Shining Path

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Communist Party of Peru
Shining Path's flag
Communist Party of Peru flag.
Active 1980 - Present
Country Peru
Allegiance Maoism, possibly narcotics traffickers
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
Equipment Small arms and dynamite
Nickname Sendero Luminoso, Shining Path
Motto "Long live the People's War," "It is Right to Rebel"
Colors Red
Anniversaries May 17, 1980
Comrade Artemio
Abimael Guzman (imprisoned)
Hammer and sickle
Initials "PCP"

The Communist Party of Peru (Spanish: El Partido Comunista del Perú), more commonly known as the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), is a Maoist guerrilla organization in Peru. The more familiar name distinguishes the group 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: "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 refer to them as PCP-SL.

Shining Path's stated goal is to replace Peruvian bourgeois institutions with a communist peasant revolutionary regime, presumably passing first through the Maoist developmental stage of New Democracy. Since the capture of its leader Abimael Guzmán in 1992, it has only been sporadically active. 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.

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


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 1964.

Shining Path first established a foothold in San Cristóbal of Huamanga University, 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.

In the beginning of 1980, 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 avoid repeating mistakes and purge bad habits of work. 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 the province of Ayacucho. 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. It gained some support from peasants by beating and killing widely disliked figures in the countryside. For example, it often executed cattle rustlers, whose crime is considered particularly 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 regions of Ayacucho, Apurímac, and Huancavelica. However, only a small minority of peasants were ever as enthusiastically Maoist as the Shining Path cadre.

Shining Path's credibility was also bolstered by the government's initially tepid response to the insurgency. For a long time, the government simply ignored Shining Path, believing it to be relatively benign or, as press said in the first years, that they were only "lunatics." Additionally, the civilian president, Fernando Belaúnde Terry, was reluctant to cede authority to the armed forces, as his first government had ended in a military coup The result was that, to the peasants in the areas where the Shining Path was active, the state appeared impotent. When it became clear the Shining Path represented a threat to the state, the government declared an "emergency zone" in the Ayacucho area, and granted the military the power to arbitrarily arrest any suspicious person. The military used this power extremely heavy-handedly, detaining scores of innocent people, at times subjecting them to torture and rape. In several massacres, the military wiped out entire villages. Military personnel took to wearing black ski-masks to hide their identity as they committed these crimes.

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 started fires in several shopping malls. 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 district of Miraflores in Lima, killing more than 20 people and destroying several buildings.

During this period, Shining Path also targeted 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 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 Maoism (or "Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung thought"), and was instead referred to as "Marxism-Leninism-Maoism-Gonzalo thought." (often referred to, in Spanish, as MLM-PG).

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 has been frequently accused of particularly brutal methods of killing. 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" don't exist except for the bourgeoisie 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.


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, and quickly lost almost all sympathy that it once had.

Many peasants were unhappy with its 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 livelihood 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.

Most Marxist Peruvian political parties considered Shining Path's analysis – that Peru was a semi-feudal nation analogous to China in the 1930s and 1940s – as deeply flawed.

Faced with a hostile population, the guerrilla war began to falter. 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 some rondas killed 13 senderistas; in February in Sacsamarca, rondas stabbed and killed the Shining Path commanders of that area. In March 1983, rondas 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, many of whom were children, including at one who was only six months old. Also killed were several women, some of them pregnant. Most of them died by machete hacks, and some were shot at close range in the head 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 28 August 2003.

Theodore Dalrymple wrote that "The worst brutality I ever saw was that committed by Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) in Peru, in the days when it seemed possible that it might come to power. If it had, I think its massacres would have dwarfed those of the Khmer Rouge. As a doctor, I am accustomed to unpleasant sights, but nothing prepared me for what I saw in Ayacucho, where Sendero first developed under the sway of a professor of philosophy, Abimael Guzman."

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. The government also sent forces to take back an Ayacucho prison that had recently been taken over by its own incarcerated Shining Path members. The military forces used mortars and automatic weapons, killing at least 35 as family members watched. This was caught on film and shown in a documentary entitled People of the Shining Path.

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.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) established by President Alejandro Toledo found in a 2003 report that 69,280 people had died or disappeared – 22,507 fully identified as dead and 46,773 disappearances. Shining Path was estimated to be responsible for the death of 31,331 people 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 campesino self-defense organizations — supposedly its social base — and the organization fractured into splinter groups. 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

Although the organization has virtually disappeared, a militant faction of Shining Path called Proseguir (or "Onward") continues to be sporadically active in the region of the Ene and Apurimac valleys on the eastern slopes of the Andes, some 300 miles southeast of Lima. 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. According to the Peruvian government, the faction consists of around 100 hardliners from other (now disbanded) regional Shining Path units. The government claims that Proseguir is operating in alliance with drug traffickers.

The Proseguir faction has been blamed for an upsurge in guerrilla activity in the region during 2003. On June 9, 2003 a Shining Path group attacked a camp in Tocache, Ayacucho, and took 68 employees of the Argentinean company Techint and three police guards as hostages. They had been working in the Camisea gas pipeline project, a gasoduct 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 rumor, the company paid the ransom.

Government forces have had a number of successes in capturing Proseguir's 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 last free 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 another two were high-level school administrators.

Despite these arrests, Shining Path continued 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, 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, who was believed to be the commander responsible for the killing of the policemen. After the killing, the minister of the interior said that he believed that Shining Path would be defeated.

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