Please enjoy this original piece I recently wrote, about women's liberation and the Peruvian Shining Path guerrilla movement. Any feedback and constructive criticism is welcome.
In early 1980 the leaders of the Partido Comunista del Perú–Sendero Luminoso (PCP–SL), commonly known as the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), embarked upon a course that would plunge their nation into a prolonged period of suffering. With the initiation of armed struggle in the countryside, party leaders rightly predicted that their so-called “popular war” would last for more than a decade. While at first limiting clandestine operations to the Ayachucho highland regions, the senderistas (as PCP-SL militants and supporters were known) eventually spread far beyond their initial rural enclave. By harnessing the power of propaganda and terror, they brutally crushed any opposition standing in their way. Caught between the threat of Shining Path retribution and the military’s indiscriminate use of their own brand of terrorism, rural communities suffered tremendous loss. With major hostilities lasting well into the 1990s, this conflict produced a death toll likely exceeding 69,000.1 The poorest were the hardest hit, with 75% of the dead or disappeared being Quechua speaking campesinos from rural communities. While the Shining Path purported to fight on the behalf of these poor people, more than half of the victims were killed by party militants. 2
The number of women involved in the Shining Path remained high throughout the war. While always a minority, the party’s own literature and the work of scholars suggest that up to forty percent of the guerrillas were women. Women clearly participated at nearly all levels of the organization, acting as militants, guerrilla commanders, and even top party leaders. In fact at the peak of hostilities in 1992, at least 8 of the 19 members of the central committee were women, including 3 of the 5 politburo members.3
While many scholars recognize the clear presence of women in the Shining Path, very little work has been published examining the gender dynamics at play within the party. As Joan Scott says in urging women’s history to move beyond simply documenting the presence of women in favor of more explicitly dealing with questions of gender, “my understanding of the French Revolution is not changed by knowing that women participated in it.”4 Similarly, it is not enough to simply know that women participated in the Shining Path movement to understand the significance and meaning of that participation.
This paper aims therefore to examine the role of women in the PCP-SL, and to explore how ideas about women’s roles in the struggle and in society were shaped and utilized by party ideology. By analyzing key party documents produced by early female Shining Path leaders, as well as by discussing the experiences of female militants throughout the guerrilla war, this paper will highlight the complex and in many ways contradictory relationship the Shining Path had with women and the struggle for what they termed the “emancipation of women.”
Mao, Mariátegui, y El Movimiento Femenino Popular—Women of the Early Shining Path
Documents produced by leading Shining Path women during the party’s formative period in the early 1970’s illustrate how the concept of the “emancipation of women” was used as a way to recruit women into the organization. This section will examine some of these documents and discuss the ideas and activities of leading Shining Path women. In addition, this section will provide a basic understanding of the origins of the Shining Path movement and the context within which these women operated. Ultimately, the party will be shown to hold a retrogressive position on feminism and the struggle for women’s liberation. Not only were women asked to forego fighting against gender inequality in favor of focusing on the class struggle, their words and practices would be infused with latent patriarchal tendencies, setting the stage for the eventual rise of Abimael Guzmán Reynoso as party patriarch.
The Shining Path emerged out of the fractured communist movement of the late 1960s. The party began as a faction of students within the Partido Comunista del Perú–Bandera Roja (Red Flag), a Maoist group that had split from the Partido Comunista del Perú in 1964 in the wake of the Sino-Soviet schism. Centered mostly around the Universidad Nacional San Cristóbal de Huamanga (UNSCH) in the highland city of Ayacucho, a relatively small group studied under the leadership of men like philosophy professor Abimael Guzmán and anthropologist Antonio Díaz Martinez.
Guzmán was a devout Maoist who spent time in China in 1965 on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, returning for three extended visits within the next ten years. These experiences would undoubtedly continue to shape his thinking throughout the following decades. In addition to being a prominent figure in Bandera Roja and a popular lecturer on campus, Guzmán held important positions at UNSCH, including at various times being director of personnel and director of the teacher-training school. Both of these positions allowed him to build a network of patronage ties throughout the Ayacucho region—through the recruitment and advancement of like minded faculty, students, and non-academic staff, as well as the allocation of grants to students from poor economic backgrounds. This would later serve to sustain the movement and allow it to grow in the region long after Guzmán left the University in the mid-1970s.5
In 1970, under the leadership of Guzmán and others, this group of students and faculty split from Bandera Roja. Over the next few years they built up a dedicated core of supporters concentrated mostly in and around various universities. At first they mostly devoted themselves to developing their political line, primarily studying the works of Mao Zedong and early Peruvian Marxist thinker José Carlos Mariátegui.6 In fact their sobriquet derives from a slogan oft repeated in early literature, in which they proudly declared themselves to be “por el sendero luminoso de Mariátegui.”7 As well, several Shining Path leaders travelled to China during the 1970s to witness the “miraculous results” of “Mao Zedong Thought.”8 By the time Guzmán convinced the party to go underground and begin preparations for the “popular war” in the countryside in the late 1970s, the group had been struggling for over a decade over questions of ideological purity.
Despite initial success in gaining control of student governments at several universities, the influence of the Shining Path began to wane at UNSCH and other schools during the mid-1970s. This was due to a number of factors, including competition from other leftist parties (fed up with the group’s style and approach) and shifting internal university politics.9 However, through the development of an array of front organizations (so-called “movements”) designed to recruit activists at the grass roots and promote Shining Path activities, the party was able to continue establishing important connections throughout the Ayacucho region and beyond.10
One of these fronts was the Movimiento Femenino Popular (MFP). This group was ostensibly dedicated to injecting class analysis into the women’s movement. Yet far from presenting a serious critique, perhaps the most salient feature of the women of the MFP is their unabashed worship of the fathers of Peruvian communism.
