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The Shining Path: A History of the Millenarian War in Peru

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Gustavo Gorriti

Gorriti skillfully relates the story of Sendero members, victims, and targets, weaving together a coherent description of the movement.Latin American Research Review    One of the most informative accounts of the first phase of the … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: Gustavo Gorriti
Genre: History
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
1 review about The Shining Path: A History of the Millenarian...

Not for beginners, uneven, but valuable testimony

  • Nov 6, 2004
The book by Gorriti I call an account rather than a history, because it conveys the movement in medias res, published in 1990 as the SL prepared to assault the capital, well before the 1992 capture of Guzmán and the persecution of Gorriti. In a 1998 preface, he briefly describes how, when president (elected in 1990) Alberto Fujimori staged a coup in 1992, he was arrested for his investigational journalism into the president and his `Creole Rasputin'-right before the arrest of Comrade Gonzalo. Gorriti managed to escape, files spirited out of the country too, and wound up in Panama working for its paper La Prensa. There, in 1996, he again faced his enemies as that government threatened him after he exposed a campaign financed by a Colombian drug cartel. He lived in his office for weeks, so as to foil police plans for his deportation. He emerged victorious, determined to uphold-in what he calls `cosmetic democracies', a free press.

At the time Gorriti compiled his tale of the SL, he had intended it as part of a three-volume work on the Peruvian Communist Party and its many alphabet-soup off-brands. This shows, as I was instantly immersed into a detailed narrative of unions, strikes, police machinations, and bureaucratic-to me-trivia. The book is probably not the first place to go for a quick introduction to the situation into which Sendero Luminoso stumbled. Gorriti clearly addresses an audience more familiar than I was with his country. Still, the gifts of his journalistic verve carried me through pages of departmental decisions into powerful chapters that highlighted the deadly nature of Guzmán's millenarian blend of Lenin, Marx, Mao, and messianic apocalypse that plunged-literally-much of his nation into darkness and resulted in at least 70,000 deaths, half of these at the hands of those who claimed to liberate the people from their imperialist oppressors. Half of these at the hands of those who claimed to protect the people from their revolutionary oppressors.

This is Gorriti's achievement. Eschewing the glib slogans of the left and the harsh vows of the right, he tracks the rise of the Shining Path from a few students tossing dynamite-a commodity readily nicked from the mines-to police reprisals and the spread of societal breakdown across the Andes and into, as the book ends, the edges of the city. What the history lacks is a context for foreign readers into which Guzmán and his ilk can be placed. Not even his birthdate is given; we know nothing here about his early schooling, what kind of a doctor he was, or how José Carlos Mariátegui founded the PCP, apparently in the 1930s. This information, which any academic editor would insist upon in a conventional manuscript, is, I assume, assumed by Gorriti not to matter or to be common knowledge to his Peruvian audience. Robin Kirk (who has written a lefty's view of Perú, The Monkey's Paw) translates what, given my knowledge of Spanish, I presume carries the uneven rhythms of the original prose, with its leaden `he said, she said' reports from within the corridors of power as well as its nearly cinematic vignettes of attacks and reprisals from the front.

Given these drawbacks, nonetheless, the uneasy mixture of dry minutiae about police intelligence sloshes against a potent additive. Excellent analyses of Sendero rhetoric and the emergence of his death cult demolish naive leftist praise for this deadly insurgency; on the other hand, the reprisals that the Senderos provoked and received resulted in innocents being taken with the guilty--and the two sometimes becoming blurred.

The energy with which he describes the attacks by the guerrillas on the Ayacucho police stations, the torture of suspects, the funerals of officers and cadets, the rain on a tin-roofed shanty where a teenaged girl guerrilla shows her interviewers the marks of her abuse by her captors: all of these vignettes unforgettably inscribe themselves on your memory.

(Edited from a review article, "No Escape from the Anthill" at the on-line Belfast journal The Blanket)

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