In Castillo’s Peru, the legacy of the Shining Path proves difficult to overcome


LIMA, Peru — Less than a week after the death in prison of Abimael Guzman — the aging founder of the Shining Path Maoist guerrilla that once drenched this Andean nation in blood — Peru’s divided Congress passed a law guaranteeing the cremation of his body.

The rushed bill, approved last friday with 70 votes for and 32 against, aimed to prevent Guzman’s grave from becoming a sanctuary for his fundamentalist ideology. Guzman and her supporters believed that a proletarian utopia had to be built, almost literally, on the bones of the bourgeoisie – a class she defined as anyone who had not adhered to the personality cult of the former professor of provincial philosophy.

There had initially been some confusion as to whether Guzman’s only known relative, his widow Elena Ipaguirre, had a legal right to claim his body, given that she, like him, was serving a prison sentence. in perpetuity for terrorism. But his lawyers were trying.

The new law put an end to this possibility, allowing prosecutors to dispose of the remains of any prisoner who died while serving a sentence for treason or leading a terrorist organization, and whose funeral or grave could pose a threat to “national security” or “order. public ”. Guzman’s ashes should now be scattered across the Pacific Ocean or thrown into an unmarked grave.

The macabre saga shows once again how Peru has failed to come to terms with the devastating legacy of the Shining Path, which sparked what was arguably Latin America’s most savage internal conflict of the last century. Lawmakers could and should have anticipated this moment long before the death of Guzman, 86, imprisoned since 1992 and in long ill health.

While the reasons for this lack of historic closure are complex, they can be largely boiled down to absurd objections from the Peruvian hard-right, including supporters of Keiko Fujimori, the corrupt former presidential candidate and daughter of the 1990s dictator. Alberto Fujimori. – any attempt to understand the rise and fall of the Shining Path.

The ultra-conservatives here frequently defame Peruvian academics, artists, and anyone else seeking to explore this dark chapter in the country’s history as terrorists themselves. The practice is so routine in Peru that it even has its own verb: terruquear, from the Quechua word for terrorist, terror.

This climate of hostility has not only ended the national debate on the Shining Path. It has also led teachers to avoid the controversial topic in public schools, creating a generation of young Peruvians who are largely unaware of the trauma suffered by their own parents.

Yet the right is not alone in its visceral reaction to the horrors inflicted by Guzman’s supporters. Inspired by its feverish, almost millennial rhetoric of shedding “reactionary flesh” and “crossing a river of blood,” the group was so blind and brutal as other Marxist rebel movements in Latin America, which were inspired by the Cuban movement rather than the cultural movement Revolution, seemed subdued in comparison.

Bitterly ironically, the Shining Path, which has always been repudiated by an overwhelming majority of Peruvians, also had a penchant for mistreating the remains of its victims. More infamously, after killing her in front of her two young sons in 1992, members of the group dynamited the corpse of Maria Elena Moyano, an Afro-Peruvian feminist activist who had dared to criticize the Shining Path’s violent opposition to democracy. .

For many Peruvians, Castillo’s message is a huge missed opportunity to allay concerns over his government’s alleged sympathies for the Shining Path.

According to Peru’s official report on truth and reconciliation, an estimated 69,000 people were killed during the peak years of the group’s insurgency in the 1980s and 1990s, at least 28,000 of them were directly in the hands of Maoist fundamentalists, who mainly targeted the rural poor – the same people they claimed defend. Most of the rest, including many innocent of any connection to the terrorists, were victims of a clumsy and indiscriminate military response by the Peruvian state.

Even more worrying than the country’s failure to come to terms with its bloody past is the fact that the fledgling government of President Pedro Castillo, the left-wing black horse candidate who won the June presidential runoff, appears to include no only the Shining Path apologists, but at least one cabinet minister who was said to have been one of the group’s bombmakers.

According to police records at the time, recently revealed by Peruvian media of commerce, other members of the Shining Path testified that Castillo’s current labor minister, Iber Maravi, was active in the group in the early 1980s, when he taught other insurgents how to use dynamite and participated in an attempted bombing of the local headquarters of the Ministry of Education in the central Andean region of Ayacucho, the epicenter of the bloodshed by extremists.

After the revelation of his alleged past, Maravi insisted that if the accusations were true he would have been convicted a long time ago. But he clearly failed to offer another explanation for what he did at the time. He then tendered his resignation, leading most observers to assume Maravi’s days in Cabinet were over, but Castillo rejected the resignation without providing an adequate public explanation.

Other members of the Castillo cabinet are used to sympathizing with the Shining Path, even being directly involved in the group. Prime Minister Guido Bellido was quoting Guzman with approval on his Facebook timeline as recently as 2019, with an article also quoting Jose Carlos Mariategui, the founder of Peruvian communism, who opines: “If the revolution requires violence, authority, discipline, I am for violence, for authority, for discipline. I accept them en bloc, with all the horrors, without cowardly reservations.

To make matters worse, one of the few dissenting voices in Congress regarding Guzman’s remains came from Elias Varas, one of the official spokespersons for Castillo’s Free Peru Marxist-Leninist Party. Consider the need for legislation To resolve the dilemma of what to do with the body of the former terrorist leader, he said: “The death of a person is his end, and the body is turned into a thing, and from this then we are all equal. “

Indeed, the 32 votes against the bill all came from the legislators of Free Peru. Their reasoning was in fact sound: that the law violated basic legal principles by taking effect retroactively and being designed to respond to the situation of a single individual.

However, this application of judicial rigor was irrelevant for a party that has often flouted the rule of law, notably by allegedly financing its electoral campaign through corruption, and by appointing party faithful to public posts for which they clearly lacked the required Qualifications.

The president has, at least, quickly sign law into law. Refusing to do so would have been unthinkable and might even have triggered his impeachment. Yet he did so without making any public comment on what is, for this troubled, multicultural society, a deeply symbolic moment.

Castillo had, on hearing of Guzman’s death, tweeted his “firm and unmistakable” condemnation terrorism. But for many, the message was disappointing and superficial, a huge – and predictable – missed opportunity for Castillo to allay concerns about his government’s alleged sympathies for the Shining Path. It is not yet clear how many missed opportunities the Peruvian public and Congress, dominated by the conservative opposition, will offer the president.

Simeon Tegel is a freelance journalist and analyst based in Lima, Peru. Follow him on Twitter at @ SimeonTegel.


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