through the school systems, such as universities and public schools, it could influence the youth over years of reinforcement so that loyalty would be self-evident (Palmer, 1994). 

A large factor in the Shining Path’s ultimate failure at meeting their goals lies within their violence. It was to such a point, that President Fernando Belaunde Terry declared what we would refer to as a state of emergency for the Ayacucho region in December 1982. This area had been riddled with such ferocious and unnecessarily violent attacks on its citizens, that the president was forced to act on the insurgency with a measure of troops from the national army. In these brutal and indifferent assaults, the Shining Path used tactics such as home-made molotovs and practiced urban warfare to achieve their fear and resistance against the troops that easily outnumbered them in their occupation of Lima, the country’s capital (Palmer, 1994). Sendero Luminoso was a political power that viewed any dissenters with absolute contempt, especially the leftists who favored the politic approach of “compromise and coalition” (Stern, 1998). A perfect summation of the ruthlessly destructive mindset that embodied the Shining Path group can be understood through the following quote: “Sendero has an ideology to destroy society in order to build a new society. They don’t want to modify. It’s easier to build anew than to change what exists” (Palmer, 1994). In fact, their Guerrilla style warfare became responsible for more than $20 billion worth of damage throughout the country (“The Shining Path after Guzman,” 1992).

In 1990, they did have a small “victory” in the sense that the presidential elections were won not by the Center-Leftists that had had control of the political spectrum since the 1980’s, but by Alberto Fujimori with “unknown” political loyalties (Stern, 1998). However, in the end, the Shining Path was unsuccessful in achieving their goal of attaining power over the government and the majority of the people in Peru. With the capture of Abimael Guzman in 1992, the majority of their direction and motivation was sapped from the energy of the group. They lost the foresight which had led them for more than 10 years of meticulous planning. Even so, any hope of further leadership from other members in the group was extinguished when the government captured Oscar Ramírez Durand in 1999. After Guzman’s capture, he had been the highest-ranking Shining Path leader still at large. With Sendero’s leaders no longer able to guide the bulk of their otherwise directionless followers, the driving force behind their focus diminished greatly, even though it still remains active to this day (Becker, n.d.). Their lack of final success was not as obvious to Peru’s people and those foreign entities who were keeping a close watch on the actions of this terrorist sect, however. Carlos Ivan Degregori, an intellectual who studied the group, stated that “what is really surprising is that Sendero… [had] not been more successful in receiving peasant support” (Palmer, 1994). Sendero lacked the foresight to truly gain an audience; meaning that they did not openly and publically display their ideology and that the only way you could join their movement was if they sought you out; they only displayed themselves publically in the sense of making bizarre messages and overly violent attacks which proved nothing beyond their own instability. Even after Alejandro Toledo was elected president in 2001, Peru continued to be governed in an authoritarian manner. “Poverty, alienation, and the government’s inability to address social issues meant that Peru faced conditions similar to those that had originally led to the Shining Path insurgency. Little had been resolved” (Becker, n.d.).

In conclusion, the question we must ask ourselves is “why did a historically archaic Maoist sect, so at odds with the direction of change among most of the Latin American and Peruvian Lefts, prove so able to wage war, organize a social support base, and read the flow of history?” (Stern, 1998). Through the careful planning of a select few highly intelligent individuals, the near success of the Shining Path could have been realized had it not been for the capture of their prominent leaders. While still active, the Shining Path has lost the majority of the momentum that sustained its influence within Peru for the span of more than thirty years. It’s overly enthusiastic violence, the bizarre manner in which its messages were sent and the overall disapproval of its political goals are a small sample of the ultimate failure of the Shining Path.

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