Friday, December 30, 2011

Shining Path is no More, but the Causes still Remain in Peru

From 1980, the terrorist group Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), officially the Communist Party of Peru-Shining Path (Partydo Comunista del Peru-Sendero Luminoso), waged a bloody campaign against the government of Peru. The group collapsed after its charismatic leader Abimael Guzman-known as Presidente (Chairman) Gonzalo-was captured in September 1992.

The Sendero Luminoso received the strongest backing at least in its initial years from the poor indigenous people of Peru. They were not a factor in Peruvian politics and economy which were dominated by the Whites and the mixed White-Indian (Mestizo) minority. The Indians lived in the mountains (La Sierra) in abject poverty and the Sendero cadres mobilized these marginalized communities. Later, Sendero terror campaign drove some peasant communities against them but until the end they were still the main support base for the rebels.

Although the Shining Path has already faded away, some of the factors which helped their growth still remain. Peruvians, especially the Indians in the Sierra and the urban areas are still living in poverty although things are much better than the 1980s. Still nearly 15% of Peruvians live with an income of less than US $ 2 per day. Just over half of the population lives below national poverty line.

Meanwhile Peru is witnessing the increased oil, natural gas and especially mining revenues flowing in to the country. This has helped it to maintain a positive economic growth despite the global recession in the last few years. Nevertheless, it is still doubtful whether the benefits of the mining boom reach the lower strata of society. As of 2010, unemployment in Lima was nearly 8% and underemployment was over 42%. In the countryside it must be even higher.

Recent years have seen the increasing popular anger directed at the mining projects. In June 2011, protestors even seized a provincial airport in Puno region in Southern Peru. This area is largely inhabited by the Aymara Indians. They protested mainly to preserve scarce water sources, protect their ancestral lands and prevent potential pollution. Meanwhile, violent protests erupted later in the year at Cajamarca against the Conga mining project. The local Quechua Indians in this Northern region are worried about four mountain lakes which are their sources of water. The new ‘left wing’ president of Peru, Ollanta Humala imposed a state of emergency in the region to curb the protests. However, the mining project was later put on hold.

Growing protests against the mining projects and the continuing poverty are factors that can be utilized to mobilize the Indian population in Peru. However, there are three important factors which may preclude the possibility of a resurgence of the Shining Path. Firstly, the government institutions are present in many places in the countryside unlike in the 1970s and 1980s. They are carrying out more development projects than few decades ago. Secondly, the people of Peru still remember the terror of Shining Path and may not be so willing to support a repetition. Thirdly, a charismatic leader should emerge to do what Guzman did from the 1960s, laying the ground work and leading the “People’s War” of the Shining Path.

However, it should be remembered that Guzman did not seem to be a revolutionary, let alone of the caliber he was, in the early years of his career. One cannot be quite assured of the absence of a new Guzman. The challenge faced by the new president Ollanta Humala is to ensure that the wealth is distributed more justly. By this the resurgence of a violent rebellion will be prevented.

Picture: Ollanta Humala (Brasilia, March 2006) by Jose Cruz/ABr. From Wikimedia Commons

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