Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Geographical Dimensions of the Shining Path Insurgency in Peru

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Geographical Dimensions of the Shining Path Insurgency in Peru

Article excerpt

THE effective control of geographically based regions leading to the establishment of an insurgent state is an axiom of modern revolutionary movements. The creation of an insurgent state may be conceptualized as a three-stage military-political process, with each stage characterized by distinct territorial expressions (McColl 1969, 624; 1975, 303). The first stage, mobile warfare, is typified by the ephemeral nature of insurgent activities and the insurgents' tentative confrontation of state power. At this stage the insurgents have no fixed base or permanent territorial presence. Guerrilla warfare, the second stage, is marked by the insurgents' increasing ability to confront the state openly and by establishment of a core area which they control. In the later phases of this stage, additional insurgent core areas controlled by insurgents are established. The final stage is the creation of a full-fledged, territorial-based insurgent state. This stage is characterized militarily by the insurgents' ability to compete openly with the forces of the established state and administratively by imposing territorial units and structures of governance.

In 1980 a Maoist faction of the Communist party in Peru, known as the Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, initiated an armed insurgency against the Peruvian state. The effects of the Shining Path on the economic, social, and political life of Peru have been widespread. The strategy and tactics of the Shining Path have included important geographical elements in the movement's efforts to overthrow the successive democratic governments. This article identifies the territorial dimensions of the Shining Path insurgency and analyzes its progress toward the establishment of an insurgent state.

Beginning in the mid-1960s the Shining Path established a vast network of supporters and sympathizers in the rural areas of the southern Andean departments of Ayacucho and Apurimac, primarily through control of the education faculty at the Universidad Nacional San Cristobal de Huamanga in Ayacucho (Degregori 1990). Control of faculty and curriculum provided adherents of the Shining Path with a mechanism for recruiting revolutionary cadres from the population of provincial youths who accounted for the majority of the students at the university. Many of those early revolutionary cadres completed their studies and became school teachers in the district capitals and hamlets of Ayacucho and Apurimac. They provided the Shining Path with invaluable opportunities, including the use of teaching positions to diffuse its revolutionary message, the establishment of a widespread network of adherents and sympathizers in the countryside, and the geographical basis for the creation of territorial strongholds and eventually of so-called liberated zones once the armed struggle was initiated.


During the late 1970s the Shining Path left the university in Ayacucho and relocated to relatively inaccessible areas of the countryside, where it created "popular schools," worked closely with peasants, and began forcibly to disperse the representatives of the state, local capitalists, and large landowners (Gorriti Ellenbogen 1990, 86). Several provinces in northern Ayacucho and the province of Andahuaylas in neighboring Apurimac formed the principal territorial focus of these activities.

Securely established in these areas, the Shining Path initiated its armed conflict in Ayacucho in 1980. It followed a Maoist model that called for liberation of the countryside, an end to market-oriented agricultural production, and disarticulation of the capitalistic marketing system. Theoretically those policies would eventually cut off the supply of basic food commodities to cities, increase urban social disorder, and allow the Shining Path to encircle the principal urban areas, culminating in the downfall of the Peruvian state.

The Shining Path pursued its three-stage strategy successfully during the early 1980s in Ayacucho and Apurimac. …

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