Who are the rebels,
what have they accomplished, and what are they fighting for today?
Peru Fact Sheet #2 is also available in PDF format. Print the PDF file, copy and distribute!
May 17, 1980: An historic day dawned for oppressed people in Peru and around the world. In a village high in the Andes Mountains, guerrillas of the Communist Party of Peru (Partido Comunista del Perú-PCP) burned ballot boxes. In another village they led peasants to seize land and punish hated landlords. Freshly painted slogans appeared on walls-Armed Struggle! For a Workers' and Peasants' Government! Down with the New Reactionary Government! In the capital city of Lima, revolutionaries attacked a police station in a poor neighborhood. The revolution in Peru had begun, and it continues today!
Peru lies on the Pacific Coast of South America. From a narrow plain along the coast, the Andes Mountains rise to nearly 20,000 feet, then fall off to the jungles and forests of the Amazon basin to the east and north.
Ever since the Spanish conquest 500 years ago, Peru's people have been brutally exploited, first by the conquistadors and later by imperialist powers like the U.S. and by a handful of rich Peruvian capitalists and landlords. Millions of Peruvians barely survive-many eat less today than the Incas did five centuries ago. Most peasants have little or no land. Indigenous peoples, who make up nearly half of Peru's population and often speak Quechua or Aymara, are discriminated against and kept on the bottom of society.
In 1980 Peru's government was holding elections, but the PCP knew this vote would change nothing. Only a revolution that overturned the whole system could truly solve the people's problems.
1980-1982: After years of organizing among the people, the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) launched the revolution in mountainous Ayacucho Department in central Peru. There, government forces are weaker than in the cities and millions of peasants thirst for liberation. Small groups of guerrillas, armed only with slingshots and dynamite, attacked police stations, captured weapons and drove out government forces. Between 1980 and 1982, revolutionaries fought hundreds of battles with the rural police forces, and gained wide support among the people. In 1982, 30,000 people-half the city of Ayacucho-turned out for the funeral of PCP guerrilla leader Edith Lagos, who was murdered after being captured.
The PCP is carrying out the strategy of protracted people's war, which is based on the teachings of the Chinese revolutionary Mao Tsetung. This strategy is based on mobilizing the peasantry as the main force in a war centered in the countryside. Through waging armed struggle, revolutionary political power is established in base areas throughout the countryside, and the masses are mobilized to join the army and give other forms of support to the revolution. The PCP says, "Ours is a peasant war that is being led by the party. It is converting the countryside into an armed bastion of the revolution."1
At first, the oppressors are much stronger than the revolutionaries. When the People's War began the Peruvian military was over 200,000 strong, while the revolutionaries numbered in the hundreds. Yet through the twists and turns of protracted warfare, the revolutionary forces can weaken the oppressors and gain strength bit by bit, until it is possible to seize nationwide power.
Driving out government authorities and landlords in Peru's central highlands opened the way for the organization of dozens of People's Committees and revolutionary base areas (made up of several committees). People's Committees are popularly elected and made up of 1/3 PCP members, 1/3 poor peasants and 1/3 supportive middle class people.
These committees and base areas are the backbone of the People's War and represent the beginning of a new society where power is in the hands of those who've never had any-the workers and peasants who carry the country on their backs. The PCP's program explains that land is divided among the peasants according to the principle "land to those who work it." Collective planting and harvesting are organized. In the central jungle regions where peasants have had to grow coca (which is refined into cocaine) to survive, the PCP protects them from the drug traffickers, while helping them shift to food crops and cut ties to the drug economy.
In liberated areas, the people build new culture, new justice, and new social relations. Religion is neither promoted nor restricted, and education is carried out in the native language of the people. The PCP fights to overcome centuries of male domination so that women can play a powerful role in society, as equals with men. Many women are guerrilla fighters, commanders, and PCP leaders. In the base areas men and women are given equal shares of land and have equal rights, like the basic right to divorce which has traditionally been denied women in Peru.
1982-1985: As the People's War took root, the Peruvian government geared up to savagely counter-attack. The PCP described this period as a clash between a "counter-revolutionary war to smash the new political power and restore the old," and a "revolutionary war to defend, develop and build the newly arising people's power." 2
In late 1982 the government of President Fernando Belaúnde Terry sent the armed forces, which are advised and trained by the U.S., to the countryside to replace the rural police, which had failed to crush the People's War. The government declared many areas "emergency zones" and abolished civil rights. Thousands were arrested, raped and tortured. Whole villages suspected of supporting the revolution were massacred, and a number of People's Committee's were destroyed. Peruvian General Cisneros said the military's strategy was, "it is necessary to kill ten peasants to kill one guerrilla." 3 Overall, some 8,700 people were murdered by Peru's military between 1983 and 1984. 4
In the face of these atrocities, the PCP led the masses in fighting back with a campaign of "Winning Base Areas." This firm leadership and the peasants' great revolutionary heroism enabled the PCP to grow stronger and form the People's Guerrilla Army. New people's committees and base areas were formed, and others that had been destroyed were reorganized. The People's War spread throughout the mountains of Peru.
