The challenge of Shining Path; Peru's enigmatic killers.
"They began to slaughter us with knives, like when we kill sheep," Manuel later recounted from a hospital bed, where he was treated for a hatchet cut in the neck and a bullet wound in the jugular vein. "I pretended I was dead."
Manuel was lucky. More than two dozen neighbors, including three of his relatives, did not survive.
Using simple weapons such as knives, dynamite and slingshots, bands of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas have slaughtered thousands of Peruvians--government officials, peasants, police. They have transformed Peru into a land of fear and suspicion, threatening the country's recently restored and still fragile democracy. Moreover, their terrorism has provoked military counter-measures which may, in the long run, pose a greater danger than the guerrillas. Peru's armed forces, which have been ordered by President Fernando Belaunde Terry to eradicate terrorism, have been accused of murdering civilians in a desperate effort to root out the elusive guerrillas.
Compared with other Latin American guerrilla groups, Sendero Luminoso's objectives are enigmatic. Its members follow the teachings of Marx, Lenin and Mao but contemptuously dismiss the Chinese and Soviet systems as watered-down versions of communism. They reserve their fiercest hatred for Peru's indigenous left.
In 1964, Peru's Communist Party split into pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese factions. A year later, Sendero's reputed leader, Abimel Guzman, founded a group known as the Red Flag. The name was later changed to Shining Path of Jose Carlos Mariategui. (Mariategui, a writer, argued that Peru should not lose its Indian roots in the rush to achieve a Latin American identity.) Sendero emerged in its present form in 1980, shortly after the election of President Belaunde Terry, the first civilian leader in twelve years. At first, its tactics were puzzling. Butchered dogs tagged with names of Chinese leaders were found hung from lampposts in Ayacucho, a poor southern province that is considered the center of the rebel movement. Gradually, people figured out the symbolism: the dead animals represented modern Chinese politicians, whom Sendero has branded "running dogs of revisionism."
But the guerrillas weren't satisfied with smybolism. Soon they began slaughtering peasants and strewing hacked-up corpses along mountain roads. Most of the victims were apolitical, but during the last year, the rebels have attacked members of Peru's Civil Guard, soldiers and local officials. (All told, between 3,000 and 6,000 deaths have been attributed to terrorist attacks and military action.) On July 24, Saul Munoz, Mayor of Huancayo, a southern city in the Andes, was machine-gunned to death while taking his customary early-morning run in a eucalyptus forest outside the city. He was Huancayo's third major to be struck by terrorists and the second to be killed.
Sendero's atrocities have become grist for Peruvian dailies, which routinely proclaim the number of deaths in bold headlines such as "They Killed 26 Peasants." Everyone knows who "they" are.
Abimael Guzman, 49, is a beefy, brilliant former philosophy professor from San Cristobal National University at Huamanga in Ayacucho. A studious-looking revolutionary with a taste for American novels and classical music, Guzman wrote his dissertation in 1961 on the esoteric topic of Kant's theory of space. For several years he had been distilling the thoughts of Marx, Lenin and Mao, who are known in Peru as the "Three Swords of Marxism." Now Guzman is called the fourth sword. He is said to have learned Quechua, an Indian tongue, in the belief that revolutionaries should merge with the culture of peasants, who will ultimately stage the revolution. Guzman married one of his former students and has reportedly chosen to forgo parenthood so that he can proselytize full time. Among Spanish-speaking urban Peruvians, he is known as Comrade Gonzolo, but in Ayacucho he is called Puka-Inti, Quechua for "Red Sun." Guzman reportedly recruited many of his followers at the university, whose students come from one of the country's poorest provinces and have little hope of getting a job after graduation.
For all its notoriety, Sendero is highly secretive. Visiting journalists accustomed to lengthy meetings with other Latin American guerrilla groups find that the rebels want no contact with the press. When Peru's Attorney General suggested negotiating with the terrorists last year, they gave no response.
Earlier this year, Belaunde Terry decided to turn over the antiguerrilla campaign to the armed forces. Having been deposed in a military coup in 1968 during a previous term as President, Belaunde Terry was reluctant to take the step, but he finally gave in to widespread demands for action. After the military entered the fight, hundreds of people were reported missing, and it appeared that Sendero was not to blame in many cases. Families reported witnessing the abduction of loved ones by soldiers hours or days before their bodies were found. Critics of the government charge that Peru is following the example set by Argentina during its "dirty war," when disappearances became commonplace.
"We believe that there have been cases in which the government has attributed responsibility [for murders] to Sendero Luminoso when in fact it was the government that was responsible," Rona Weitz, Amnesty International's U.S. coordinator for Latin America, said recently. Last year the organization appealed to Belaunde Terry to investigate several alleged murders. One of the supposed victims was later discovered to be alive, however, and after criticizing Amnesty for inaccurate research, the President shelved the inquiry.