The MFP Manifiesto, a four page document from 1975 featuring a large profile image of José Carlos Mariátegui next to the subtitle Bajo las Banderas de Mariátegui Desarrollemos el Movimiento Femenino Popular (Under the Flag of Mariategui We Develop the Popular Women’s Movement), demonstrates the underlying patriarchal tendencies found even in early Shining Path thought. This document traces the origins of the group to the mid-1960s, when female students and professionals associated with the university began to organize their own groups and factions within other student organizations. By 1968, it asserts, some of these groups began to think more directly about revolution and “the great Lenin’s thesis about the participation of women and the success of a revolution.” 1973 marks the most important “milestone” in the movement, the article states, when the Movimiento Femenino Popular is established as an organization “generated by the proletariat,” and “adhering to the ideas of Mariátegui.”11
The MFP formally emerged in 1973-74 out of the fusion of two groups, the Centro Femenino Popular and the Frente Femenino Universitario at UNSCH.12 This so-called “generated organism” was led by high profile Shining Path women such as Augusta La Torre (Comrade Norah), Elena Iparraguirre (Comrade Miriam), and Catalina Adrianzen.
La Torre was a devoted Maoist and Guzmáns wife since 1964. She accompanied him on his sojourn to China in 1965, and upon their return she founded the Centro Femenino Popular.13 Iparraguirre, another major figure in the Shining Path, would eventually rise to become the PCP–SL’s second in command, as well as Guzmán’s lover and wife in the years after La Torre’s mysterious death in 1988.14 Adrianzen, in addition to being active in the the MFP, was married to anthropologist and PCP–SL leader Antonio Díaz Martinez.15 Both Martinez and Adrianzen spent two years living in Beijing during the mid-1970s. They would also become active in initial guerrilla actions before being captured early in the insurgency. Martinez ultimately perished in the San Pedro prison massacre in 1986 and Adrianzen managed to flee to Sweden.16
In addition to debating other Maoists over the primacy of the “woman question,”17 these women made efforts during the mid-1970s to spread beyond their relatively small university community and to nationalize the organization. They held a National Student Conference on the Emancipation of Women in Lima in 1974 and a National Convention of Working Women in 197518. They also made efforts to reach out to women in the rural communities, including working with miner’s wives to establish cottage industries within the mining towns.19 Both Iparraguirre and Guzmán testified about traveling throughout the countryside during that time and going to meetings in “all the little towns” in order to spread the message of the MFP.20
Perhaps the document that is most important for understanding the ideological underpinnings of the party’s position on gender is a short book entitled El Marxismo, Mariátegui, y el Movimiento Femenino. Published without a byline, but ostensibly written collectively by La Torre, Iparraguirre, and Adrianzen, this seventy-six page text, which includes the “Program and Declaration of Principles” of the MFP, was first published in 1974. 21 It was republished a year later with a new introduction in recognition of the United Nations declaring 1975 International Women’s Year.22 In part this text is simply a Marxist reading of the history of women’s oppression, as it traces the forms of oppression women experienced throughout various economic systems, from the Roman slave state to the rise of capitalism. As well it explores the development of the struggle for women’s rights, from the French Revolution, through the Paris Commune, and into the twentieth century.
The central argument of this text is that while the oppression and exploitation that women endure as a result of their sex has not been ameliorated by the rise of capitalism, the integration of women into the workplace, and more importantly into the working class movement, has set the stage for the true “emancipation of women.” Yet they argue that the modern feminist movement, in its bourgeois call for “women’s liberation,” has shown itself to be incapable of bringing about fundamental change. Drawing heavily upon Engels’ classic The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, they attempt to show that fundamental advancement for women will only occur with the overthrow of capitalism and the creation of a socialist system. Their argument is summed up by Mao: “true equality between men and women can only be achieved in the process of the socialist transformation of the whole society.”23
The concluding section of the booklet attempts to blend these ideas with some of Mariátegui’s thoughts regarding the unique position of women in Peru and the importance of building a feminist movement there. Some of these ideas seem rather odd and antiquated, for example his argument on the difference between the temperament of Latin and Saxon women: “The Latin woman lives more prudently, with less passion. She does not have that urge for truth.” Mariátegui attributed this to the fact—or rather his assertion—that Spanish and Latin American women were socialized in a “semi-feudal and semi-colonial” society. While it may seem ridiculous to claim (as they do) that he established the “causal connection between feudal background” and the temperament of Latin American women, Mariátegui’s assessment of Peru’s “semi-feudal and semi-colonial” character was central to Shining Path political analysis.24
Mariátegui’s ideas aside, the text presents a fairly orthodox Marxist argument. The party was asking women to put aside the struggle for greater gender equality and civil rights in a capitalist system in favor of joining the class struggle. This was neither a unique nor a particularly thoughtful argument. Notwithstanding their critique of many feminists, who were perhaps rightly seen as bourgeois and lacking in a class analysis, the authors of this tract themselves lack critical analysis. In essence, by refusing to recognize forms of oppression that transcend issues of class and material production, the women of the MFP do not formulate a strategy for combating the patriarchal relations and ideas that structure their lives, their party, and their entire worldview. Their concept of the “emancipation of women,” therefore, seems just as hollow as their critique of “women’s liberation.”
