Sendero and the violence
The uprising of Sendero had an ideological background. In July 1975 I was present at the conference of the radical Peruvian peasant organisation CCP on a former estate taken over by the land reform.
But the political projects for national liberation inspired by revolutions such as those in China and Cuba were threatened. Che Guevara was assassinated in his attempt to lead the Bolivian peasantry to armed revolution.
In Chile Salvador Allende died when defending his democratically elected socialist government against the coup of general Pinochet.
Andres Luna Vargas and Julio Cesar Mezzich
Zooming in on my pictures from the peasant conference you can see Andres Luna Vargas who belonged to the communist organization Vanguardia Revolucionaria standing to the left of the bust of Mao. Sitting on the other side of Mao is Julio Cesar Mezzich, still belonging to the same organization but four years later a convert to Sendero Luminoso.
Mezzich had participated in the same land occupations as Flor’s father Samuel and the moment of his conversion to Sendero is present in Storm in the Andes .
In 1980 the Peruvian military handed over to an elected government. The majority of the left wing parties participated in the elections but lost. Sendero Luminoso had long prepared for another road. The day before the elections they attacked the remote Andean community of Chuschi and burnt the ballot urns.
Abimael Guzman, philosophy professor at the University of San Cristobal in Ayacucho, his wife Augusta La Torre and other leaders of local Andean origin had initiated the armed struggle for power. Following the example of the Chinese communist revolution Sendero planned to first take the countryside with the participation of the poor peasants, then encircle and invade the cities and bring down the bourgeois state. On the propaganda painting with Guzman the acronym ILA stands for ‘Inicio de la Lucha Armada - Beginning of the Armed Struggle’.
In the south central Andes Sendero Luminoso at first gained influence. The elections had not inspired hope in the poor masses of Peru. In villages and towns long abandoned by the state Sendero punished local criminals and corrupt authorities, started party schools and established an authoritarian rule.
© Oscar Medrano
The locals sometimes supported, sometimes tacitly accepted the presence and activities of Sendero - also fearing the consequences of opposition.
Sendero responded the repression with equal brutality and the conflict rapidly escalated into outright massacres from both sides. Racism and lack of respect for the rights of the indigenous population within the army was an important cause of the violence. But the almost religious cult of violence and disrespect for the lives and traditions of the peasantry in the ideology of Abimael Guzman also played an important role in the descent to chaos that Peru began to experience. The news reflected the atrocities every single day in the 1980’s.
The demand for justice that undoubtedly motivated many leaders and supporters of Sendero Luminoso from the beginning vanished rapidly when confronted with the reality of war. This did not appear to be a problem for Abimael Guzman. Among his most famous quotes is ‘Everything but the power is an illusion’.
The leaders of the state walked hand in hand with Sendero down the road of violence. Alan Garcia assumed presidency in 1985 and soon lost control both of the economy and the war against Sendero.
© Jaime Razuri
Peru sank deeper into poverty and in June 1986 the army massacred hundreds of prisoners accused of terrorism.
Flor’s brother Claudio was one of them and the struggle for truth and justice in his case is an important part of Storm in the Andes.
The ruins on the prison island Fronton are still an open accusation against president Alan Garcia who commanded the armed forces.