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Shining Path is gaining in Peru.

The entrance to Huaycin is a single dirt road an hour's drive east of Lima's central plaza. A luxury housing development marks the turnoff. Huaycin itself is visible from the crest of a sudden rise; one sees a huge desert valley holding one of Lima's newest and most turbulent squatter settlements, known as pueblos jovenes (literally, young towns).

It is an improbable site for homes. There is no running water, sewage system or greenery, just forbidding rock and dust, hours from the nearest job or hospital. But Peru's poor have little choice. The shantytown was founded in 1984, when families, many of them migrants from the highlands, invaded the valley and built huts of cardboard and straw mats.

Military families once lived in the luxury homes. They were attracted by the open space and sun, a precious combination in cramped, gray Lima. But a while ago-no one quite remembers when-the dagger-top gates of the compound were chained shut. The concrete walls now bear a message: the red hammer and sickle of the Communist Party of Peru, better known as the Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path.

Huaycan is a key front in the Shining Path's war to win Peru. In their words, it is a link in the iron chain they will use to strangle "official" Lima-the government ministries, the banks, the military's Allied Command, the shopping malls that could be in Miami but for the bomb-sniffing dogs and power outages, which come when the guerrillas blow up the electrical towers that feed that metropolis of 7 million.

One must understand Huaycan's importance if one is to begin to answer the question of who supports the Shining Path and what is behind the organization's unprecedented advance since its declaration of war on Peru's democratically elected government a decade ago. The genius of the movement is its ability to exploit a class no one else took seriously-young, provincial mestizos, who make up the majority of Peru's population yet face the darkest future.

These young mestizos formed the core of the emerging Shining Path in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was one of several radical communist groups active at San Cristobal de Huamanga University (U.N.S.C.H.) in Ayacucho, the capital of the department of the same name. One of Peru's poorest regions, the dry, desolate highlands of Ayacucho have a standard of living closer to that of sub-Saharan Africa than coastal Peru. For the sons and daughters of peasants, a university degree was a way out, the hope of penetrating the powerful criollo (white) power circles that have always run the country.

But South Africa is Peru's closest parallel when it comes to race. No legal system of discrimination exists, but de facto racism against cholos-the brown-skinned mestizos who come from the highlands and often speak with a Quechua accent-is ubiquitous. These new professionals discovered that the doors to power remained closed. They had degrees, but no jobs.

Some discovered a compelling new "science" in the teachings of former U.N.S.C.H. philosophy professor Abimael Guzman, the Shining Path's founder. Guzman believes Peru is ripe for a Maoist revolution based on encirclement of the cities from the countryside. Colleagues remember him as a fierce political infighter, a dour, moon-faced ideologue whose pronouncements often degenerated into the redolent name-calling that still characterizes Shining Path tracts. The richest images-"reactionary sewers" and "sewer-drenched scribblers"-are reserved for rivals on the left. Provincial youths, at the bottom of Peru's rigidly hierarchical society, were told that they could invert the social pyramid and rule the country if they applied Guzman's formula.

"In effect, Guzman has transformed this class into the strongest political movement in Peru's history," says Carlos Ivan Degregori, an anthropologist who taught at U.N.S.C.H. and author of a recent book on the guerrillas' rise.

Young cholos in the jacket, jeans and sneakers now considered the unofficial senderista uniform are the stuff of every morning's news. They are arrested painting slogans, fabricating bombs, riding in stolen pickups with a load of dynamite and fliers. Their ability to move freely between the seemingly impermeable sectors of Peruvian society-from teacher to coca farmer to shantytown dweller to peasant-has proved one of the Shining Path's most durable strengths.

Gustavo Gorriti, a Peruvian journalist who has just finished a three-volume history of the movement, calls them "the obedient children, the silent, meticulous and hard-working ones. Not the ones whose charisma provoked devotion, but rather their families' silent esteem."

Flor, 20, was raised on a farm near the northern town of Chota. She says she chose nursing as a career because she wanted to do something about a country that employs more Lima hospital administrators than rural doctors and nurses. A teacher recruited her to the Shining Path. Police say she carried out several bombings in the provincial capital of Cutervo, in northern Peru, before her arrest last June.

Her powerful, compact body is typical of peasant women, but she keeps her hair city-short. Despite the shortage of water in the prison where she is awaiting trial, she is neat in her skirt and flip-flops and well fed as a result of the strict regimen maintained by senderista prisoners. Until she has stood trial and been convicted, she refers only indirectly to the party and will not admit openly to her membership.