This is underscored by the adulation and hero worship shown throughout the text towards the fathers of communist thought. Cursory comments are peppered throughout the book extolling the contributions of specific (mostly French) women—e.g. Olympe de Gouges, Louise Michel, Simone de Beauvoir. Yet the main arguments depend almost entirely upon the ideas of communist men. The words of Marx, Engels, Mao, and Mariátegui are often quoted wholesale, usually preceded by adjectives like “masterful,” and “brilliant.”
To give them credit, the women of the MFP were effective, and to a degree authentic, in their goals for women within the Shining Path. While the party’s centralized, hierarchical structure would make it difficult for most women within the group to exercise any meaningful form of autonomous decision making, the active recruitment of women into the organization paid off in numbers and enthusiasm both during the early formative years and throughout the following decades of war. The party would shift focus in the late 1970s, and the work of the MFP would be overshadowed by the growth of Guzmáns cult of personality. Yet women would continue to make up a substantial portion of party militants and were active at all levels of the command structure in the decades to follow.
The Fourth Sword of Communism and the “Woman Question”
Dedicated women were vital to the success of the party throughout the 1980s and early 1990s as they continued to participate in large numbers throughout the war. Simultaneously, a cult of personality surrounding Abimael Guzmán became a dominant feature of the party. By the mid-1980s the words and ideas of Guzmán became synonymous with those of the party. The PCP–SL ideology, hierarchical command structure, ritualized practices of “self-criticism,” and a cult of personality built around party leader Abimael Guzmán, produced within its ranks a form of party-led patriarchalism. The party benefited from the efforts and capacities of large numbers of women who yielded ultimate power to what Isabel Coral Cordero calls a “patriarchal patron-leader.”25 Ironically, references to the “woman question” and the “emancipation of women” in Shining Path literature disappear completely during this time period. The following section will explore the rise of Abimael Guzmán as party patriarch, and the effect this had on the Shining Path’s approach to the women’s movement. At the same time it will attempt to provide an understanding of the breadth of experiences and motivations of female senderistas throughout the war.
In 1976, after suffering continued political setbacks on university campuses, the PCP-SL leadership decided to consolidate the organization and redefine their mission, their thinking based upon Lenin’s maxim: “better fewer, but better.” Then in 1977 the party embarked upon a radical reconstruction. Relocating activists into the countryside, with Guzmán staying in Lima (as his medical condition, Polycethemia, no longer allowed him to live for extended periods in high altitude areas), the party began reorganizing its cells in preparation for a new phase of struggle.26
While the MFP disappeared from university campuses during this time, teachers in the newly created Shining Path “popular schools” that had been set up throughout the Ayacucho countryside taught about the double exploitation that poor women faced, and the need to resist both class and gender oppression.27 The slogans of the MFP continued to be used as a way to recruit young women into the movement.
In late 1979 and early 1980, after having significantly reorganized themselves in order to “reconstruct the party to wage war,” Guzmán argued that the time was ripe to “commence armed struggle.” The party had indeed met with success in its recruitment goals, thanks in large degree to the work of teachers in the “popular schools.”28 Yet many PCP-SL leaders were unconvinced by Guzmán’s optimistic analysis. Some within the party, like Luis Kawata Makabe who at one time was considered by many to be second only to Guzmán in party stature, feared that the party was being propelled forward onto the path of collective suicide.29 Evidence suggests that Guzmán faced a challenge from a substantial faction of the Central Committee. Throughout the Central Committee’s second plenary, a series of meetings held in March 1980, Guzmán continually harangued and browbeat the doubters, sometimes for hours on end. By defeating these opponents on the eve of the insurrection, he successfully stifled the only serious dissent his leadership would ever face.30
Those who had lacked sufficient confidence in pushing forward the armed struggle were either pushed out of the organization (like Makabe), or repeatedly forced to undergo the process of self-criticism. Criticism and self-criticism, a practice from Mao’s Cultural Revolution that had become ubiquitous in the international Maoist movement, was crucial to Guzmán’s hold on power in the PCP-SL as it was a vital means by which the hierarchy perpetuated itself. Party members would pick at each other’s moral and revolutionary failings during these sessions. Each person had to accept the criticisms levied against them, admit their faults, and pledge to set a better example in the future.
Using Mao’s Theory of the Two Line Struggle (the supposedly inevitable conflict between revolutionaries and rightist opportunists that plagues all communist parties), Guzmán was able to successfully marginalize those who opposed his line. Through persistence and force of will, Guzmán consistently cast his own perspective as revolutionary, and therefore the correct line. His opponents, however, were deemed rightist opportunists. As Gustavo Gorriti says in his classic book detailing the early years of the war: “As far as the others were concerned, criticism and self-criticism sessions would accompany them without pause for the rest of their lives within the party, would weaken them…and obligate them to cooperate in their own annihilation.” 31
This practice was also integral to the training that militants underwent in preparation for the armed struggle, and would continue to play a role in the ideological conditioning of PCP-SL cadres over the following decade. In his famous “We Are the Initiators” speech, delivered to graduates of the first Military School in 1980, Guzmán spoke of the spilling of the “blood of the people,” which will “rise like pulsing wings.”32 Exhorted to sacrifice their lives in order to “destroy the oppressors,” these young cadets were militarily unprepared for what lay ahead. They had spent nearly half of their time in this three week crash course in revolution focusing exclusively on ideological issues and engaging in criticism and self-criticism. What little military training they did receive consisted mostly of Maoist principles on guerrilla warfare.33 This highlights the central importance that Guzmán placed on ideology, as well as his callous attitude towards human life. While the lives of the insurgents were clearly expendable, party discipline and faith in the leadership were not issues to be taken lightly.
