Conference Explores Aftermath of Shining Path

In the 1980s, a Maoist paramilitary organization known as the Shining Path attempted to seize control of Peru. On February 11, 2016, the Hemispheric Institute on the Americas at UC Davis hosted an international conference entitled "The Aftermath of the Shining Path: Memory, Violence, and Politics in Peru."

The daylong event featured presentations in both Spanish and English, and represented diverse experiences and perspectives from a violent era in Peruvian history — one with repercussions still felt today.

The morning sessions, conducted in Spanish, foregrounded survivors’ testimonies as well as public memory work undertaken by archivists, journalists, and scholars in Peru. Panelists included:

  • Lurgio Gavilán Sánchez, a child soldier in Shining Path and author of his memoirs, When Rains Became Floods
  • José Carlos Agüero, the son of Shining Path guerrillas and author of Los rendidos, an autobiography
  • Ruth Borja, former director of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Archive and professor of history at San Marcos University
  • Ricardo Caro, a scholar on Shining Path at Catholic University, Lima
  • Renzo Aroni, Ph.D. student in history at UC Davis.

Gavilán Sánchez and Agüero decided at the last minute to "have a conversation" rather than present their individual papers, launching a heartfelt dialogue about violence, guilt, and family. Many in the audience were brought to tears and both Sánchez and Agüero received a long round of applause for their honesty and humility.

Keynote: cocaine capitalists and for-profit insurgents

The keynote address was delivered by Gustavo Gorriti, an internationally renowned Peruvian journalist. In 1992, Gorriti, an outspoken critic of Shining Path, was briefly “disappeared” as a political prisoner by Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori. Seventeen years later, Fujimori was convicted of Gorriti’s kidnap, along with various other human rights violations. In his talk, Gorriti explored the unlikely and uneasy cooperation between “chemically pure” cocaine capitalists and the “puritanically Communist” Shining Path.

Peru’s Upper Huallaga Valley has been a violently contested territory for three decades. A stronghold for Shining Path militants, the region also serves as a center for coca cultivation with ties to notorious drug rings such as those led by Pablo Escobar and Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. In the 1980s, Cessna aircraft regularly flew in and out of the region, transporting raw coca paste for processing in Colombia. Shining Path leaders, Gorriti explained, “taxed” every kilo of coca that passed through the region, securing a stable revenue stream that enabled the group to recover from the defeats it suffered in the Ayacucho Region late in that decade.

What’s more, Fujimori’s offensives against the drug cartels (begun in the 1990s as part of the U.S.-led “War on Drugs”) actually facilitated the Shining Path’s survival. Brutal confrontations with drug traffickers had virtually eliminated the communist guerrillas. But when Fujimori’s regime, bolstered by U.S. financial and military support, moved to eliminate the coca trade — eventually reducing Peruvian cultivation from an all-time high of 275,000 hectares in 1995 to fewer than 30,000 hectares today — Shining Path militants were able to retrench in their remote mountain stronghold, where they remain to this day.

The clashes between peasants, communist guerrillas, and drug traffickers have, Gorriti said, left a legacy of political instability and organized crime, where criminal entities continue to function as “for-profit insurgents.”

— Loren Michael Mortimer

This HIA event was co-sponsored by the Institute for Social Sciences, the Davis Humanities Institute, Department of History, Native American Studies Department, Department of Political Science, Department of Spanish & Portuguese, Center for the Study of Human Rights in the America, and the Human Rights Program.

This report originally appeared on the website of the UC Davis Institute for Social Sciences