Shining Path and Peasant Responses in Rural Ayacucho

  • Billie Jean Isbell


Since Shining Path’s declaration of a “prolonged people’s war” in 1980, one of the most frequently asked questions has been “Does Shining Path have peasant support?” McClintock’s assessment in 1984 was encapsulated in the title of her article: “When Peasants Rebel.” In contrast, however, Carlos Iván Degregori cautions against such a generalization.1 During his address to the 1988 Latin American Studies Association (LASA) meeting in New Orleans, Degregori stated that what is really surprising is that Sendero has not been more successful in receiving peasant support. I am going to address that issue by analyzing the local history of a locality that has been the focus of Shining Path (Sendero or SL) activities since the mid-1970s: the Rio Pampas region of the province of Cangallo in the department of Ayacucho, Peru. This analysis is based on my own research in Chuschi, which began in 1967 in the Rio Pampas and continued until 1975. I returned to Peru in 1986 and conducted interviews with a wide range of people in order to reconstruct a history of the events since 1975. I was able to interview people from the Rio Pampas and other areas of Ayacucho who had fled to Lima to escape the violence that has caused some 120,000 people to flee the countryside. I was unable to travel to Chuschi, as it was located in the epicenter of the Ayacucho Emergency Zone (EMZ). Nevertheless, a number of interviews in the communities of the Rio Pampas were conducted by Peruvian colleagues and the materials were shared with me.


Agrarian Reform Latin American Study Association Historical Conflict Numerous Interview Village Authority 
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  1. 1.
    Carlos Iván Degregori’s book, Ayacucho 1969–1979, El surgimiento de Sendero Luminoso (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1990), summarizes his two earlier publications (1985 and 1986) and provides a history of the movement in Ayacucho. Also of importance is his Que difícil es ser Dies: Ideología y violencia política en Sendero Luminoso (Lima: El Zorro de Abajo Ediciones, 1989). Another important study of SL is Gustavo Gorriti, Sendero: Historia de la guerra milenaria en el Perú, vol. I (Lima: Apoyo, 1990). Lewis Taylor gives one of the first analyses of Sendero’s organization and structure in “Maoism in the Andes: Sendero Luminoso and the Contemporary Guerrilla Movement in Peru,” Working Paper 2, Centre for Latin American Studies (Liverpool: University of Liverpool, 1983). Henri Favre, “Sentier Lumineux et Horizons Obscurs,” Problèmes D’Amérique Latine 72, 2e trimestre, 1984, pp. 3–27, also published in Spanish as “Perú: Sendero Luminoso y horizontes oscuros,” Quehacer (Lima) 31, 1984, pp. 25–34, observes that Sendero’s support in Huancavelica comes from what he calls the depeasantized youth. David Scott Palmer, “Rebellion in Rural Peru: The Origins and Evolution of Sendero Luminoso,” Comparative Politics, 18:2, 1986, pp. 127–146, argues that Sendero plays upon the pattern of periodic organization of the periphery against central authority, except that in this case, Sendero’s goal is to destroy the center. Alberto Flores Galindo and Nelson Manrique, Violencia y campesinado (Lima: Instituto de Apoyo Agrario, 1986), have collected some of the best critical essays on violence in Peru. Colin J. Harding, “The Rise of Sendero Luminoso,” in Rory Miller, ed., Region and Class in Modern Peru (Liverpool: University of Liverpool, Institute of Latin American Studies Monograph, 1984), 14, pp. 179–207, is an excellent summary in English. I also recommend his more recent article analyzing the role of Antonio Díaz Martínez in shaping Sendero ideology: “Antonio Díaz Martínez and the Ideology of Sendero Luminoso,” Bulletin of Latin American Research, 7:1, 1988, pp. 179–207. The most comprehensive summaries of reported violence in Peru are those published monthly by DESCO (Centro de Estudios y Promotion de Desarrollo), in Lima, Peru.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Héctor Béjar, Las guerrillas de 1965: Balance y perspectiva (Lima: Ediciones PEISA, 1973).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Rodrigo Montoya, Capitalismo y neo-capitalismo en el Perú (Lima: Mosca Azul, 1980); Lino Quintanilla, Andahuaylas: La lucha por la tierra: Testimonio de un militante (Lima: Mosca Azul, 1981). Quintanilla is a former agronomist turned organizer who describes his experiences leading the land invasion movement in Andahuaylas. Rodrigo Sánchez, Tomas de tierras y conciencia política campesina (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1981), provides an analysis of the same phenomenon.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Steve J. Stern, Peru’s Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest: Huamanga to 1640 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), and Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness in the Andean Peasant World, 18th to 20th Centuries (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987). Florencia E. Mallon, “Nationalist and Antistate Coalitions in the War of the Pacific: Junín and Cajamarca, 1879–1902,” in Stern, Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness, pp. 232–280, and The Defense of Community in Peru’s Central Highlands: Peasant Struggle and Capitalist Transition, 1880–1940 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    See Patrick Husson, “Guerre Indienne et Re volte Paysanne Dans la Province de Huanta (Peru),” Theses Université, Pans IV, Sorbonne, 1983.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    In an interview with Raúl González, “De como Lumbreras entiende al Perú de Sendero,” Quehacer, 42, 1986, pp. 34–43Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Orin Starn, “Missing the Revolution: Anthropologists and the War in Peru,” Cultural Anthropology, 6:1, 1990, pp. 63–91. He rightly criticizes the anthropology of the 1960s and 1970s as “andeanism.” However, Starn cites selectively from the working paper version of this chapter to argue that “many Chuschinos and other Andean peasants proved ready to embrace the concept of revolution,” (p. 80) even though my early draft clearly states the opposite. While Starn selectively quotes from the paper, he leaves out the relevant fact, which I discuss at length, that Chuschinos requested that a police post be established in the community. They did not embrace the concept of revolution; rather, they initially supported Sendero in killing old enemies, then withdrew their support when SL tried to impose new structures.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Cynthia McClintock, “Why Peru’s Alán García Is a Man on the Move,” LASA Forum, 16:4, Winter 1986, pp. 9–12.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Billie Jean Isbell and Fredy Roncalla, “The Ontogenesis of Metaphor: Riddle Games Among Quechua Speakers Seen as Cognitive Discovery Procedures,” Journal of Latin American Lore, 3:1, 1977, pp. 19–49.Google Scholar
  10. 17.
    DESCO, Violencia política en el Perú 1980–1988 (Lima: DESCO, 1989), p. 75.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    Ibid., p. 83.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    Carlos Iván Degregori, “A Dwarf Star,” NACLA Report on the Americas, 24:4, December 1990–January 1991, p. 14.Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    Billie Jean Isbell, To Defend Ourselves, 2nd Edition (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1985), pp. 228–237.Google Scholar
  14. 24.
    Juan Ansión, Pishtacos de verdugos a sacaojos (Lima: Tarea, Asociación de Publicaciones Educativas, 1989). In this edited collection of new versions of ñaqa and pishtaco tales, several recount how the pishtacos now work for the military who have been sent by President García to rob body fat to send it to creditors to pay the foreign debt.Google Scholar
  15. 27.
    Catherine J. Allen has discussed the concepts of time of an Andean community in the Cuzco region in The Hold Life Has (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Press, 1988).Google Scholar

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© David Scott Palmer 1994

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  • Billie Jean Isbell

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