Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Peru's Leftist Rebels Gain Ground. By threatening civil servants and appealing to dispossessed, `Shining Path' spreads. MAOIST MOVEMENT

RICARDO BOHORQUEZ HERN'ANDEZ is one of the few Peruvian officials fortunate enough to have survived an assassination attack by Sendero Luminoso rebels. Now back on the job as mayor of Huayanco Province, he is not lobbying for tougher action against the often-brutal insurgents in this key agricultural area. Rather, Mr. Bohorquez Hern'andez is campaigning against military control.

According to the mayor, guerrilla activities around Huancayo have only increased since the government imposed a state of emergency last November and gave responsibility for the region to the armed forces. The mayor, a member of the ruling APRA party, is one of an increasingly vocal group of Peruvians who argue that the government's reliance on police and military measures, rather than political, is only aggravating the situation.

About these ads

``The state of emergency,'' says the soft-spoken mayor, ``only polarizes the population by undermining the power of civilians, and makes it easier for Sendero to seek publicity.''

In fact, as Peru's economic crisis deepens, so does disenchantment with the government's impotence. At the same time, there is a growing sense that the rebels are gaining ground, and that the battle for control could threaten Peru's fragile democracy.

Under threat from the Sendero Luminoso (``Shining Path''), dozens of mayors and other civic authorities have resigned in recent months, leaving already-remote communities without administrative connection to the central government.

``That creates a sense of anarchy, a kind of power vacuum,'' Bohorquez Hern'andez says. ``Some communities have no authority and are completely under the control of Sendero.''

The debate over strong-arm tactics has heightened since an incident last month, when more than 100 armed troops stormed the national university, San Marcos, and the education school, La Cantuta, in Lima. An estimated 580 students were detained; the Interior Ministry said it confiscated 29 weapons and 280 sticks of dynamite.

The nation's rectors and opposition politicians denounced the raids as heavyhanded - thousands of dollars of damages may have been caused - because they violate the traditional autonomy universities have under the law.

Supporters, however, note that the country's universities have become one of the main recruiting grounds for Sendero. University walls are covered with revolutionary graffiti. In the University of Huancayo, a blackboard at the entrance recently detailed why Sendero had assassinated two students - accused of extorting money in the name of Sendero - a few days before. On top of a water tower on university grounds, a red Sendero flag waved in the wind.

About these ads

Although the group's methods are brutal, analysts say Sendero's highly defined sense of purpose and discipline appeal to members. The group is commonly described as Maoist because it espouses the tactic of building a revolution in the countryside and eventually engulfing the cities. Manifestos are few, but one of the chief slogans used is ``Destroy in order to construct.''

``They offer you a new identity and an organization that works,'' says Carlos Ivan Degregori, an anthropologist who has studied Sendero and knew many of its leaders at the provincial university in Ayacucho, before they went underground in 1980.

``Those that joined Sendero are those that don't have a place in the system. They are on the margin. [With Sendero], for the first time in their lives they can command respect. They are the ones who instill fear,'' Mr. Degregori says.

In a country where bureaucracy is tedious at best, and many facilities or services are out of reach for those who don't have money or connections, Sendero capitalizes on resentment and offers a direct way to change things, Degregori says.

According to him, many of the recruits are children of rural migrants who have moved to the city. ``Many are between two worlds, that of their parents, who come from a traditional Andean world that they don't understand; and that of the urban, Western world that looks down on them because they are cholos [mixed blood] and from the provinces.''

In the countryside, Sendero focuses on representing the interests of impoverished campesinos (peasants) who have long been ignored by Lima.

``Sendero is compensation for impotence,'' says C`esar Rodr'iguez Rabanal, a leading psychoanalyst, and a former member of a government-appointed peace commission. Mr. Rodr'iguez Rabanal says that while people may not openly back Sendero, many subconsciously support the group's objectives because of the desperate poverty and misery.

``Sendero tries to link up with or express the interests of all those who are marginalized or left out by the official state,'' says Ra'ul Gonzalez, a sociologist.

Army repression of civilians in the early 1980s helped Sendero gain support in other parts of the country, notably the Upper Huallaga Valley, which is the center of the country's drug-trafficking activities. Sendero now reportedly defends the interests of thousands of Huallaga residents who cultivate coca, and charges a percentage to finance its revolution.

In a no-man's land where violence and corruption are rife, Sendero is respected because, says a development worker, ``They put order in the violence. They don't kill indiscriminately or abuse the people like the police and the military do.''

Sendero's expansion into the Mantaro Valley, considered the third major front after Ayacucho and the Huallaga, has accelerated in the past year. The area supplies food and electricity to Lima, and is an important mining center.

For now, according to sociologist Gonz'alez, Sendero appears to be retreating to its initial Maoist strategy following the failure of its push to expand into Lima between late 1986 and early 1988. Last year's capture of Osman Morote Barrionuevo, the supposed No. 2 man in the Sendero, indicated that the group had overextended itself, Mr. Gonz'alez says.

The government recently announced it has a new plan to fight against subversion that calls for more active participation by citizens. But Interior Minister Armando Villanueva says the strategy can't be revealed because of security reasons.

President Alan Garc'ia P'erez is also pushing a regionalization plan that would divide Peru into regions that will have more financing and autonomy to promote local interests. Mr. Garc'ia says the regions will constitute ``walls against Sendero'' by increasing the presence of the state.

Critics blast the government's vague moves.

``All that is new is the growth of Sendero Luminoso and the expansion of violence - those are the most telling indications that things are not working,'' says Senator Rolando Ames. ``The only positive thing is that the public debate on the complexity of the violence and the necessity to approach the problem with more realism is increasing.''

Indeed, parties on the left and right are starting to address the problem in the political programs they are drawing up for elections in April 1990.

But though most Peruvians acknowledge that the insurgency poses a threat, few foresee a short-term solution.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.