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Shining Path

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Communist Party of Peru
Shining Path's flag
Flag of the Communist Party of Peru
Active 1980–present
Country Peru
Allegiance Maoism
Branch The People's Guerrilla Army is the official name of the armed branch of the party.
Role Guerrilla warfare
Size Probably a few hundred fighters
Garrison/HQ Unknown, probably Upper Huallaga Valley
Nickname Sendero Luminoso, Shining Path
Motto "Long live the People's War," "It is Right to Rebel"
Colors Red
Anniversaries May 17, 1980
Equipment Small arms and dynamite
Engagements Internal conflict in Peru
Comrade Artemio
Abimael Guzmán
Óscar Ramírez
Hammer and sickle
Initials "PCP"

The Communist Party of Peru (Spanish: Partido Comunista del Perú), more commonly known as the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), is a Maoist guerrilla organization in Peru. When it first launched the internal conflict in Peru in 1980, its stated goal was to replace what it saw as bourgeois democracy with " New Democracy." 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. The Shining Path also believed that all existing socialist countries were revisionist, and that the Shining Path itself was the vanguard of the world communist movement. Shining Path's ideology and tactics have been influential on other Maoist insurgent groups, notably the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and other Revolutionary Internationalist Movement-affiliated organizations.

Shining Path is regarded by Peru as a terrorist organization. Widely condemned for its brutality, including violence deployed against peasants, trade union organizers, popularly elected officials and the general civilian population, The group is on the U.S. Department of State's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and the European Union and Canada likewise regard them as a terrorist organization and prohibit providing funding or other financial support.

Since the capture of its leader Abimael Guzmán in 1992, the Shining Path has only been sporadically active. Certain factions of the Shining Path now claim to fight in order to force the government to reach a peace treaty with the rebels.


The common name of this group, Shining Path, distinguishes it from several other Peruvian communist parties with similar names (see Communism in Peru). It originates from a maxim of José Carlos Mariátegui, founder of the original 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"). This maxim was featured in the masthead of the newspaper of a Shining Path front group, and Peruvian communist groups are often distinguished by the names of their publications. The followers of the group are generally called senderistas. All documents, periodicals and other materials produced by the organization are signed by the Communist Party of Peru (PCP). Academics often refer to them as PCP-SL.


Shining Path was founded in the late 1960s by former university philosophy professor Abimael Guzmán (referred to by his followers by his nom de guerre Presidente Gonzalo), whose teachings created the foundation for its militant Maoist doctrine. It was an offshoot of the Communist Party of Peru — Bandera Roja (" red flag"), which in turn split from the original Peruvian Communist Party, a derivation of the Peruvian Socialist Party, founded by José Carlos Mariátegui in 1928.

Shining Path first established a foothold in San Cristóbal of Huamanga University, in Ayacucho, where Guzmán taught philosophy. The university had recently reopened after being closed for about half a century, and many students of the newly-educated class adopted Shining Path's radical ideology. Between 1973 and 1975, Shining Path gained control of the student councils in the Universities of Huancayo and La Cantuta, and developed a significant presence in the National University of Engineering in Lima and the National University of San Marcos, the oldest university in the Americas. Sometime later, it lost many student elections in the universities, including Guzmán's own San Cristóbal of Huamanga, and decided to abandon the universities and reconsolidate itself.

Beginning on March 17, 1980, the Shining Path held a series of clandestine meetings in Ayacucho, known as the Central Committee's second plenary. It formed a "Revolutionary Directorate" that was political and military in nature, and ordered its militias to transfer to strategic areas in the provinces to start the "armed struggle". The group also held its "First Military School" where militants were instructed in military tactics and weapons use. They also engaged in the " criticism and self-criticism," a Maoist practice intended to purge bad habits and avoid repeating mistakes. During the First Military School, members of the Central Committee came under heavy criticism. Guzmán did not, and he emerged from the First Military School as the clear leader of Shining Path.

Guerrilla war

When Peru's military government allowed elections for the first time in a dozen years in 1980, Shining Path was one of the few leftist political groups that declined to take part, and instead opted to launch a guerrilla war in the highlands of Ayacucho Region. On May 17, 1980, the eve of the presidential elections, it burned ballot boxes in the town of Chuschi, Ayacucho. It was the first "act of war" by Shining Path. However, the perpetrators were quickly caught, additional ballots were shipped to Chuschi, the elections proceeded without further incident, and the incident received very little attention in the Peruvian press.

