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Shining Path

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The Shining Path (Spanish: Sendero Luminoso), officially the Communist Party of Peru - Shining Path, (Spanish: Partido Comunista del Perú – Sendero Luminoso) is a Peruvian Maoist communist party and a terrorist organization that was founded in the 1960s and, in varying forms, has existed since. Members are called Senderistas, and they attempted a communist revolution (because that always works out so well) by overthrowing the fragile Peruvian government, which was dealing with hyperinflation and recovering from a 12-year dictatorship. It was crushed by the next dictatorial regime on the block, that of Alberto Fujimori. They have had infrequent resurgences since, but never regained their full strength. It is not to be confused with that other(!) Peruvian leftist terrorist group, the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), which was considered the more "moderate" one.[note 1] Yes, there were two — splitters!


The Shining Path was founded in 1969 by former philosophy professor Abimael Guzmán (1934–2021) (referred by the group as Comrade Gonzalo) who was inspired by a visit to the People's Republic of China. They started out as a run-of-the-mill crackpot political party, but became militant as the military regime of Francisco Morales Bermúdez was forced to accept civilian rule. Refusing to recognize the government elected in 1980 as legitimate, "Comrade Gonzalo" declared "The People's War" by burning ballot boxes.[1] The Senderistas were able to take over large swaths of territory and even took control over various provincial capitals, and they named these territories the People's Republic of New Democracy, later known as the People's Republic of Peru.

They gained ground in part because the new government mistrusted the military and refused to deploy them even when the problem transcended the ability of police to handle. Recovering from a military dictatorship will do that. In turn, many common citizens felt abandoned, making them receptive to, or at least passively tolerant of, the militants. They also performed brutal acts of "street justice" to endear themselves to locals. Those working for the government were not the only targets — a fair amount of anti-Shining Path leftists, even overt communists, were still seen as enemies. One of the most notorious cases of this was the brutal murder of María Elena Moyano,Wikipedia a feminist and leftist activist who actually worked to better the conditions of the Peruvian people.[2] They also attacked the MRTA, who threatened their precious monopoly on Marxist terrorism.

This changed when Fujimori took power. He ran in 1990 as the "tough on crime" guy, and seizing dictatorial power in 1992 certainly made following through on that easier. He captured Guzmán that same year, which killed the momentum of Shining Path, considering what a massive personality cult that they were. When he eventually endorsed peace talks from prison, the group imploded over whether to follow him or not. Only one of these holdouts (the Militarized Communist Party of Peru, or MPCP) is still active today, and it has at least rhetorically distanced itself from the original group.[3]

The MPCP got back into the headlines with the San Miguel del Ene massacre during the highly polarized 2021 general election.[4]


Adopting a specialized variant of Maoism called "Marxism–Leninism–Maoism–Gonzalo thought," Guzman and his Senderistas took China's Cultural Revolution, Stalinist Russia and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as models for their revolutionary program.[5] As one might guess from their Maoist-derived doctrine, they recruited more among rural areas than cities — this was a contrast with the more urban MRTA. They also denounced the very concept of human rights, claiming they merely served bourgeois interests.[6] This also led them to support Anti-electoralism, another staple of Maoist movements. Of course, other than "we are violent and use leftist motifs," most of the remnants post-Guzman have long since stopped having any coherent ideology. In fact, the Militarized Communist Party of Peru in the impoverished VRAEM region is pretty much a drug cartel cosplaying as a revolutionary movement.


Their downfall (along with that of MRTA at around the same time) was critical in allowing Fujimori to consolidate his ill-gotten power. By claiming that he would save Peru from communism, he gained legitimacy as a strongman.[7] It also allowed him to attack leftist critics wholly unrelated to the Senderistas. Former president Alan Garcia was chased to Colombia even though Shining Path intended to overthrow him! Indeed, almost all left-wing movements in Peru are demonized as somehow connected to them, no matter how ridiculous the supposed "connection" is.[8] It is ironic, but not unexpected, that they hurt the Peruvian left far more than they helped it (something authoritarians communists excel at).

See also[edit]


  1. In this context, that just means they tried to be more particular with their targets.