"The Shining Path is well organized, and unlike other groups that preach revolution it shows with deeds, not with words:' Flor says. She was tortured and raped by police after her arrest, a practice human rights groups say is common. For her, however, such treatment is a part of a cadre's training. "There is no struggle without dead and wounded," she says flatly. "They are planting a hate that will eventually rise up and defeat them. Vengeance is sweet."

To join, cadres must agree to the cuota-the blood price-giving their lives to the cause. They also learn to kill methodically and without mercy. The organization itself is based on clandestine cells, where no individual member knows more than a few other adherents. Front groups-for instance, the pro-shining Path weekly El Diario, Socorro Popular Popular Assistance) and various "movements" of workers, neighbors' associations and peasants-are meant to prepare the ground for the advance of a "popular army" that will eventually seize power.

Even the Shining Path's jealously guarded inner circle reflects its broad national base. Osman Morote, the Shining Path's second-in-command, who was recently sentenced to twenty years in prison, is from an old Ayacucho family. But Antonio Diaz Martinez, a fellow U.N.S.C.H. professor and Shining Path leader killed in a 1986 prison uprising, was from the same northern district as Flor. Guzman, now known as "President Gonzalo;' is himself from Arequipa, the birthplace of novelist and recent presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa. (Ironically, Guzman is reputed to suffer from a red-blood-cell imbalance that makes it impossible for him to stay for long in senderista mountain strongholds without suffering serious migraines and attacks of psoriasis.)

In February, President Alberto Fujimori went on TV to present a recently captured video of Guzman, who went underground in 1979. Against the deep shadows of the amateur video, Guzmin, portly in a tailored Mao jacket, dances a Greek sirtaki (it was the rage in 1970s Ayacucho) with other similarly dressed cadres. Their starry-eyed worship of the self-proclaimed "fourth sword of Communism" is plain. Fujimori wanted to show the guerrilla leader in his cups, carousing in a house that most Shining Path cadres would enter only as maids or delivery boys. Perhaps some were dismayed. But Fujimori also showed a Guzman alive and well and directing his war under the nose of the security forces. The house where the video was filmed is four blocks from the Ministry of War and in a neighborhood favored by high-level military officers. Police speculate that the video was meant to form part of some future museum of the party's struggle before victory. "We not only saw our dear President Gonzalo alive and well," one cadre later told me, "but we saw it for free."

Today, the Shining Path is capable of launching coordinated actions from northern Peru 1,200 miles south to the Peru-Bolivia border. In the Upper Huallaga Valley, where more than half of the coca refined into U.S.-bound cocaine is grown, they have proved flexible enough to put aside their otherwise puritanical moral code to form an alliance with coca growers in exchange for a healthy cut of the profits.

From the beginning, Guzman planned Shining Path violence to provoke the state into sudden, ill-considered repression. In his always baroque imagery, this meant crossing a "river of blood" to victory. Playing into Guzman's hands, the military took control of Ayacucho under state-of-emergency legislation in 1982. A campaign of indiscriminate repression, in which the civilian population itself was the target, resulted, like the proverbial dragon's teeth, in more Shining Path militants. Within the first months, human rights groups were flooded with reports of extrajudicial executions, massacres and "disappearances." The emergency zone now encompasses more than 42 percent of Peru, including Lima, and includes more than 50 percent of the population, according to Peru's Commission for Human Rights.

Human rights violations have grown at the same rate and are committed in an atmosphere of absolute impunity. According to Father Roger Demartigny, director of the church-sponsored Pucallpa Human Rights Commission, which gathers information about that jungle diocese, military helicopters are now dumping over marshes people arrested as suspected subversives, after stuffing their mouths with explosives. Recently, Gen. Jose Valdivia-charged with the massacre of twenty-eight peasants in the highland village of Cayara and the subsequent killings of all but one of the witnesses-was promoted to the powerful post of head of the military region that includes Lima.

Unlike their predecessors, the newest cadres no longer come primarily from universities but, rather, directly from high school. Some children are forcibly incorporated into guerrilla columns and made to perform acts of terror that forever bind them to the movement, such as firing the pistol that kills the accused in "popular trials." A recent Shining Path evaluation of a decade of war, written by Guzman and captured by police, complains that new recruits, while enthusiastic, are also increasingly illiterate.