Throughout the 1980s, Shining Path grew in both the territory it controlled and the number of militants in its organization, particularly in the Andean highlands. At first, it gained support from local peasants by filling the political void left by the central government providing "popular justice" albeit in a bloody, rudimentary, and arbitrary manner. For example, Shining Path beat and killed widely disliked figures in the countryside, after conducting what it termed "popular" trials. It often killed cattle rustlers, whose crime is considered egregious in poor Peruvian villages. It also killed managers of the state-controlled farming collectives and well-to-do merchants, who were unpopular with poor rural dwellers. These actions caused the peasantry of many Peruvian villages to express some sympathy for the Shining Path, especially in the impoverished and neglected regions of Ayacucho, Apurímac, and Huancavelica. At times, the civilian population of small neglected towns participated in such popular trials, especially when the victims of the trials were widely disliked. However, only a small minority of peasants were ever as dogmatically Maoist as the Shining Path cadre.

Shining Path's credibility was also bolstered by the government's initially tepid response to the insurgency. For over a year, the government refused to declare a state of emergency in the region affected by Shining Path's actions as the Interior Minister, José María de la Jara, believed the group could be easily defeated through Police actions. Additionally, the civilian president, Fernando Belaúnde Terry, who returned to power in 1980, was reluctant to cede authority to the armed forces, as his first government had ended in a military coup. This gave the impression that the President was unconcerned about the activities of Sendero. The result was that, to the peasants in the areas where the Shining Path was active, the state gave the appearance of impotence or lack of interest in the region. However, it became evident that Shining Path represented a clear threat to the state. On December 29, 1981 the government declared an "emergency zone" in the three Andean regions of Ayacucho, Huancavelica and Apurímac, and granted the military the power to arbitrarily detain any suspicious person. The military used this power extremely heavy-handedly, arresting scores of innocent people, at times subjecting them to torture and rape. Police, military forces and members of the Popular Guerrilla Army (EGP) carried out several massacres throughout the conflict. Military personnel took to wearing black ski-masks in order to protect their identities and, therefore their safety and that of their families. Masks were also used to hide the identity of military personnel as they committed crimes.

In some areas, peasants formed anti-Shining Path patrols, called rondas. They were generally poorly-equipped despite donations of guns from the armed forces. Nevertheless, Shining Path guerrillas were militarily attacked by the rondas. The first such reported attack was in January 1983 near Huata, when ronderos killed 13 senderistas; in February in Sacsamarca, rondas stabbed and killed the Shining Path commanders of that area. In March 1983, ronderos brutally killed Olegario Curitomay, one of the commanders of the town of Lucanamarca. They took him to the town square, stoned him, stabbed him, set him on fire, and finally shot him. As a response, in April, Shining Path entered the province of Huancasancos and the towns of Yanaccollpa, Ataccara, Llacchua, Muylacruz and Lucanamarca, and killed 69 people in what became known as the Lucanamarca massacre. This was the first massacre by Shining Path of the peasant community. Other incidents followed, such as the one in Hauyllo, Tambo District, La Mar Province, Ayacucho Department. In that community, Shining Path killed 47 peasants, including 14 children aged between four and fifteen. Additional massacres by Shining Path occurred, such as the one in Marcas on August 29, 1985.

Shining Path's attacks were not limited to the countryside. It mounted attacks against the infrastructure in Lima, killing civilians in the process. In 1983, it sabotaged several electrical transmission towers, causing a citywide blackout, and set fire to the Bayer industrial plant, destroying it completely. That same year, it set off a powerful bomb in the offices of the governing party, Popular Action. Escalating its activities in Lima, in June 1985 it again blew up electricity transmission towers in Lima, producing a blackout, and detonated car bombs near the government palace and the justice palace. It also was believed to be responsible for bombing a shopping mall. At the time, President Fernando Belaúnde Terry was receiving the Argentine president Raúl Alfonsín. In one of its last attacks in Lima, on July 16, 1992, the group detonated a powerful bomb on Tarata Street in the upscale Miraflores District in Lima, killing 25 people and injuring an additional 155.

During this period, Shining Path also practiced many selective assassinations targeting specific individuals, notably leaders of other leftist groups, local political parties, labor unions, and peasant organizations, some of whom were anti-Sendero Marxists. On April 24, 1985, in the midst of presidential elections, it tried to assassinate Domingo García Rada, the president of the Peruvian National Electoral Council, severely injuring him and mortally wounding his driver. In 1988, Constantin Gregory, an American citizen working for the United States Agency for International Development, was assassinated. Two French aid workers were killed on December 4 that same year. In August 1991, the group killed one Italian and two Polish priests in the department of Ancash. The following February, it assassinated María Elena Moyano, a well-known community organizer in Villa El Salvador, a vast shantytown in Lima.

By 1991, Shining Path had control of much of the countryside of the centre and south of Peru and had a large presence in the outskirts of Lima. As the organization grew in power, a cult of personality grew around Guzmán. The official ideology of Shining Path ceased to be 'Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung thought', and was instead referred to as 'Marxism-Leninism-Maoism-Gonzalo thought'. Shining Path also engaged in armed conflicts with Peru's other major guerrilla group, the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) and with campesino self-defense groups organized by the Peruvian armed forces.