Through the development of an ideology that placed supreme importance on the role of the central leadership, and which asked party activists to continually expose their own failings and publicly admit their weaknesses, Guzmán was able to transform himself into a hero, a legend, and the unquestioned leader of the Shining Path. Following his adoption of the nom de guerre Presidente Gonzalo, Guzmán’s status steadily rose. He presented his ideas as Pensamiento Gonzalo (Gonzalo Thought), a “development” of Marxist-Leninist theory, blending Mariátegui’s analysis of the political and economic situation in Peru with the application of Mao Zedong’s revolutionary precepts, practices, and guerrilla strategies.34 Despite the rising death toll of both guerrillas and civilians, faith in Pensamiento Gonzalo seemed to remain strong among party militants.
Despite the continued importance of female activists to PCP-SL growth and success during this time, Pensamiento Gonzalo seemed to entirely ignore the “woman question” so central to the Movimiento Femenino Popular of the previous decade. Unlike the MFP literature of the 1970s, none of the PCP-SL pamphlets and pronouncements of the 1980s and 1990s make any reference to the importance of women to the struggle. Virtually the only reference to women at all during this time can be found in an offhand remark about Mariátegui made by Guzmán during his famous Entrevista con Presidente Gonzalo (printed in the Lima based pro-Shining Path newspaper El Diario). This 137 page interview, however, considered the fullest exposition of Pensamiento Gonzalo made to the public, makes no reference to the “emancipation of women.” The “woman question” seems to have completely disappeared as a concern. Guzmán is purported to have admitted as much at a private Shining Path event in the late 1980s, supposedly confessing that the party had “sidestepped the Movimiento Femenino Popular,” after which he affirmed the role of women in the struggle and the importance of the “emancipation of women.” 35
This personal moment of insight aside, the emancipation of women did not seem to be on the official PCP-SL agenda throughout most of the war. Isabel Coral Cordero argues that instead of liberation, the women involved in the Shining Path developed relationships of dependency with the party and its leader-patriarchs. Party control over all aspects of ones life—personal relationships, even choice of mates—coupled with the cult of Gonzalo, essentially ensnared party activists into supporting the party-patriarchy. While there is much evidence to support Cordero’s characterization of the PCP-SL as having “established an instrumental relationship with its female members that reproduced patriarchal relations to benefit the party,” the breadth and depth of women’s participation adds complexity to this understanding. 36
In fact, there are a number of high profile senderista women that seem to exemplify strength and power, not dependency and weakness. Edith Lagos, who Gustavo Gorriti called the “myth that died in its infancy,” is the most obvious example. Rescued from prison early in the insurrection, but later killed by the army, she became a symbol of the revolution and the young idealism that fueled the movement. Brought down at only nineteen, her funeral was attended by thousands in Ayacucho. There are other high profile female Senderistas that we could look to and see the important leadership roles that women played in the Shining Path, such as Laura Zambrano (the person responsible for the Metropolitan Committee), Catalina Adrianzen (who directed armed cells in Cuzco until she was captured in 1982), among others (Teresa Durand, Carlota Tello Cuti, Sandra Mantilla, etc.).37
It is important to note that the Movimiento Femenino Popular (MFP) reappeared during the war in the so-called “liberated zones” throughout the countryside. Like the other “generated organisms” (e.g. the Popular Youth Movement, the Poor Campesino Movement), membership in the MFP was forced, not voluntary. These “movements” worked as a central means by which the party controlled community life. Each of these groups acted as conduits through which the party could identify and promote their most enthusiastic supporters while maintaining control over the silent and scared majority38. While certainly a select group of women might have felt empowered by their participation in the MFP, for the overwhelming majority it was simply the means by which they survived the Shining Path occupation of their community.
Journalists have written extensively about the women of the PCP-SL, much of their work affirming the strength of Shining Path women. With most of this reporting, however, it is hard to parse myth from historical reality.39 And while we can certainly point to the iconic figures of true revolutionaries written about in the press, there are also ample examples of young men and women forcibly conscripted into the Shining Path forces in later years, which complicates any notion of the guerrillas as independent and self-driven actors. Given this breadth of experiences, it is impossible to speak of the “average” female Senderista.40 And as so much of our understanding of the inner workings of the Shining Path, including internal gender dynamics, remains speculative, it is incumbent upon historians, journalists, and other researchers, to tell more stories with a multiplicity of female voices, be they ardent supporters or opponents of the movement.
