Continued from Part 1
When Peru's military government allowed elections for the first time in a dozen years in 1980, the Shining Path was one of the few leftist political groups that declined to take part. It chose to begin 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. It was the first "act of war" by the Shining Path. The perpetrators were quickly caught, additional ballots were shipped to Chuschi, the elections proceeded without further incident, and the incident received little attention in the Peruvian press.
|Shining Path propaganda
poster celebrating 5 years
of civil war (People's War)
Abimael Guzmán stated that "the triumph of the revolution will cost a million lives" - at a time when Peru's population was only 19 million. To that end, the Shining Path attempted to eradicate elements of the political and social order, attacking community leaders, teachers and professors, and political leaders. The first case of "popular justice" was the assassination in December 1980 of Benigno Medina, a landowner. In January 1982, two teachers were executed in front of their students. Several months later, 67 "traitors" were subjected to public execution. In addition, they set about demolishing all government installations and infrastructure. In August 1982, they destroyed the Center for Agricultural Research and Experimentation in Allpahaca and killed the animals.
Throughout the 1980s, the Shining Path grew in both the territory it controlled and the number of militants in its organization, particularly in the Andean highlands. It gained support from local peasants by filling the political void left by the central government and providing popular justice. This 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 popular trials, especially when the victims of the trials were widely disliked.
The Shining Path's credibility was helped 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 where the Shining Path was operating. The Interior Minister, José María de la Jara, believed the group could be easily defeated through police actions. Additionally, the 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. The result was that the peasants in the areas where the Shining Path was active thought the state was impotent or not interested in their issues.
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 abused this power, arresting scores of innocent people, at times subjecting them to torture during interrogation and rape. Police, military forces and members of the People’s Guerrilla Army (Ejército Guerrillero Popular, or EGP) carried out several massacres throughout the conflict. Military personnel took to wearing black ski-masks to hide their identities and protect their safety and that of their families. But the masks were intimidating, and also hid the identities of military personnel as they committed crimes.
In some areas, the military trained peasants and organized them into anti-rebel militias, called rondas. They were generally poorly-equipped, despite being provided arms by the state. The rondas attacked the Shining Path guerrillas. The first such reported attack was in January 1983 near Huata, when ronderos killed 13 senderistas; in February in Sacsamarca. 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.
In response, in April the Shining Path entered the province of Huanca Sancos and the towns of Yanaccollpa, Ataccara, Llacchua, Muylacruz and Lucanamarca, where they killed 69 people, in what became known as the Lucanamarca massacre. This was the first time the Shining Path massacred peasants.
Continued in Part 3: Terrorism and the Guzman Personality Cult
Information and image courtesy of Wikipedia.