The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) is a far-left guerrilla group based in Peru. The group was led and founded in the late 1960s by Abimael Guzmán, also known by his alias – ‘Comrade Gonzalo’. The Shining Path’s ideology is based on Marxist foundations, mainly derived from Mao Zedong and China’s Cultural Revolution. Their goal is to topple the Peruvian government and implement a communist, peasant-led government in its place. Among those recruited were indigenous civilians and those from impoverished and neglected areas. The United States, Peru, and the European Union have recognized the Shining Path as a terrorist organization. It has mainly disbanded, but some remnants remain active (1).
History and Foundations
The Shining Path began as a small 12-member breakaway faction from the Communist Party of Peru. The Shining Path emerged in the late 60s and was led by Abimael Guzmán, who recruited many indigenous and poor Peruvians throughout the 70s. In May 1980, the group launched its first attack against the state by burning down ballot boxes in Ayacucho to disrupt the elections, which were the following day (3).
The Shining Path was very influential in the mountainous regions of Huana and Ayacucho due to the lack of military and government presence. This lack of presence allowed the Shining Path to gain traction in the region until the rebels evolved into a legitimate threat and forced the government to intervene; the army was called into the region in December 1982. This was the beginning of a long war between the Shining Path and the Peruvian state. An estimated 70,000 people died between 1980 and 2000 as a result of the conflict between the two parties. Approximately 37,000 of those deaths were caused by Shining Path guerrillas (1), and around 11,000 of these were civilians (4). The Shining Path adopted assassinations, car bombs, and torture as their primary approaches to resistance.
When Alberto Fujimori was elected as head of state in 1990, he increased government presence and carried out various raids against the group. Fujimori led assaults and established armed peasant patrols to combat the Shining Path, which suffered a steep decline in influence and in insurgence after the capture of Abimael Guzmán. Guzmán was imprisoned on the 12th of September 1992. With the arrest of their leader, the Shining Path began to suffer in terms of ability and it became clear that the group's integrity was being hindered. Since there was no clearly defined second-in-command, the group lacked a clear chain of command. The group began to split after Guzmán called members to introduce a peace deal between the Shining Path and the Peruvian government a year after he was initially arrested. While some perceived it as a traitorous act, others continued to follow his command. Contemporarily, there are a relatively low number of remnants of the Shining Path, and – while many aren’t as serious of a threat to the state as they once were – many of these remaining guerrillas participate in drug trafficking, and still carry out attacks on police and other security forces (3). Abimael Guzman died on September 11, 2021, at the age of 86.
In January 2021, the Shining Path Faction commander, Jorge Quispe Palomino (alias ‘Raúl’) died of kidney failure following a military-police joint operation which resulted in the death of three shining path guerrillas, and the injuries of six others (including Raúl). Raúl fought alongside his brother, Victor Quispe Palomino, alias ‘Jose’, as the two brothers had been attempting to gain support from rural farmer communities by declaring themselves as the Militarized Communist Party of Peru. Without Raúl’s leadership, the internal procedures of the movement were compromised, especially as there was no designated member to replace his role (5).
In March 2021, 16 people including 2 children were killed during the San Miguel Del Ene attack. This occurred two weeks before the national elections between Pedro Castillo and Keiko Fujimori. The Peruvian military has claimed the Shining Path’s breakaway faction – the Militarized Communist Party of Peru – was responsible for the killings (11).
Political Objectives & Ideology
As aforementioned, Guzmán founded the Shining Path by stemming from Maoist and Marxist foundations. In the 1960s, he visited China and was inspired by Maoist theory (7). The goal of the Shining Path was not to improve the Peruvian state through reforms, but instead to destroy it along with its institutions and replace it with a revolutionary, peasant-led communist regime (7). Those who only worked to organize workers were criticized by Guzmán. Guzmán’s followers regarded him as the ‘Fourth Sword’ of communist thought, after Marx, Lenin, and Mao (2). He believed in the abolition of money and industry, and instead promoted administering a life of trading between farmers and craftsmen (9).
Approach to Resistance
Assassinations, car bombings, and torture were common tactics used by the Shining Path. In regards to the group’s torture procedures, there have been instances of stoning and victims being submerged in boiling water. Moreover, activists were targeted for speaking out against the Shining Path; Maria Elena Moyano, for instance, was a well-known organizer and activist that spoke out against the Peruvian Government and the Shining Path’s actions. Pamphlets were spread by the Shining Path to discredit her work and – after she publicly stated that the Shining Path was no longer ‘revolutionary’, per se – the Shining Path shot her and exploded her corpse in front of her 2 children. The Peruvian general population mourned the death of Moyano and around 300,000 people attended her burial (8). Following this attack, the rebels lost the ability to gain major support from Peruvians (even peasants) due to the perceived atrocity of their actions.
International Relations and Regional Funding
The Shining Path’s primary sources of income involve drug trafficking and taxes. These taxes are imposed on corporations, cocaine processing plants, and illegal mining. They resemble the traditional ‘revolutionary taxes’ imposed by other communist movements around the world. Compared to other rebel groups, such as the FARC in Colombia, the Shining Path generates a significantly smaller amount of revenue. However, this does not imply that the Shining Path did not have significant funds at its peak (10).
Furthermore, the Shining Path does not have relevant relations with other groups as it remains solely active in Peru – unlike other groups in the region who have expanded to other countries, such as the ELN in Venezuela.
Works Cited (Chicago-style)
(1) - Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Shining Path." Encyclopedia Britannica, April 16, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Shining-Path.
(2) - Sullivan, C.. "Abimael Guzmán." Encyclopedia Britannica, September 7, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Abimael-Guzman.
(3) - InSight Crime. “Shining Path.” InSight Crime, October 18, 2021. https://insightcrime.org/peru-organized-crime-news/shining-path-profile/.
(4) - “Shining Path, Tupac Amaru (Peru, Leftists).” Council on Foreign Relations. Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed November 19, 2022. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/shining-path-tupac-amaru-peru-leftists.
(5) - Asmann, Parker. “Shining Path Commander's Death Strikes Blow to Peru Rebel Group.” InSight Crime, March 31, 2021. https://insightcrime.org/news/shining-path-death-peru/.
(6) - Meza, Junior. “‘Somos Conscientes De Las Matanzas [De Sendero En El Vraem], Eso No Puede Quedar Impune.’” Ojo Público. Accessed November 20, 2022. https://ojo-publico.com/1264/Somos-conscientes-de-matanzas-de-Sendero-en-Vraem-eso-no-puede-quedar-impune.
(7) - Coha. “The Rise and Fall of Shining Path.” COHA, June 5, 2008. https://www.coha.org/the-rise-and-fall-of-shining-path/.
(8) - Pastor, Néstor David. “Remembering María Elena Moyano: 30 Years Later.” NACLA, February 15, 2022. https://nacla.org/remembering-maria-elena-moyano-30-years-later.
(9) - Schudel, Matt. “Abimael Guzman, Leader of Peru's Shining Path Terrorist Group, Dies at 86.” The Washington Post. WP Company, September 12, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/abimael-guzman-dead/2021/09/11/0ecee938-131e-11ec-9cb6-bf9351a25799_story.html.
(10) - Parkinson, Charles. “Peru Arrests Reveal Shining Path's Links to the Drug Trade.” InSight Crime, October 6, 2017. https://insightcrime.org/news/brief/peru-traffickers-outline-shining-path-structure/.
(11) - Al Jazeera. “Death Toll of Attack in Remote Coca Region of Peru Rises to 16.” News | Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera, May 26, 2021. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/25/death-toll-of-attack-in-remote-coca-region-of-peru-rises-to-16.