Another human rights organization, Americas Watch, has suggested that Belaunde Terry form a national commission on human rights. "Peru has very poorly trained police forces which are traditionally corrupt and brutal. They have been further corrupted by narcotics traffic," charged Aryeh Neier, the group's executive director. "Sendero Luminoso is perhaps the most brutal and vicious guerrilla group that has ever appeared in the Western Hemisphere, but Peru has the worst possible instituions to deal with it. . . . Under these circumstances, turning it over to the military is a recipe for disaster."
The military's role also troubles Enrique Zileri, publisher of Caretas, a popular Lima weekly magazine, who fears the army may be acting indiscriminately. "The problem is in distinguishing friend from foe in the rural areas," Zileri said, pointing out that Senderistas are largely indistinguishable from other youths. "The strategy is to poke the bull without breaking the china."
Peruvian officials, though reluctant to divert dwindling public funds to the country's internal war, reportedly have sent a delegation to the Soviet Union to discuss a $50 million arms purchase. They also want more assistance from the United States, which increased military aid this year from $4 million to $10 million. While State Department officials deny that Peru's internal struggles were a factor in the increase, they say that Sendero Luminoso threatens a key U.S. program in the country: a five-year $34 million drive to eradicate cocaine trafficking in the verdant jungle highlands of the upper Huallaga Valley. "One thing traffickers and Sendero Luminoso have in common is the spread of violence," a State Department spokesman for the project said. Because it fears guerrilla attacks, a 300-member police unit, trained and equipped by the United States, has been hampered in its attempts to apprehend dealers who transport coca leaves to Colombia processing plants in twin-engine planes capable of landing on jungle airstrips. Peruvian officials fear that U.S. aid will be cut off if they are accused of using funds from the antidrug program to fight terrorists.
On November 19 the program was temporarily suspended after fifty submachine-gun-wielding men murdered ninteen Peruvian employees of the U.S.-financed Cocaine Reduction Organization. Belaunde Terry called the killers "narco-terrorists." No one can confirm that Sendero is working actively with drug traffickers, but the Peruvian government has consistently maintained that an alliance exists. If that is true it places the anticoca program in a delicate position. Congress provided funding to eradicate cocaine, not to involve the United States in Peru's internal insurgencies. State Department officials appear anxious to avoid Congressional charges that the aid is being misused.
Belaunde Terry's bold military action against the guerrillas has been applauded by many Peruvians, but it has also aroused the country's numerous leftist groups, who worry that the government will clamp down on legal political expression. Peru has a leftist tradition that goes back to the 1920s and is powerful today. APRA (Popular Revolutionary American Alliance), the leading left-to-center party, which is currently predicted to with the 1985 presidential election, was founded in that decade by Raul Haya de la Torre. The Peruvian Communist Party was also founded in the 1920s, by Jose Carlos Mariategui, who, despite his idolization by Sendero, continues to be revered as a national figure. His Book Seven Essays on Attaining the Peruvian Reality is required reading in the schools. Lima's new Mayor, Alfonso Barrantes, a Marxist, belongs to the United Left, a coalition of communist, socialist and liberal groups, as did Munoz, the slain Mayor of Huancayo.
Although the enmity between Sendero and the United Left may seem curious, it derives from the former's unique modus operandi. Sendero emphasizes destruction and seems to have no interest in achieving the United Left's goals: radical redistribution of the country's wealth to the peasants and the urban poor living in the straw-walled, roofless slums euphemistically called pueblos jovenes, or "young cities."
"The problem with Sendero," observed on leftist concerned because the guerrillas have not said what they would do after taking power, "is that is appears to be radical in its method but not in its government."
"It's intimidation and nothing else, to knock the country off balance. They want to eliminate capitalism," said APRA member C. Panizo.
While prospects of a Sendero takeover appear remote at this time, no one denies that its tactics, which became more aggressive in early summer, have been effective. "Sendero Luminoso had subsided, but it has come back with enough strength to force a change in the government's relationship with the military," said Enrique Zileri, who was forced to flee the country during the last period of military rule. Cover photographs displayed on his office walls bear witness to Sendero's impact. Those from decades ago depict beauty queens and newlyweds. The recent ones frequently feature corpses--casualties of Sendero's war on its own country.
Sendero has also had a disruptive impact on the nation's vulnerable economy. Belaunde Terry estimated that by the end of the summer the terrorists had inflicted damage totaling $250 million, blowing up power plants, bridges, railroad stations, schools, police barracks and other facilities. By dynamiting a hydroelectric tower earlier this year, Sendero deprived Lima households and industries of electricity for three days.
The violence has frightened away tourists, and the loss of their trade has hurt large hotels and small shops alike. Last year a tiny souvenir shop near Lima's anthropological museum displayed an impressive inventory of elaborate weavings, sculpted Nativity scenes and terra-cotta statues. Today the shop's selection is skimpy, reflecting the belief of business people that things will get worse before they get better. In the summer the President called on the nation's political parties to unite against the terrorist threat, labeling it "an international conspiracy to discredit Peru and stop the tourist flow, which brings very important economic resources for development."
