On February 15, 1992, a Shining Path hit squad murdered Maria Elena Moyano, an Afro-Peruvian community leader from Villa El Salvador, a poor district in southern Lima. Shining Path, a Maoist guerrilla movement that launched its revolutionary war against the Peruvian state in 1980, was stepping up its attacks in Lima, Peru’s capital city, as part of its strategy to topple the Peruvian state. Moyano had become an outspoken critic of Shining Path, particularly as it sought to expand its influence in Villa El Salvador. Shining Path accused Moyano of being a stooge of the state, emphasizing her role as deputy mayor of the town and ignoring the fact that she was also an implacable critic of the government for its failure to address the pressing needs of poor Peruvians and for human rights violations committed in the context of the war against Shining Path. In a brutal display of violence, Shining Path militants shot Moyano in front of her children and then obliterated her body with a stick of dynamite. In the aftermath of Moyano’s murder, community leaders dispersed, fearful that they would be the next victims.
Less than a year later, Pedro Hiiilca, secretary general of the Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP), was gunned down in the streets of Lima. Government officials accused Shining Path of the crime, and the charge reverberated in the media as another example of Shining Path’s savage war against Peruvian society. Shining Path had previously assassinated trade union leaders; in 1989, for example, the Maoists claimed responsibility for the killing of Enrique Castilla, a union activist, in Lima. Yet several observers, including Huilca’s wife, believed the government was responsible. Shortly before Huilca’s murder, President Alberto Fujimori had publicly fustigated Huilcafor challenging the government’s neoliberal economic policies, and insinuated that he and the CGTP leadership were in cahoots with the Shining Path. This would not be the first time a trade unionist was attacked by government forces: in February 1989, Saul Cantoral, a leader of the miners’ union, was kidnapped and later killed by a paramilitary death squad. Several years after Huilca’s murder, international investigators concluded that the Fujimori government was in fact responsible for the crime. The violence inflicted upon trade unionists by Shining Path and government forces throughout the 1980s and 1990s undermined the basis of collective solidarity, contributing to the erosion of the organizational capacity of the workers’ movement and of its political significance.
KeywordsCivil Society Gray Zone Political Violence Urban Poor Democratic Governance
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