|“||The People’s War begins to sweep away the old order in order to inevitably destroy it. From the old, the new shall be born. And finally, like the pure and glorious phoenix bird, Communism will arise for all time.||„|
|~ Abimael Guzmán, We Are the Initiators, 1980|
Manuel Rubén Abimael Guzmán Reynoso (born in Arequipa, December 3rd, 1934), also known as "Comrade Gonzalo", was a Peruvian former professor of philosophy, founder, and leader of Shining Path, a terrorist group with a Maoist ideology.
He was mainly active during the last decade of the Cold War, from 1980 (year of the founding of Shining Path) until his capture in 1992 by the Peruvian government. He is accused of being the main cause of Internal conflict in Peru (1980-2000), and violating human rights. Abimael is sentenced for life and incarcerated at the Callao naval base.
The Shining Path's insurgency
The Shining Path movement was at first largely confined to academic circles in Peruvian universities. In the late 1970s, however, the movement developed into a guerrilla group centered around Ayacucho. In May 1980, the group launched its war against the government of Peru by burning the ballot boxes in Chuschi, a village near Ayacucho, in an effort to disrupt the first democratic elections in the country since 1964. Shining Path eventually grew to control vast rural territories in central and southern Peru and achieved a presence even in the outskirts of Lima, where it staged numerous attacks.
The purpose of Shining Path's campaign was to demoralize and undermine the government of Peru in order to create a situation conducive to a violent coup which would put its leaders in power. The Shining Path targeted not only the army and police, but also government employees at all levels, other leftist militants such as members of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), workers who did not participate in the strikes organized by the group, peasants who cooperated with the government in any way (including by voting in democratic elections), and ordinary middle-class inhabitants of Peru's main cities. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission later estimated that the resulting conflict led to the deaths of some seventy thousand people, approximately half of them at the hands of the Shining Path and a third at the hands of the state.
Initially Guzmán attempted to win over the support of citizens by punishing people they viewed as corrupt government officials and other unpopular leaders. However, Shining Path's increasingly brutal methods together with strictly imposed curfews, the prohibition of alcohol and an overall sense of insecurity and fear led to an increased popular reaction against the communist party. Eventually Guzmán's plan backfired as rural militia or "rondas" rallied support for the military against Shining Path. The very peasants Guzmán claimed to defend had turned against the Shining Path. This resulted in a cyclical state of violence in which Maoist guerillas embarked in ruthless punitive expeditions against Peruvian civilians living in the Andean region. In 1983, 69 people (including women and children) from the highland town of Lucanamarca were tortured and murdered by the Shining Path in what became known as the Lucanamarca massacre.
Guzmán's image as a dispassionate murderer became widespread after he moved against the city of Lima. After a series of bombings and selective assassinations the whole nation was shocked in 1992 when a car bomb exploded in one of Lima's busiest commercial districts on Tarata street, thus causing many casualties and enormous material losses. To this day, Guzmán denies responsibility for the Tarata bombing by claiming that it was a "deplorable mistake."
The movement promoted the writings of Guzmán, called Gonzalo Thought, a new "theoretical understanding" that built upon Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism whereby he declared Maoism to be a "third and higher stage of Marxism," having defined Maoism as "people's war." In 1989, Guzmán declared that the Shining Path (which he referred to as the "Communist Party of Peru") had progressed from waging a people's war to waging a "war of movements." He further argued that this was a step towards achieving "strategic equilibrium" in the near future, based on Maoist theories of waging people's war. Guzmán claimed that such an equilibrium would manifest itself by ungovernability under the "old order." When that moment arrived, Guzmán believed that Shining Path would be ready to move on to its "strategic offensive".
Theodore Dalrymple, an English right-wing intellectual, has written 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 Guzmán."
In 1992, during the first administration of President Alberto Fujimori, the National Directorate Against Terrorism (DIRCOTE) began casing several residences in Lima because agents suspected that terrorists were using them as safehouses. One of those residences, in the upper-class neighborhood of Surco, had been operating as a ballet studio. The DIRCOTE operatives routinely searched the garbage taken out from the house. The house was supposedly inhabited by only one person, the dance teacher Maritza Garrido Lecca, but it was soon noticed that the household produced more garbage than one person could account for. Furthermore, agents found discarded tubes of cream for the treatment of psoriasis, an ailment that Guzmán was known to have. On September 12, 1992, an elite unit of the DIRCOTE raided the Surco residence. On the second floor of the house, they found and arrested Guzmán and eight others, including Laura Zambrano and Elena Iparraguirre, Guzmán's female companion.
At the time of capture, the police seized Guzmán's computer, in which they found a very detailed register of his armed forces and the weapons each regiment, militia and support base had in each region of the country. Guzmán had recorded that, in 1990, the Shining Path had 23,430 members armed with approximately 235 revolvers, 500 rifles and 300 other items of military hardware such as grenades. The Shining Path remained active after Guzman's arrest.
Guzmán was tried by a court of hooded military judges under provisions of articles 15 and 16 of Law 25475 adopted by Fujimori's government in May 1992 after April's constitutional crisis. The reason for this was to protect the judges' lives, as Shining Path was known for brutal retaliation against judges who convicted their members. After a three-day trial, Guzmán was sentenced to life imprisonment and incarcerated at the naval base on the island of San Lorenzo off the coast of Lima.
Guzmán is currently incarcerated in the maximum security prison of the naval base of Callao, the port of Lima. Fellow prisoners there include Víctor Polay, leader of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, and Vladimiro Montesinos, the former head of the National Intelligence Service who supervised the construction of the prison and served under the (now also imprisoned) President Alberto Fujimori.