Despite the relative lack of research on issues of gender related to the inner workings of the Shining Path, what is clear is that for all party members—regardless of rank, education, gender, or ethnic background—hierarchy and the practices of the cult of Gonzalo worked to reinforce relations of domination and subordination between themselves and the party. This is exemplified by the comments of a female senderista featured in Carol Andrea’s 1991 article in NACLA Report on the Americas:
“I asked a female leader of Shining Path how she, as a well-educated professional, could submit herself ‘blindly’ to the authority of a powerful individual—and a man at that…She said that under the leadership of ‘El Guía’—or ‘Presidente Gonzalo’ as Abimael Guzmán is known—the party had made great strides…She said the entire organization engaged in self-criticism as part of its ongoing commitment to ‘cultural revolution.’ But more importantly, she insisted that having overall leadership that was dependable, not vacillating, was an inspiration.”41
These comments demonstrate how central Presidente Gonzalo had become as party-patriarch, and how ideologically disciplined (or blinded) cadres had become. Yet Shining Path women, no matter how strong they were in their beliefs, or still are for that matter, were not experiencing emancipation as a result of their participation in the “popular war”. While their actions may have been strident, and their image cast as that of a warrior, Shining Path women were essentially trapped within an ideology devoted to the worship of Presidente Gonzalo and personal submission to the party hierarchy. For women and men who were forcibly conscripted, or whose families faced the ever-present threat of “popular justice,” the feeling of helplessness and utter dependency upon the party might have been overpowering.42
Even behind bars the senderistas maintained party discipline. Arrested women faced tremendous risk of torture and rape at the hands of police, but once incarcerated in prisons, Shining Path men and women took effective control of their cellblocks. While maintaining order, their boldness and the risk posed by the threat of a prison escape proved too much for the federal government, resulting in violent crackdowns at several prisons. At San Pedro prison in 1985, for example, thirty five out of 300 Shining Path prisoners were killed by police who stormed the facility. Violence also broke out at Canto Grande prison in 1992 after police attempted to move around 100 women out of the prison. At least forty inmates were killed and likely many more than that injured after four days of exchanging gunfire with the police.43
Fascinating video footage from Canto Grande prison, featured in the British television documentary The People of the Shining Path and shot just a month before the siege, helps provide an example of this party discipline, as well as insight into how appeals to women helped frame their participation in the Shining Path.44 Amid courtyard walls painted in grand murals featuring images of Marx, Lenin, and Presidente Gonzalo, wearing military uniforms, carrying wooden guns, and waving PCP-SL flags, over 50 women march in unison. Some hold aloft placards of Marx, Lenin, Mao, and largest of all, Presidente Gonzalo. “Social progress can be measured by the social status of women! Carlos Marx!” shouts the women. “The experience of freedom movements confirms that a revolution’s success depends on the degree of women’s participation! Lenin!” They are participating in what Caretas magazine called “an incredible operatic ceremony in a maximum security prison,” a song and dance extravaganza that they had performed for journalists before.45
While ostensibly these women are celebrating International Women’s Day, the real message comes through in the songs: “…Presidente Gonzalo is the sword of the shining light, with the powerful ideology of Gonzalo Thought…” Another song seems to capture how the Movimiento Femenino Popular had devolved, founded by a handful of idealistic young women nearly seventeen years earlier:
“…Presidente Gonzalo is our Guide—El Presidente Gonzalo es el guía,
He leads the people of the world to victory—con que pueblo del mundo triunfarán
We follow the Shining Path —luminoso sendero transitamos
Fighting to the end without surrender—lucharemos sin tregua hasta el final.
Movimiento Femenino Popular…”
These lyrics reveal how subsumed the struggle for the emancipation of women had become within the cult of personality surrounding Gonzalo, and how personalized and associated with Guzmán the entire war had become. This should surprise nobody. In many ways, the ideals of “women’s emancipation” as expressed by the MFP of the 1970s had already been subsumed within a cult of Mariátegui. Guzmán had simply conjoined himself with the party’s earlier patriarchs—Marx Lenin, Mao, and Mariátegui.
Yet despite the false notions of women’s emancipation presented by the party in the 1970s, and Guzmán’s seemingly lackluster commitment to those ideals in the 1980s, it should be remembered that the Shining Path had been incredibly successful at recruiting large numbers of women and infusing them with revolutionary fervor. Fany Palomino, a follower of Guzmán and former prisoner at Canto Grande describes the feelings she had during that time in a 2005 prison interview featured in the documentary State of Fear. She explains that the Shining Path followers were “willing to die for a new society. If you must die for a cause, so be it, because it’s a noble cause, a just cause, worth more than your life.” Unrepentant, she still spoke affectionately of “Dr. Guzmán,” as she now called him. He had “dared to guide a revolution with people who believed in him.” 46
Still proud of her participation in the movement more than a decade after its precipitous collapse, Palomino’s defiance presents a challenge, both to those who seek to cast female senderistas simply as victims caught within a patriarchal party-cult, as well as those who view them as terroristic villains possessed by revolutionary bloodlust. If we find ourselves shocked by Palomino’s cold assessment of the acceptable costs of revolution and her enduring pride in the movement despite its deadly and failed history, we should perhaps also pause and reflect upon the latent neoliberal bias in many contemporary accounts told of the Shining Path.
Conclusion: The Shining Path and the Threat of Social Movements
On the morning of December 26th, 1980, residents of Lima awoke to an ominous message ostensibly aimed at the new leader of the People’s Republic of China, a man whom they accused of betraying the revolution and the legacy of Mao. Several dogs hung motionless by their necks, attached to streetlights in the center of the city. Their bodies were wrapped in cloth, covered with the message “Teng Hsiao-ping, son of a bitch.”47 Using such an esoteric message may seem like an odd way to present the movement to the people at such an early stage in the war. Yet it affords us insight into who the Shining Path leaders felt were their most dangerous and immediate opponents. It is no coincidence that the first action of the war, taken seven months earlier, involved the burning of a registry and ballot box in the rural community of Chuschi.48 This was the first open election to take place in Peru in over a dozen years, and for the Shining Path, the other parties of the left who were participating (including some former communist allies) were rightist-revisionist-opportunist-reformers, or something along those lines.
