`Shining Path' Led Peru on a Dark Road

FOR the last decade, as international communism waned, Peru has seen the remarkable rise of a Marxist guerrilla army. Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path, is a movement that blends traditional Indian ways with Maoist revolutionary dogma. Led for more than two decades by Abimael Guzman, a former philosophy professor of astonishing energy and intellectual fervor, the Shining Path by 1992 posed a serious threat to Peru's government. The Senderistas, as members are called, are so committed that the capture of

Guzman last September may turn out to be no more than a temporary setback.

In "Shining Path: Terror and Revolution in Peru," Simon Strong, a British journalist who developed excellent sources within the movement, treats it as an outgrowth of 400 years of racism and economic inequality. He explains the ways in which traditional Incan beliefs - especially in a cosmic upheaval followed by a global rebirth - were grafted onto Marxist theories.

In a country where the wealth is tightly controlled by an elite of European descent, social unrest has been a way of life. In recent years the collapse of mining and agriculture in the mountains has sent the Indian population surging into urban areas such as Lima and Ayacucho. Enormous shantytowns erected on the edge of cities have become recruiting grounds for Shining Path terrorists, as have the swelling jailhouses, where captured guerrillas stage rallies and indoctrinate fellow prisoners.

The rise of the Shining Path also accompanied the boom in the international cocaine trade. Peru grows 60 percent of the world's coca leaf, and drug trafficking sustains Peru's otherwise shattered economy. The Shining Path, although it disapproves of drug trafficking, has also protected campesinos from the Army's efforts to exterminate their coca crop. The United States, as part of the "war on drugs," has backed the Army's tactics and helped to turn the peasants against its government.

In responding to the Shining Path, the Army has been both brutal and incompetent. Well-documented massacres in isolated villages have created a militant following for the Shining Path and bestowed on Peru one of the world's worst human rights records.

As Strong was finishing his book, certain key factors were changing. The new Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori, has proved to be a shrewd, steely leader. Fujimori's so-called "self-coup," in which he suspended the constitution and seized total control of the government, has proved popular in a country exhausted with turmoil and poverty.

The capture of Guzman by an elite police squad also boosted Fujimori's popularity. Strong describes the arrest in a brief afterword and speculates that while the Shining Path is probably too broad-based to be stopped by Guzms exit, it may experience some factional infighting.

While the full effects of these developments remain unclear, the unpredictability of the crisis in Peru makes this lucid historical account all the more valuable. "Shining Path" is a trenchant analysis of this preeminent active revolutionary movement.

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