Although the extent of Shining Path atrocities and the reliability of reports remains a matter of controversy, the organization's use of violence is well documented. Shining Path frequently participated in particularly brutal methods of killing of its victims. The Shining Path explicitly rejected the very idea of human rights. A Shining Path document stated:

We start by not ascribing to either Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Costa Rica [Convention on Human Rights], but we have used their legal devices to unmask and denounce the old Peruvian state. . . . For us, human rights are contradictory to the rights of the people, because we base rights in man as a social product, not man as an abstract with innate rights. "Human rights" do not exist except for the bourgeois man, a position that was at the forefront of feudalism, like liberty, equality, and fraternity were advanced for the bourgeoisie of the past. But today, since the appearance of the proletariat as an organized class in the Communist Party, with the experience of triumphant revolutions, with the construction of socialism, new democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat, it has been proven that human rights serve the oppressor class and the exploiters who run the imperialist and landowner-bureaucratic states. Bourgeois states in general. . . . Our position is very clear. We reject and condemn human rights because they are bourgeois, reactionary, counterrevolutionary rights, and are today a weapon of revisionists and imperialists, principally Yankee imperialists.

Communist Party of Peru, Sobre las Dos Colinas

Level of support

While Shining Path quickly seized control of large areas of Peru, it soon faced serious problems. Shining Path's Maoism was never popular. It never had the support of the majority of the Peruvian people. According to opinion polls, 15% of the population considered subversion to be justifiable in June 1988 while 17% considered it justifiable in 1991. In June 1991, "the total sample disapproved of the Shining Path by an 83 to 7 percent margin, with 10 percent not answering the question. Among the poorest, however, only 58% stated disapproval of the Shining Path; 11 percent said they had a favorable opinion of the Shining Path, and some 31 percent would not answer the question." A September 1991 poll found that 21 percent of those polled in Lima believed that the Shining Path did not kill and torture innocent people. The same poll found that 13% believed that society would be more just if the Shining Path won the war and 22% believed society would be equally just under the Shining Path as it was under the government.

Many peasants were unhappy with Shining Path rule for a variety of reasons, such as its disrespect for indigenous culture and institutions, and the brutality of its "popular trials" that sometimes included "slitting throats, strangulation, stoning, and burning." While punishing and even killing cattle thieves was popular in some parts of Peru, Shining Path also killed peasants and popular leaders for even minor offenses. Peasants were also offended by the rebels' injunction against burying the bodies of Shining Path victims.

Shining Path also became disliked for its policy of closing small and rural markets in order to end small-scale capitalism and to starve Lima. As a Maoist organization, it strongly opposed all forms of capitalism, and also followed Mao's dictum that guerrilla warfare should start in the countryside and gradually choke off the cities. Peasants, many of whose livelihoods depended on trade in the markets, rejected such closures. In several areas of Peru, Shining Path also launched unpopular campaigns, such as a prohibition on parties and the consumption of alcohol.

Government response and abuses

In 1991, President Alberto Fujimori issued a law that gave the rondas a legal status, and from that time they were officially called Comités de auto defensa ("Committees of Self Defence"). They were officially armed, usually with 12-gauge shotguns, and trained by the Peruvian Army. According to the government, there were approximately 7,226 comités de auto defensa as of 2005; almost 4,000 are located in the central region of Peru, the stronghold of Shining Path.

The Peruvian government also clamped down on the Shining Path in other ways. Military personnel were dispatched to areas dominated by Shining Path, especially Ayacucho, to fight the rebels. Ayacucho itself was declared an emergency zone, and constitutional rights were suspended in the area.

Initial government efforts to fight Shining Path were not very effective or promising. Military units engaged in many human rights violations, which caused Shining Path to appear in the eyes of many as the lesser of two evils. They used excessive force and killed many innocent civilians. Government forces destroyed villages and killed campesinos suspected of supporting Shining Path. They eventually lessened the pace at which the armed forces committed atrocities such as massacres. Additionally, the state began the wide-spread use of intelligence agencies in its fight against Shining Path. However, atrocities were committed by the National Intelligence Service, notably the La Cantuta massacre and the Barrios Altos massacre, both of which were committed by Grupo Colina.

After the collapse of the Fujimori government, interim President Valentín Paniagua, established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the conflict. The Commission found in its 2003 Final Report that 69,280 people died or disappeared between 1980 and 2000 as a result of the armed conflict. About 54% of the deaths and disappearances reported to the Commission were caused by the Shining Path. A statistical analysis of the available data led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to estimate that the Shining Path was responsible for the death or disappearance of 31,331 people, 46% of the total deaths and disappearances. According to a summary of the report by Human Rights Watch, "Shining Path… killed about half the victims, and roughly one-third died at the hands of government security forces… The commission attributed some of the other slayings to a smaller guerrilla group and local militias. The rest remain unattributed." The MRTA was held responsible for 1.5% of the deaths.