Despite their talk about exploitation by the ruling classes, the Shining Path reserved most of their vitriol for those on the left who failed to live up to their revolutionary standard. What this often meant for people living in areas with a Shining Path presence was the choice between providing militants with assistance or facing “popular justice.” Community leaders who stood up to the Shining Path became the victims of terroristic attacks. Without a means to effectively resist, many communities were forced into accepting party rule and providing assistance to the movement. Nelida Oré, an Ayacucho farmer featured in the documentary State of Fear, describes how the Shining Path would come to her grandmother’s house in the middle of the night demanding food. After her uncle began urging the community to work together to protect themselves, Shining Path guerrillas returned to the village, gathered all of the people, “and in front of everyone they strangled him and cut off his tongue.” Fifteen days later they returned and set her grandmother’s house on fire, burning her alive.49
Of course not all rural communities were without a means to resist. As several scholars have noted, the Rondas Campesinas (community militias eventually sponsored by the military) posed the greatest threat to the Shining Path and proved decisive in severely weakening the organization in the early 1990s. 50 Felipe Degregori reminds us of the often overlooked importance of women to these efforts in his 2005 film Mujeres en la Guerra.51 Featuring the testimony of women from the communities of Pichihuillca and Monterrico, this documentary details the roles that women played at home as the men patrolled the hills (or were wrongfully arrested as suspected senderistas). Tellingly, the very women that the Shining Path were ostensibly there to emancipate had armed themselves and militarized their villages in order to keep the Shining Path out.
The contradictions of a patriarchal women’s emancipation movement also appear incredibly stark when examining the hostile relationship between the Shining Path and working class feminist activists in urban areas throughout Peru. The actions of women involved in the Vaso de Leche (Glass of Milk) programs and Mother’s Club’s that became popular in the cities and villages across Peru during this time may not have been bold enough to measure up to Shining Path standards. Yet in creating communal kitchens and advocating for and obtaining government funds for social programs, these women were not simply working to meet the basic subsistence needs of their communities. In the words of slain activist María Elena Moyano, they were “proving how effective grassroots political participation can be.”52
The Mujeres Libres, Spanish anarchists from half a century earlier, would have referred to this process as the development of capacitación—gaining a realization of their collective power and the need to organize as class-conscious women to challenge gender and class inequities. 53 Ultimately, working class communities finding grass-roots solutions to meet the basic needs of massive numbers of people living in extreme poverty did not fit into Presidente Gonzalo’s long-term plans for the nation. Accordingly, independent activists such as Moyano became targets of Shining Path terrorism.
Moyano, a young, Afro-Peruvian, working-class activist, mother, and feminist leader, became a target after she criticized Shining Path violence. Moyano had long been critical of “machismo,” what she had called “the especially grave societal problem that women in Peru face.”54 When the Shining Path began to make threats against grassroots activists in Villa El Salvador, the working class community she lived and worked in, she spoke out against what she saw as injustice. After leading a march against Shining Path intimidation, she was deemed a “revisionist” and lambasted in El Diario.55 Undeterred, Moyano urged grassroots activists on the “left” to come together against the senderistas, saying in an interview that they are, “the only movement capable of defeating the Shining Path.”56
The Shining Path responded mindlessly by murdering Moyano in public on February 15, 1992. Shortly after she arrived with her two sons at a fund-raising barbecue held at a local community center, Moyano was approached by a young female senderista who had been waiting. Shooting her point blank, this woman proceeded to blow up Moyano’s body by placing a lit stick of dynamite on her lap (all of this in front of her two sons).57 This act of terrorism demonstrates the horribly twisted logic and reactionary nature of the Shining Path movement.
What may seem even more tragic is that this murder, like several other high profile acts of terrorism committed against the people of Peru, took place just months before Guzmán and other top Shining Path leaders were captured in a Lima safe house. Without the so-called “fourth sword of Communism,” the party struggled to maintain cohesiveness. Despite a continued spate of murders throughout the following year, the Shining Path quickly fell to pieces, and was effectively neutralized by the mid-1990s.
While Guzmán and others are likely to spend the rest of their lives in jail, Moyano’s life and important work were snuffed out much too early. Fittingly, while Guzmán for the most part will be remembered as a villain in his nation, Moyano has come to symbolize courage throughout the world. It should be noted with hope that as many as 300,000 people accompanied her coffin on its funeral march.58 For them, Moyano’s death stood as a clear lesson in the anti-working class and anti-feminist politics of the Shining Path. They marched to repudiate Shining Path terror and affirm a different path for their future. Moyano’s model for women’s liberation and the liberation of the poor stood in stark contrast with the Shining Path goals of conquering power and ruling the nation. She simply proposed “that the people should govern themselves.”59
1 Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (CVR), Hatun Willakuy: Versión abreviada del Informe final de la Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (Lima:Comisión de Entrega de la CVR, 2004), 17.
2 Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (CVR), Un pasado de violencia, un futuro de paz: 20 años de violencia, 1980-2000 (Lima:Comisión de Entrega de la CVR, 2003), 21. Also see CVR, Hatun Willakuy, 97.