Belaunde Terry has succeeded in rallying the country arond his effort to contain the insurgents, but he has yet to establish a link between the guerrillas and outside forces. Many Peruvians view Sendero's antipathy toward established communist countries as a good indication that it has no foreign backing, and U.S. State Department officials are relatively unconcerned that Peru's exotic brand of terrorism will be exported beyond its borders. "These people are a ragtag movement with no outside weapons supply. Ninety percent of the attacks are done with dynamite," explained Zileri.
Why, then, has Sendero been so difficult to contain? One answer is that PEru's police and military forces are relatively inexperienced combating internal political violence. Also, Sendero's strategy, borrowed from Mao's writings on guerrilla warfare, has been effective. The guerrillas' favorite tactic is to swoop down on groups of soldiers, then flee into the brush. Many Peruvian soldiers hail from the cities and are unaccustomed to the cold weather and rugged terrain of the guerrillas' mountain hideways.
Sendero has still another advantage. Police and soldiers, aware they are primary targets, are afraid. One soldier, Eduardo Ordonez, was murdered while standing Sunday evening guard duty in Lima. He was onie of twenty-six policemen and soldiers reportedly felled by terrorists during a two-week period this summer. Some were shot while on duty, others were killed by bombs hurled into police headquarters.
Attempts by the police to infiltrate the group have met with little success. Traitors are rare because of the ruthless way former comrades deal with those who are caught. Some have ended up as corpses heaved into public plazas, the hammer and sickle insignia carved into their flesh.
A female high-school student who witnessed a band of Sendero youths holding a "peoples' trial" of a peer suspected of giving names of police offered this account of a Lima reporter. They stood the boy in a plaza, calling him a traitor and a coward, the girl said.
Then in front of everyone they cut his head off with a knife. . . . There was nothing we could do to save him. Five minutes later one of them yelled, "Whoever does the same thing will receive the same punishment!" Then they left after making us shout allegiances to Comrade Gonzol.
Still, some alleged memberd have been apprehended. Earlier this year police arrrested Antonio Diaz Martinez, a small, gray-haired professor of agriculture at the university where Guzman taught. Diaz Martinez, who once visited China to study agrarian reform, has been influenced by the teachings of Mao and has writtenk about the effect of technological change on the peasants' traditional ways. In a 1969 book titled Ayacucho: Hambre y Esperanza he proposed a worker-peasant alliance that would expropriate land from large property-holders by force and revive the Inca custom of communal farming. He has denied any affiliation with the terrorists.
The guerrillas view today's Peru as resembling prerevolutionary China: a colonialized, semifeudal land whose peasants have been forced to produce wealth for the country's small, non-Indian population. They question whether peasants benefit from high-technology farming methods and advocate replacing the capitalist market system with subsistence farming. Such a program explains why Sendero has forbidden many peasants--seemingly their natural allies--from selling goods in the marketplace and has murdered commercial farmers who violate the directive.
"Sendero is an Andean expression because its major objective is to reach poor peasants," explained Ayacucho-born anthropologist Rodrigo Montoya. He suggested that the terrorists have capitalized on the peasants' historical resentment of the government in Lima, which they believe has ignored them. (In one province, where nearly noe of every five babies dies a birth, health care is largely unavailable.) The peasants' sense of abandonment, Montoya maintains, "creates an Andean anger against an old and secular oppression. What fondness can you have for a democratic system from which you do not benefit but, on the contrary, are a victim of?"
Sendero's methods of killing derive from Andean folkways. Many victims are turned face down. Others have their eyes and tongues gouged out and their hands and feet cut off. Such ritual murders, anthropologists suggest, reflect an Indian belief that the victim's spirit must be prevented from leaving the grave and revealing the murderer. Also, hanging dogs from lampposts is an Inca expression of disrespect.
Near a small park in Lima, a well-dressed young man lowers his voice and looks about nervously, concerned someone will identify him as a Senderista because of his conversation with a reporter. Previously a member of the United Left, he said he was disillusioned because it has accomplished nothing beyond electing candidates to high offices. "The United Left has been totally worn out by electoral politics," he said. "What you have to realize is that the key word here is 'corrupton.' Police will take bribes; scholars will plagiarize themselves; everyone is corrupt. . . . We are witnessing the total demoralization of a society that has no more expectations for utopias. I'd rather vote for Gonzolo than Barrantes [Lima's leftist Mayor]. What we need is pachacuti ['political upheaval']."
Four years and thousands of deaths after it emerged from obscurity, Sendero's bold revolution remains confined within its own country, a poten, hybrid seed blown down from the Andes to germinate in urban areas. Even those who believe Sendero will remain contained within Peru's borders, however, readily concede one thing. The insurgents have created a phenomenon few Latin American neighbors can ignore: the capacity for destruction among disaffected people energized by revolutionary chemistry, terrorist strategy and one relentless zealot.
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|Date:||Dec 8, 1984|
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