What the Shining Path cannot win by persuasion it takes by force. The most frequent victims are peasants who resist joining the organization or who fight it in the civil defense committees the military has formed throughout the southern highlands. In the River Ene Valley in the Junin jungle, cadres have pitted native peoples against one another and against jungle colonists or migrants from the highlands in one of the bloodiest chapters yet in the Shining Path campaign to dominate areas it considers strategically crucial. Guerrillas make special targets of town authorities, rivals in the local left, indigenous leaders, engineers-anyone who, even unwittingly, stands in their way.

Such was the case of Sister Agustina "Aguchita" Rivas, a 70-year-old nun who had worked for the past three years in the Junin village of La Florida. A Shining Path detachment, including boys and girls ranging in age from 12 to 17, called a mandatory meeting in the central plaza last September 27. According to witnesses, Aguchita was in the middle of a candy-making class, so was slow in coming. A female cadre reported that "this nun did not obey me:' In fact, cadres were looking for the Mother Superior, who had taken an unexpected trip. Sister Aguchita was made to stand against a wall with five others, and all were shot. These were the charges against her: working with the Ashaninkas, a local indigenous group, speaking of peace but doing nothing, working with the state-run development office, distributing free food and distracting children with sweets.

This year, guerrilla columns up to 200 strong have faced off against military detachments, giving life to the penultimate stage of Guzman's step-by-step plan-the "strategic equilibrium," when Shining Path bands are converted into powerful military units. But to bid seriously for power, the Shining Path must win Lima. A third of the population lives here, an estimated 70 percent of them in shantytowns like Huaycan. According to the Peruvian Senates special committee on political violence, 71 percent of the actions carried out by the Shining Path are in Lima and along the highly urbanized coast.

Huaycan is strategically located on Lima's central highway. It could therefore control the flow to the capital of most of its food as well as a high percentage of the central sierra's mining wealth, which gives Peru more than 50 percent of its income. Also, the central sierra's huge hydroelectric plants supply Lima with half of its electrical power. Blackouts-guerrillas recently blew up four electrical towers, leaving Lima without power for twenty-four hours-are a fact of life from Chiclayo in the north through Lima to the Nazca lines, and as far east as Tingo Maria, in the heart of the Upper Huallaga Valley.

Despite these gains, the number of Peruvians who support the Shining Path remains small in most of the country. Peru has long been a country of diverse legal political options, and the Shining Path has always had difficulty winning converts where strong, independent organizations already exist.

However, the victory of political newcomer Fujimori in last year's presidential election also meant a humiliating defeat for Peru's legal left, formerly the Shining Path's most tenacious competitor at the grass-roots level. Fujimori was able to capture the vote of the small entrepreneurs who work outside the formal sector of Peru's economy-an estimated 70 percent of the population-while the left remained mired in old sectarian squabbles.

The economic shock-therapy program imposed by Fujimori just two weeks after taking office has further weakened political alternatives. Fujimori has made no effort to hide the fact that the army is his administration's main ally, and he has shown himself ready to use it to suppress legal protest. Predictably, the shock, coming on the heels of more than a decade of economic decline, has fallen most heavily on the poor. For instance, a migrants' association that for years resisted Shining Path attempts at infiltration finally dissolved last August because the members, many of them from Huaycan, could no longer afford the round-trip bus fare of 300,000 intis (30 cents) to get to weekly meetings.

The guerrillas' brutal campaign of murder as a means to power flourishes where other alternatives have vanished. Recently, the Shining Path won control of several neighbors' associations in Lima pueblos jovenes. Cadres march openly in Huaycan's central avenue at night. Crowds of senderistas have carried out daytime actions in Villa El Salvador, another huge shantytown.

Victory is not near for them. But "President Gonzalo" never said it would be quick or cheap. In a speech given to close the Shining Path's first military school in 1980, he said it would take "fifty years to sweep away imperialism and all exploiters." As yet, Fujimori has proposed no coherent plan to combat the Shining Path. To the contrary, he has tried to extend the security forces' impunity in the emergency zones by proposing a presidential decree that would protect them from any prosecution for human rights violations. It's the kind of move that feeds only hate, and therefore the Shining Path. "The killing machine" (the words are Guzman's) is ready to roll down another decade, pulling Peru ever deeper into a vacuum of violence and counterviolence, where no one is really in control. In the end, that is what Guzman wants-for there to be nothing, and in that nothing, to rule.
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Author:Kirk, Robin
Publication:The Nation
Date:Apr 29, 1991
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