Opinion

No one mourns the death of Abimael Guzmán in Peru

atalayar_sendero-luminoso-perú

No one is crying in Peru, at least not openly, for the death of Abimael Guzmán, the founder and leader of the terrorist organisation Shining Path, of sad memory and worrying present. For several years his organisation sowed terror in the country, where he leaves behind the memory of nearly 50,000 dead. He was 86 years old and had been imprisoned for 29 years in a high-security cell at the Callao naval base near Lima.

Guzmán was a direct residue of the revolutionary attempts that proliferated in Latin America under the example of the guerrilla struggle that achieved communist establishment in China and the myth of Che Guevara after his death in Bolivia. When he was a philosophy professor at the university, he founded a Marxist party that promoted peasant rebellion in rural areas.

The idea quickly caught on among the indigenous peoples of the Andes, and he developed a guerrilla structure which, with little-known outside help and the profits from drug cultivation, spread to several departments, including the capital, where he carried out several attacks. From the very beginning, the Shining Path revealed its intention to combine revenge propaganda against those most forgotten by fate with the use of violence.

He resorted to all methods, from attacks to executions of people considered enemies of his extreme ideas, kidnappings, assaults, robberies and threats. Its main targets in the fight against the system were the armed forces, the police, political leaders, public officials and businessmen. Between 1979 and 1992, Sendero Luminoso spread terror throughout the country with its kidnappings and assaults.

Dictator Alberto Fujimori's open war against the organisation was waged over a long period against a fanatical, resentful guerrilla movement, backed by the disinherited and common criminals in the most intricate Andean terrain, and with the sympathy and clandestine support of some intellectuals and extreme left-wing activists in the cities.

Abimael, a character who was hardly ever seen or photographed, became a myth, an enigmatic character who aroused both panic and personal curiosity. Although he had no relations with foreign governments or revolutionary organisations, it was never made clear where he got his weapons from. Everything around him was shrouded in mystery.

It was assumed that he remained in some mountainous redoubt, inaccessible to his pursuers, barely moving around his area of influence, but on 12 September 1992 the Peruvian intelligence services, with the collaboration of the CIA, located his presence in the Lima neighbourhood of Surquillo. In a large deployment of police forces, he was arrested without resistance along with his wife, Elena Ipaguirre, also accused of terrorism in the so-called "Operation Victory". He was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Shining Path did not disappear with the arrest of its leader almost three decades ago. It continues to exist and to engage in confrontations with the military. The leader's death coincided in time with the arrival in government, in democratic elections, of a president, Pedro Castillo, also ideologically Marxist, who was sometimes accused of sympathising or identifying with Shining Path.

But his expected reaction to Abimael's death left no room for doubt. In his statement after the news broke, he avoided the sentiment that any death usually causes and instead affirmed his condemnation of terrorism and his promise to combat it. Our condemnation of terrorism is firm". In almost all political, economic and cultural circles, condemnation was unanimous.