Abimael Guzman led a guerrilla war in the 1980s that pushed Peru into a spiral of violence


In 1969, a philosophy professor in his thirties founded a political group along with 11 others, with the stated aim to address the wide class and ethnic divide in Peru. Calling himself the fourth sword of Marxism — the other three being Marx, Lenin and Mao — Abimael Guzman believed the outfit, Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path, could organise the Quechua peasants in the Andes and lead a “people’s war” to overthrow the “bourgeois” government in Lima. The Shining Path launched a guerrilla war in the 1980s that pushed Peru into a spiral of violence for more than a decade. It embarked on a series of assassinations, car bombings, and mass shootings, often killing the people on whose behalf it claimed to wage war. In 1992, Guzman was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died last Saturday, aged 86, in a naval prison.

Guzman was one among the Maoist leaders who emerged in the Third World in the 1960s. Inspired by Maoism, they dreamed of organising peasants and encircling the cities. But ideological blindness and the use of mindless violence to achieve goals alienated them from the very people they wished to liberate, and turned them into terror outfits. As in the case of many extremist groups in Latin America, the Shining Path was crushed by the might of the state and its leaders were eliminated or sent to prison.

But movements such as the Shining Path can linger on in new forms in the absence of institutional interventions to address the social disparities that gave birth to the tide. For instance, the Movadef (Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights), reportedly popular among the youth, has been inspired by the Shining Path, though it claims to shun violence.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 15, 2021 under the title ‘The fourth sword’.

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