Capture of Guzmán and collapse

On September 12, 1992, Peruvian police captured Guzmán and several Shining Path leaders in an apartment above a dance studio in the Surquillo district of Lima. The police had been monitoring the apartment, as a number of suspected Shining Path militants had visited it. An inspection of the garbage of the apartment produced empty tubes of a skin cream used to treat psoriasis, a condition that Guzmán was known to have. Shortly after the raid that captured Guzmán, most of the remaining Shining Path leadership fell as well. At the same time, Shining Path suffered embarrassing military defeats to self-defense organizations of rural campesinos — supposedly its social base. When Guzmán called for peace talks, the organization fractured into splinter groups, with some Shining Path members in favour of such talks and others opposed. Guzmán's role as the leader of Shining Path was taken over by Óscar Ramírez, who himself was captured by Peruvian authorities in 1999. After Ramírez's capture, the group splintered, guerrilla activity diminished sharply, and previous conditions returned to the areas where the Shining Path had been active.

21st century and resurgence

Although the organization's numbers had lessened by 2003, a militant faction of Shining Path called Proseguir (or "Onward") continued to be active. It is believed that the faction consists of three companies known as the North, or Pangoa, the Centre, or Pucuta, and the South, or Vizcatan. The government claims that Proseguir is operating in alliance with drug traffickers.

On June 9, 2003, a Shining Path group attacked a camp in Ayacucho, and took 68 employees of the Argentinian company Techint and three police guards as hostages. They had been working in the Camisea gas pipeline project that would take natural gas from Cusco to Lima. According to sources from Peru's Interior Ministry, the terrorists asked for a sizable ransom to free the hostages. Two days later, after a rapid military response, the terrorists abandoned the hostages; according to government sources no ransom was paid. However, there were rumors that US$200,000 was paid to the rebels.

Government forces had successfully captured three Shining Path leading members. In April 2000, Commander José Arcela Chiroque, called "Ormeño", was captured, followed by another leader, Florentino Cerrón Cardozo, called "Marcelo" in July 2003. In November of the same year, Jaime Zuñiga, called "Cirilo" or "Dalton," was arrested after a clash in which four guerrillas were killed and an officer wounded. Officials said he took part in planning the kidnapping of the Techint pipeline workers. He was also thought to have led an ambush against an army helicopter in 1999 in which five soldiers died.

In 2003, the Peruvian National Police broke up several Shining Path training camps and captured many members and leaders. It also freed about 100 indigenous people held in virtual slavery. By late October 2003 there were 96 terrorist incidents in Peru, projecting a 15% decrease from the 134 kidnappings and armed attacks in 2002. Also for the year, 8 or 9 people were killed by Shining Path, and 6 Senderistas were killed and 209 captured.

In January 2004, a man known as Comrade Artemio and identifying himself as one of the Shining Path leaders said in a media interview that the group would resume violent operations unless the Peruvian government granted amnesty to other top Shining Path leaders within 60 days. Peru's Interior Minister, Fernando Rospigliosi, said that the government would respond "drastically and swiftly" to any violent action. In September that same year, a comprehensive sweep by police in five cities found 17 suspected members. According to the interior minister, eight of the arrested were school teachers and high-level school administrators.

Despite these arrests, Shining Path continues to exist in Peru. On December 22, 2005, Shining Path ambushed a police patrol in the Huánuco region, killing eight. Later that day they wounded an additional two police officers. In response, then President Alejandro Toledo declared a state of emergency in Huánuco, and gave the police the power to search houses and arrest suspects without a warrant. On February 19, 2006, the Peruvian police killed Héctor Aponte, believed to be the commander responsible for the ambush. In December 2006, Peruvian troops were sent to counter renewed guerrilla activity and, according to high level government officials, Shining Path's strength has reached an estimated 300 members. In November 2007, police claimed to have killed Artemio's second-in-command, a guerrilla known as JL.


  • The Vision of Elena Silves: A Novel by Nicholas Shakespeare
  • The Dancer Upstairs: A Novel by Nicholas Shakespeare, ISBN 0-385-72107-2.
  • The Dancer Upstairs movie listing from the Internet Movie Database
  • Strange Tunnels Disappearing by Gary Ley, ISBN 1-85411-302-X.
  • The Evening News, by Arthur Hailey, ISBN 0-385-50424-1.
  • Death in the Andes, by Mario Vargas Llosa, ISBN 0-14-026215-6.
  • Paper Dove (Paloma de Papel) movie listing from the Internet Movie Database
  • La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo
  • "War Cries" a first season episode of JAG.
  • Corner of the Dead by Lynn Lurie, University of Massachusetts Press (winner of the Juniper Prize for Fiction)
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