The Undermining of Peru’s Democracy by the Shining Path Insurgency, from 1980 to 2000 (Part 1)

This is a paper I wrote for one of the two courses taken during the Journey to Peru program of summer 2016.


The Undermining of Peru’s Democracy by the Shining Path Insurgency, from 1980 to 2000 (Part 1)


According to government professor Ami Pedahzur and attorney Leonard Weinberg, “there are a number of different circumstances which may lead political parties to terrorist violence. Without claiming to be exhaustive, the most important conditions are: (1) a crisis of national integration; (2) a crisis of disintegration; (3) coups d’état and military interventions; (4) a crisis of legitimacy; (5) electoral systems and elections; and (6) polarized multiparty systems” (Pedahzur and Leonard 2013, 17). In the late 1970s, Peru met most if not all of these conditions and thus, the Shining Path Insurgency was born. A terrifying, unpredictable, and tumultuous time for the state of Peru, especially from 1980 to 2000, the insurgency crippled the state and struck deep fear within its people. Peruvian citizens became suspicious of one another; alliances were constantly changing and creating immense tension between friends and families. Worse, the need for power by the Path’s main leader, Abimael Guzmán, fed the maliciousness that led members of the Path to commit heinous crimes. This paper will explain the origins of the Communist Party of Peru, analyze the ways in which it gained power and influence, and determine how it undermined democracy in Peru from 1980 to 2000. Further, it will decide if this communist party was a major cause of Peru’s political instability during the twenty-year time frame delineated above.

First of all, it is necessary to discuss why this is important. Most educated people understand or could deduce that in the mid-twentieth century, Peru was unstable within political realms. Its geography and the diversity (language, heritage, culture, and location) of its peoples left the state of Peru in disorder. Many groups of indigenous people were (and still are) isolated and therefore unable to be governed. The Andes Mountains and the Amazon Rainforest created nearly impenetrable boundaries that separated people and therefore government structures, and the general lack of integrity and accountability among political figures made for an abysmal lack of trust between the state and the people of Peru. These problems existed for decades, but they were made unimaginably worse by the inception of the Communist Party of Peru in the 1960s.

The Shining Path “was founded in 1970 in a multiple split in the Communist Party of Peru,” and its name comes from “the maxim of the founder of Peru’s first communist party, José Carlos Mariátegui: ‘El Marxismo-Leninismo abrirá el sendero luminoso hacia la revolución’ (‘Marxism-Leninism will open the shining path to revolution’)” (Encyclopedia Britannica). The Communist Party of Peru began as an organization trying to replace bourgeois democracy with “New Democracy,” and through its brutal and heavily disruptive methods, it caused incredible instability in the state of Peru. Leader Abimael Guzmán was a philosophy professor at a university in Ayacucho called San Cristóbal of Huamanga. Prior to the emergence of Guzmán’s Shining Path, the university closed its doors for roughly 50 years, and upon reopening them, many students found themselves interested in the radical teachings of the Shining Path. Through word of mouth and general interest, the Shining Path picked up followers, and its ideology spread around different universities in Peru, infiltrating student organizations and largely taking over as the accepted way of thinking (Taylor and Frances 2003, 37-9).



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