The People's War was also gaining strength in the cities. During a February 1985 visit to Peru, the Pope visited Ayacucho and called the revolution "evil." When he returned to Lima, PCP fighters cut power and blacked out the city. The brightest light came from a huge bonfire in the shape of a hammer and sickle, burning on a hillside overlooking Lima.
All this was the opposite of what the government had planned.
June 19, 1986: Hundreds of captured PCP fighters and supporters continued the struggle from inside Peru's prisons. With help from family and supporters on the outside, filthy, cutthroat dungeons were transformed into well-organized schools for revolution, where food and cooking were shared and study sessions and team sports organized. The red flag of revolution literally flew from these prison walls, and the PCP named them "Shining Trenches of Combat."
Peru's rulers hated these inspiring revolutionary examples. On June 19, 1986, the government of Alan Garcia-who claimed to be a socialist-launched a full-scale military assault on three prisons. After several days of fierce resistance, 300 heroic revolutionaries had been massacred by government troops, 100 of them killed in cold blood after being captured. Until the end, revolutionary prisoners defiantly chanted "this blood that has been spilt shall never be forgotten." The PCP declared June 19 the "Day of Heroism."
1986-1992: During the 1980s, revolutionaries carried out an estimated 200,000 armed actions, 5 and by 1992 the Peruvian government had declared 23 of Peru's 24 departments (like U.S. states) emergency zones. The People's War had gained so much strength that in 1992 a U.S. military analyst warned, "Between 25 and 40 percent of Peru is now estimated to have come under either open or shadow Sendero administration" and "should these trends continue, Sendero ... will win in Peru." 6
The U.S. is the main imperialist power behind the Peruvian regime. This is why the PCP demands "Yankee Go Home!" In the late 1980s the U.S. government greatly stepped up its support and direction of Peru's counter-revolution. It helped form a special intelligence group to hunt down the PCP's leadership. 7 The U.S. resumed military aid and built up its own military presence in Peru under the cover of the "war on drugs." It trained Peruvian soldiers in counterinsurgency tactics, such as arming and organizing counter-revolutionary paramilitary groups called "rondas." The U.S. mapped Peru's mountains and jungles from satellites, built up radar and communications systems, and opened a counterinsurgency base in the Upper Huallaga Valley that reminded reporters of U.S. firebases in Vietnam.
The U.S. also pumped up its slander campaign against the PCP, hypocritically labeling it a "terrorist" group. But the revolution has grown by relying on the people-not terrorizing them-while the U.S.-backed regime rules through terror against the masses. Even a U.S. military study admitted that the "terrorist" label "is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the insurgency" and that the strength of the People's War comes from an "extensive set of political and social networks that exist beneath the surface of large segments of Peruvian society." 8
These "networks" have grown out of the agrarian revolution for land, the base areas, and the people's armed forces. 9 In 1986, the PCP led land invasions in the highlands of southern Peru involving tens of thousands of peasants. The first People's Committees had to be underground, but by 1989 many were strong enough to lead openly.
The People's Guerrilla Army was now able to mount bigger and more coordinated operations, and to occupy major cities-even entire regions. In 1989 People's Guerrilla Army fighters surrounded and completely destroyed an Armed Forces base in Huanuco in the central highlands, and in April of 1990 they launched a fierce attack on the U.S. base at Santa Lucia and damaged seven helicopters. For several days in 1988, the People's Guerrilla Army shut down most of the departments of Ayacucho, Apurimac, and Huancavelica in Peru's central highlands and many cities in the northern Huallaga region. In one instance, some 5,000 peasants joined PCP fighters and worked through the night to dig up roadways and cut trees to block 185 miles of the Central Highway so the military couldn't enter the area.
The People's War remained centered in the countryside, but the PCP was playing a more active role in the cities too. Lima, where one-third of Peruvians live, was rocked by armed demonstrations in 1989 and 1990, and armed strikes in 1991 and 1992. And the PCP joined with workers and community members to fight for their basic necessities. In Raucana, an urban squatter settlement near Lima, the PCP helped organize collective production, food distribution, and home building-until the government attacked and forcibly evicted the people.
The PCP's strategy is to build a broad, revolutionary united front against the government, and in the early 1990s support for the People's War was growing among lawyers, small businesses, students, women, and trade unions. Over half of Peru's population is under twenty-one, and youth are central to the People's War: one journalist called it "a youth movement supported by their parents." 10
1992: Revolutions don't march straight to victory; twists and turns are inevitable. In April 1992, President Alberto Fujimori and Peru's military, backed by the U.S., staged a coup. They then suspended the country's constitution, abolished people's basic rights, disbanded the Congress and dismissed most judges-all to more brutally attack the People's War.
