Abimael Guzman, Leader of Guerrilla Group That Terrorized Peru, Dies at
From (David P.)@21:1/5 to All on Sun Sep 12 15:05:39 2021
Abimael Guzman, Leader of Guerrilla Group That
Terrorized Peru, Dies at 86
By Stephen Kinzer, 9/11/21, NY Times
Abimael Guzman, the founder & leader of the Shining Path
guerrilla movement, which spread terror across much of
Peru in the 80s & 90s, died on Saturday in Peru. He was 86.
Guzman died in a max-security prison in the Callao naval
base in Peru, where he was serving a life sentence, prison
officials said. They said he died of health complications
but did not specify an exact cause.
An estimated 70,000 Peruvians were killed during the
decade-long peak of the Shining Path insurgency, at least
1/3 at the hands of guerrillas. Shining Path advocated a
violent reordering of society away from the vices of urban
life. Its leaders echoed Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge w/warnings
that “rivers of blood” would flow after their victory, &
that as many as one million Peruvians might be put to death.
Shining Path was almost entirely Guzman’s conception, &
for a time he seemed poised to seize power in one of Latin
America’s most important countries. His avowedly Maoist
movement was one of the most violently radical in the
hemisphere’s modern history, & his fertile mind & extra-
ordinary powers of persuasion laid the basis for an
intense personality cult.
Like many of his generation in Latin America, Guzman was
thrilled with Castro’s revolution in Cuba in 1959. Later,
however, he came to scorn Castro, the Soviet Union & even
moderate factions in China.
Guzman visited China several times. He came away with the
vision of a Peru without money, banks, industry or foreign
trade, where all would be a landholder & live from barter.
Both of Peru’s main Communist parties expelled him, but
he developed a devoted coterie of students & professors.
“He was a very charismatic teacher, with a florid rhetorical
style that really attracted students,” the poli-scientist
David Scott Palmer said in 2013. “He became so strong
partly because of 17 years of prep, & partly because govt
missteps created conditions favorable to revolution.”
(Prof. Palmer was a Peace Corps volunteer in the 60s &
shared an office at San Cristobal of Huamanga National U.
in Ayacucho, Peru, with Guzman, who was then a faculty
member. Palmer died in 2018.)
Shining Path carried out its first violent actions in 1980,
including the bombing of polling places & takeover of town
halls in remote villages. One morning in December, people
in Lima, the capital, awoke to the sight of dead dogs
hanging from dozens of lampposts. Around the neck of each
was a placard with a slogan referring to factional struggle
within the Chi-Comm Party.
This was the first sign of the phantasmagorical savagery
that was about to descend on Peru. Guzman, calling himself
President Gonzalo, proclaimed himself the “4th Sword of
Communism,” after Marx, Lenin & Mao. He preached “Gonzalo
Thought,” which he said would bring the world to a “higher
stage of Marxism.”
“When the Shining Path took up arms, the attempt seemed
a doomed effort to graft the Chinese experience onto the
entirely different Peruvian culture,” the Peruvian journo
Gustavo Gorriti wrote. “To most people in Peru, including
the legal left, the movement seemed to be a crazy sect,
hopelessly divorced from reality.”
But Guzman’s fighters waged a spectacularly successful
military campaign that brought large parts of the country
under their control. Terror & assassination were favored
tactics. The conflict spread from rural areas to Lima, where
supplies of water, electricity & food became unreliable.
Bombs exploded in movie theaters, restaurants & police
stations. Kidnappings were rampant. Notices appeared on
walls warning civilians to flee. Thousands did. The economy,
already in dire shape because of poor political leadership,
plunged toward chaos.
Shining Path tried to find a base among Indigenous people
whose needs had long been ignored by Peru’s elite, though
many Indigenous people were also victims of the insurgency.
Part of Guzman’s strategy was to draw the nation’s army
into bloody reprisals, revealing its “fascist entrails.”
Military repression was indeed fierce. Soldiers killed
many civilians & terrorized Indigenous regions, driving
many to support the rebels.
After several years, the govt changed course. It withdrew
some abusive units, gave soldiers rudimentary human rights
training & began civic action programs.
Two figures associated with the campaign against Shining
Path, President Fujimori & his intel director, Vladimiro
Montesinos, were later given long prison sentences after
being convicted of engaging in corruption & sponsoring
On Sept. 12, 1992, members of a special police unit
dedicated to tracking Shining Path leaders closed in on
a home in a well-to-do Lima neighborhood & captured Guzman.
He appeared in a military court wearing a black-&-white
striped prisoner’s uniform. Hooded judges found him guilty
of terror crimes & sentenced him to life imprisonment.
In 1993, Guzman appeared several times on Peruvian TV &
called on Shining Path fighters to give up their arms.
Most did, & the rebellion faded.
Manuel Rubén Abimael Guzman Reynoso was born on Dec. 3,
1934, in the town of Mollendo, on Peru’s southern coast.
His father, who had 6 kids with 3 women, won a prize in
the national lottery & sent him to a Roman Catholic high
school & to college.
After earning degrees in law & philosophy, Guzman joined
the faculty at San Agustín National U. in the mountain
town of Arequipa. He became director of its teacher
training program, which attracted students from
Guzman is not known to have had children. As a young man,
he married Augusta La Torre, daughter of a Communist Party
leader in Ayacucho. Known as “Comrade Norah,” she became
the 2nd in command of Shining Path. She died in 1988 under
In 2010, when Guzman was 75, the authorities gave him
permission to marry Elena Iparraguirre, who had replaced
Comrade Norah as the #2 Shining Path leader & was also
serving a life sentence on terrorism charges. They
continued to be held in separate prisons.
Guzman was given a 2nd trial, before a civilian court,
after his military trial was found unconstitutional. In
2006 it found him guilty of aggravated terrorism & murder,
& affirmed his life sentence. At the trial, he shouted what
might have been his last public words.
“Long live the Communist Party of Peru!” he cried, waving
a fist above his head. “Glory to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!
Glory to the Peruvian people! Long live the heroes of the