3 Nash, Nathaniel C. “Shining Path Women: So Many and So Ferocious,” New York Times, September 22, 1992, accessed December 16, 2120, http://www.nytimes.com/1992/09/22/world/lima-journal-shining-path-women-so-many-and-so-ferocious.html Also see Anita Marie McDivitt,“Women and Participation in Sendero Luminoso: A Critical Analysis of Sources” (Master’s Thesis, University of Florida, 1996), 1. and also Robin Kirk, Grabado en Piedra: las mujeres de Sendero Luminoso, (Lima:Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1993), 14.
4 Joan Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” American Historical Review, 91, (1986), 1055.
5 Lewis Taylor, Shining Path, (Liverpool:Liverpool University Press, 2006), 5. Also see David Scott Palmer, “The Revolutionary Terrorism of Peru’s Shining Path,” in Terrorism in Context edited by Martha Crenshaw, (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995), 259-261.
6 Taylor, Shining Path, 3-5.
7 Sendero Luminoso, a collection of pamphlets, serials, fliers, and party congresses, 1962-1985, Peru, Microform 3 microflim reels, 35 mm. Also see Carol Andreas, When Women Rebel, (Westport:Lawrence Hill & Co. 1985), 176.
8 Palmer, “The Revolutionary Terrorism of Peru’s Shining Path,” 252.
9 Taylor, Shining Path, 5. and Harding, “Antonio Diaz Martinez and the Ideology of Sendero Luminoso,” 70.
10 Palmer, “The Revolutionary Terrorism of Peru’s Shining Path,” 275.
11 MFP, Manifiesto, in Sendero Luminoso, a collection of pamphlets, serials, fliers, and party congresses, 1962-1985, Peru, Microform 3 microflim reels, 35 mm. roll 3.
12 Jaymie Patricia Heilman, “Family Ties: The Political Genealogy of Shining Path’s Comrade Norah,” Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2010, 158.
13 Ibid. 158
14 Ibid, 158.
15 Carol Andreas, “Women at War,” NACLA Report on the Americas, Vol. 24, No. 4 (December/January 1990/1992), 22.
16 Colin Harding, “Antonio Díaz Martinez and the Ideology of Sendero Luminoso,” Bulletin of Latin American Research, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1988), 70-73.
17 Andreas, “Women at War,” 22.
18 Partido Comunista del Perú, Sendero Luminoso, a collection of pamphlets, serials, fliers, and party congresses, 1962-1985, Peru, roll 3.
19 Andreas, When Women Rebel,180.
20 Heileman, “Family Ties: The Political Genealogy of Shining Path’s Comrade Norah,” 158.
21Movimiento Femenino Popular, Marxismo, Mariátegui, y el Movimiento Femenino, Lima:Editorial Pedagógica Ascencios, 1975. See also Heilman, “Family Ties: The Political Genealogy of Shining Path’s Comrade Norah,” 25. and also Andreas, “Women at War,”
22. The actual author of this piece remains somewhat of a mystery. Heilman claims it was written by Iparraguirre and La Torre, along with an unnamed third comrade. The information she cites comes from the testimony of Iparraguirre and Guzmán before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR). Unfortunately this testimony is apparently only available to view by visiting state archives in Peru, which I have been unable to do. In apparent contrast to this testimony, Carol Andreas wrote that Catalina Adrianzen penned the work. A quick internet search also reveals that the text is available in Spanish and English on various websites (blogs, Marxist archives), all of them crediting only Adrianzen as the author.
22 MFP, Marxismo, Mariátegui, y el Movimiento Femenino, 5.
23 MFP, Marxismo, Mariátegui, y el Movimiento Femenino, 37-38.
24 Ibid, 48-49.
25 Isabel Coral Cordero, “Women in War: Impact and Responses” in Shining and Other Paths: War and Society in Peru, 1980-1995, edited by Steve J. Stern, (Durham:Duke University Press, 2005), 351.
Isabel Coral Cordero drew upon her experiences as President of Centro de Promoción y Desarrollo Poblacional (CEPRODEP)—an NGO devoted to supporting women and displaced migrants in Lima and Ayacucho—in writing this important essay, which helped to inform the thesis and many of the ideas elaborated here in this paper.
26 Taylor, Shining Path, 6. See also Gustavo Gorriti, The Shining Path, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 195.
27 Gabriela Tarazona-Sevillano, “The organization of the Shining Path,” in Shining Path of Peru edited by David Scott Palmer, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992), 180-181.
28 Taylor, Shining Path, 7-8.
29 Gustavo Gorriti, “Shining Path’s Stalin and Trotsky,” in Shining Path of Peru edited by David Scott Palmer, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994) 168,182.
30 Gorriti, Shining Path, 31.
31 Ibid, 31.
32 Abimael Guzman, “We Are the Initiators,” in The Peru Reader, edited by Orin Starn et. al, (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), 313.
33 Gorriti, The Shining Path, 29-34
34 Harding, “Antonio Díaz Martinez and the Ideology of Sendero Luminoso,” 71.
35 Cordero, “Women in War: Impact and Responses,” 352.
36 Cordero, “Women in War: Impact and Responses,” 352.
37Gorriti, The Shining Path, 241.