In Lima, troops occupied college campuses, swept neighborhoods, and arrested or detained over a half million people! 11 The regime set up hooded military tribunals that have railroaded thousands into Peru's dungeons, where an estimated 4,000 political prisoners remain locked away today. 12 Fujimori called for a "little Vietnam" war against the revolution in Peru's countryside. The CIA directed this dirty war through its agent Vladimiro Montesinos, the head of Peru's National Intelligence Service and Fujimori's chief adviser.
On September 12, 1992, the Peruvian secret police captured the leader of the PCP, Dr. Abimael Guzmán, popularly known as Presidente or Chairman Gonzalo. Then on September 24, 1992, the regime put Chairman Gonzalo on display for the world media in a prison cage. They wanted to demonstrate that the People's War had been defeated, but Chairman Gonzalo shocked the assembled officials and journalists with a defiant speech. He called his capture "only a bend in the road" and declared that the revolution would win in the end. Tens of thousands of people from over 40 countries joined an international campaign to defend his life.
Chairman Gonzalo's capture, together with the loss of other key leaders, presented the People's War with serious new difficulties. In September 1993, President Fujimori claimed that Chairman Gonzalo had called for negotiations with the government "to reach a peace accord" to end the People's War. The Central Committee of the PCP rejected the call for peace negotiations, calling it "a hoax," and declared that the People's War should-and would-continue. Yet it was soon apparent that a major struggle over the direction of the revolution had erupted within the PCP. Some people who have been associated with the PCP argued that the difficulties facing the revolution were too great to overcome so it was necessary to seek a peace agreement. Because Chairman Gonzalo has remained locked in an underground cell with no direct contact with anyone outside prison, it has not been possible to determine with certainty what Chairman Gonzalo's views actually are.
The PCP is a participating party in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM), an international grouping of Maoist parties and organizations. After careful study and investigation, the Committee of the RIM (CoRIM) also condemned the call for peace accords saying, "there is no need and no correct basis for negotiations leading to the end of the People's War." The CoRIM called for efforts to continue to end Chairman Gonzalo's isolation and to try to determine his current views. "The key question, however," said the CoRIM, "is the line, not its author"-in other words, the key issue is which political line or strategy will advance the revolution. The CoRIM also called for an international campaign "to render the greatest support possible to the PCP and the People's War it is continuing to lead."
1995-Today: President Fujimori had bragged that he would wipe out the People's War by July 1995. This has turned out to be empty hype. Although the revolution has suffered serious setbacks, it still has deep roots among the people, and the PCP Central Committee continues to lead the People's War forward. In a 1995 report the Central Committee called upon revolutionaries to "overcome the bend in the road," and defiantly declared, "Nothing is impossible if you dare to scale the heights!"
Revolutionary base areas have been successfully defended and maintained thanks to the extraordinary heroism of the people. The revolutionary armed forces continue to carry out actions in Peru's mountains, jungles, and cities. As of July 1996, the PCP was reported to be active in fifteen of Peru's twenty-four departments. 13 Mainstream media reports express concern that the PCP is "coming back."
The need for revolution in Peru remains as urgent today as it was on May 17, 1980. Most Peruvians still live and die in brutal conditions and yearn for something better. They deserve and demand our support.
It is right to rebel against oppression!
Support the People's War in Peru!
THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF PERU
or the PCP (often called “Shining Path” or “Sendero Luminoso”) has a long history in Peru and is deeply rooted among the people. In the 1960s Dr. Abimael Guzmán (known as Presidente or Chairman Gonzalo), led in the revitalization of the Party. The PCP was forged into an organization firmly based on the teachings of the revolutionaries Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, and Mao Tsetung as applied to Peru’s conditions. And it was committed to taking the historic step of launching the People’s War.
The PCP is fighting for a “new democratic revolution” to totally uproot imperialist domination and traditional semi-feudal relations from Peru. This revolution would clear the way for socialism and then communism. Peru’s revolutionaries are internationalists who’ve pledged to “Serve the people and the world proletarian revolution.” 14 For them, victory in Peru is a step towards a world free of all forms of oppression: class divisions, sexism, racism and national oppression. They are not about selling out or stopping short. “We base ourselves on the masses of the country who support us, principally the poor peasants. We are not linked and will not be linked to any superpower or any other power, since we firmly serve the revolution guided by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and the guiding thought which is the application of Marxism to our conditions.” 15
Committee to Support the Revolution in Peru PO Box 1246, Berkeley, California 94701 415-252-5786 * Fax: 415-252-7414