Academic journal article Military Review

The Allure of Quick Victory: Lessons from , Peru's Fight against Sendero Luminoso

Academic journal article Military Review

The Allure of Quick Victory: Lessons from , Peru's Fight against Sendero Luminoso

Article excerpt

FOURTEEN YEARS AFTER a powerful rebellion spread fear and destruction throughout the nation of Peru, the commanding general of the Peruvian Army, Otto Guibovich, provided the ominous warning: "If we don't do something they will grow and we will realize we have our own FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia)."1 Sendero Luminoso (SL) conducted a violent campaign of rural guerrilla war and urban terrorism from 1 980 to 1995; however, its growth and expansion seemed to vanish in an instant with the capture of its leader, Abimael Guzman. The rapid disintegration of SL was cited as an example of successful counterinsurgency, but now rising casualties and violence caused by the formerly dormant group have called those conclusions into question. While the importance of the capture of SL's leadership is incontrovertible, recent events indicate that the underlying problems that fueled the Sendero insurgency remain. The Peruvian government must use a combination of enemy- and population-focused strategies to defeat SL and produce lasting stability.2

The Emergence of Sendero Luminoso

The environment that spawned SL is similar to that which produced numerous other insurgencies. Like other nations in Latin America, Peru had acknowledged the need to conduct land reform. In the 1960s, it began an extensive program to redistribute land to peasants from the previous hacienda system.3 The Peruvian highlands, however, did not receive much support from these initiatives. The government largely neglected the Ayacucho Department, which would become the heart of the insurgency. By 1980, the annual per capita income there was as low as $60, and three of its provinces were among the poorest 1 5 percent in the nation.4 Additionally, Ayacucho contained a majority indigenous population that had never fully integrated with Peru's coastal regions, and its inhabitants maintained the use of their native Quechuan language. The disconnected, impoverished region suffered under an antiquated social-economic structure and was ripe for revolution.

Revolutionary action sprang from the Communist Party. A splintering of the Communist Party of Peru in the 1960s gave birth to the Communist Party of Peru in the Shining Path of Mariátegui (Sendero Luminoso in Spanish).5 Its leader, Abimael Guzman, was a devout follower of Mao Tse-Tung and his philosophies of guerrilla warfare. Mao's highly influential book, On Guerrilla Warfare, set the tone for the beginnings of SL. Mao advised that "success largely depends upon powerful political leaders who work unceasingly to bring about internal unification."6 Shining Path began this process of unification at the University of Huamanga, in the city of Ayacucho, where Guzman was a professor. Guzman and other members of SL were able to dominate the faculty and student organizations of the university during the late 1960s and early 1970s.7 During this time, they indoctrinated the largely indigenous student body with a Maoist ideology that highlighted the vast disparity of wealth in Peru. In 1974, SL lost control of the university, but it had already succeeded in creating a "revolutionary consciousness" in the population of Ayacucho.8 Other Latin American communist movements followed Che Guevara 'sfoco method and brought their ideologies to rural areas.9 Guzman's followers were not foreigners or crusading children from the urban middle class, they were a part of the impoverished rural population already. Sendero Luminoso did not need to build bonds with the population; they were the population.10

Having created a powerful support base among the people, Guzman organized them for active insurgency. Mao Tse-Tung devoted a considerable amount of time in his writing to "organization for guerrilla warfare," and provides explicit instructions to aid "students who have no knowledge of military affairs."" Mao provides a description of a highly structured organization with clear command and control mechanisms. …

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