38 Jaymie Heilman, Before the Shining Path: Politics in Rural Ayacucho, 1895-1908. Stanford University Press, 2010.188
39 Popular depictions of Shining Path women often exemplify one of two archetypes. Robin Kirk describes these as either the sexless automaton, “cold as a metal instrument of war,” or the “goddess of lust, a bloodthirsty nympho.”(Kirk, Grabado en Piedra: las Mujeres de Sendero Luminoso, 17.) The picture is also complicated by the dynamics of race and ethnicity. There is a propensity within the press to focus stories on white, well-educated, and professional class women in the Shining Path, rather than those with an indigenous or urban poor background (McDivitt, “Women and Participation in Sendero Luminoso: A Critical Analysis of Sources,” 75.) Yet while Carlos Ivan Degregori’s description of “La Gringa” as “a white woman famous in Puno for the savagery of her attacks,” in his 1991 article for NACLA’s Report on the Americas, might seem problematic, works that give particular attention to the role of indigenous women can be even more unsound. Carol Andreas’ glowing report on the Shining Path in her 1991 article for NACLA’s Report on the Americas, for example, invokes historical myths of indigenous female warriors (Mama Huaco and Micaela Bastides), as well as pre-Inca tomb paintings depicting female deities with vaginal teeth, to ascribe “historical personalities” to the PCP-SL militants. (Andreas, “Women at War,” 25-26.) In doing so, she romanticizes the experiences of the women of the Shining Path and obfuscates the complex nature of their participation.
40 Some academic researchers have attempted to use statistical analysis—based on factors such as age, education, marital status, number of children, etc.—to provide a profile of the “average” female Senderista.(McDivitt, “Women and Participation in Sendero Luminoso: A Critical Analysis of Sources,” 84.) This data is problematic however, as it is usually based on police arrest records gathered during a time characterized by massive numbers of wrongful arrests. Nevertheless, these researchers have attempted to draw conclusions from this information, some of which supports Isabel Coral Cordero’s assertion that female militants came “mainly from cities, from upper, middling, and lower middling (medios empobrecidos) sectors,” many from “migrant families establishing an urban life.” (Cordero, “Women in War,” 351.) Perhaps the most interesting speculation to arise from this data is the idea, based upon the supposedly high number of women who had earned some university credits but had not completed their studies, that the party purposely prevented female students from completing their university education. The outcome would invariably be greater party control over these young women, making them more dependent upon the party-patriarchy. (McDivitt, “Women and Participation in Sendero Luminoso: A Critical Analysis of Sources,” 90.) Unfortunately this remains pure speculation, as does much of our understanding of the inner workings of the party during this time.
41 Andreas, “Women at War,” 27.
42 Some authors have tried to provide a better understanding of the interplay between gender and the social-psychology at work within the Shining Path organization. (see McDivitt, “Women and Participation in Sendero Luminoso: A Critical Analysis of Sources,” 138-139.) Similarly, Gabriela Tarazona-Sevillano—a former criminal affairs prosecuting attorney in Peru who has taught for many years in the United States—claims that within the organization women were purposefully given dangerous assignments as assassins. While this was supposedly designed to bind women more tightly to the party, she argues that it also allowed these women “to prove themselves,” enhance their self-confidence, and “convince them and their colleagues of their capability of assuming leadership roles within the movement and within the future state.” (Gabriela Tarazona-Sevillano, “The organization of the Shining Path,” 199.) While this is an interesting speculation, it is unclear what evidence this argument stands upon.
43 Nathaniel C. Nash, “Bars Do Not a Prison Make, but What of Dogma?” New York Times, July 10, 1991, accessed December 16, 2012 http://www.nytimes.com/1991/07/10/world/lima-journal-bars-do-not-a-prison-make-but-what-of-dogma.html
“34 Die in Peru Prison Riot,” Los Angeles Times, October 6, 1985. accessed December 16, 2012 http://articles.latimes.com/1985-10-06/news/mn-5602_1_peru-prison-riot
“Peru Routs Rebels in 4 Day Prison Fight” New York Times, May 11, 1992, accessed December 16, 2012 http://www.nytimes.com/1992/05/11/world/peru-routs-rebels-in-4-day-prison-fight.html
44 Campos, Yezid, Marcde Beaufort, James Rutenbeck, and James Bellini. 1992. The People of the Shining Path. [S.l.]: Channel 4 Television.
45 “Sendero en Canto Grande!”, Caretas, July 30, 1991, cover.
46 Onís, Paco de, Peter Kinoy, Pamela Yates, and Karen Duffy. 2005. State of fear. New York: Skylight Pictures.
47 Gorriti, The Shining Path, 76.
48 Gorriti, The Shining Path, 17.
49 Onís, Paco de, Peter Kinoy, Pamela Yates, and Karen Duffy. 2005. State of fear. New York: Skylight Pictures.
50 Starn, Orin, “Villagers at Arms: War and Counterrevolution in the Central-South Andes,” in Shining and Other Paths: War and Society in Peru, 1980-1995, 224-257
51 Felipe Degregori. 2005. Mujeres en la guerra. Lima: CEPRODEP.
52 María Elena Moyano, The autobiography of María Elena Moyano, edited and annotated by Diana Miloslavich Tupac, (Gainsville:University Press of Florida, 2000), 37-38.
53 Martha A. Ackelsberg, Free Women of Spain, (Oakland:AK Press, 2005), 279.
54 Ibid, 37-38.
55 Robin Kirk, “Murder in a Shantytown: Shining Path’s War on Hope,” The Nation, March 30, 1992, 412.
56 Maria Elena Moyano, “There Have Been Threats,” The Peru Reader, 372.
57 Corinne Schmidt, “Peru: The government, the rebels, and the women in between,” Ms, July 1992, 3,1.
58 Moyano, The Autobiography of María Elena Moyano, ix.
59 Ibid, 70.
“34 Die in Peru Prison Riot,” Los Angeles Times, October 6, 1985.
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