Abimael Guzmán, founder of Sendero Luminoso, the Maoist-inspired terrorist group that spread panic in the 1980s and 1990s in Peru, died this Saturday at the age of 86. Guzmán was serving a life sentence in a maximum security military prison in Lima, where he had been a prisoner since 1992.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the entity that was created to clarify what happened in those fiery years, determined that Guzmán, also known as comrade Gonzalo, was responsible for the death of 30,000 Peruvians killed by the Shining Path. According to the authorities, he died at 6.40 in the morning “due to complications in his health.” In July, the National Penitentiary Institute reported that he refused to eat food and transferred him to a hospital for a few days.
In its day, the then Peruvian government, chaired by the autocrat Alberto Fujimori, focused its efforts on finding Guzmán. The terrorist leader had turned into a ghost. On September 12, 1992, he was captured in a house in the Surquillo district, in Lima, by a special police command. Authorities showed him to the press two weeks later, caged and wearing a black and white striped suit. That image became an icon.
Since that day, he has only been seen on a few occasions, during the judicial processes to which he was subjected, including one in 2019. Those responsible for the prison never allowed him to grant an interview. The boss de facto of the armed forces with Fujimori, Vladimiro Montesinos, visited him often in his cell during his first years in prison. From those encounters a book was born. Montesinos fell out of favor shortly afterwards due to the multiple crimes of corruption that were discovered and ended up incarcerated in the same prison as Guzmán, the maximum security prison at the Callao Naval Base.
Shining Path became known with a boycott of the May 1980 elections in a rural district —Chuschi, in the Ayacucho region — and sought to seize power and replace the democracy that Peru had recovered that year. In his objective to overthrow the State, he embarked the country in a spiral of violence to which the Armed Forces, the police and self-defense committees joined.
A military court sentenced him to life imprisonment in the 1990s. The Constitutional Court, however, annulled the processes because the judges who tried him were anonymous, their faces were not shown for security reasons. The trials were repeated, this time respecting due process, and he was sentenced to the same penalty for various crimes. One of them was the attack on Tarata Street, in Lima, which caused 25 deaths and 155 injuries in July 1992.
The terrorist leader studied law and philosophy in Arequipa, a discipline in which he was a professor, and held administrative positions in the 1960s at the National University of Huamanga in Ayacucho, southern Andean region, where he recruited university students and later professors of school to form the subversive organization.
Guzmán’s death occurs in a Peru presided over by the leftist Pedro Castillo, who on Twitter has condemned the violence that marked the trajectory of Guzmán and the Shining Path: “Our position of condemning terrorism is firm and unwavering,” he said.
The accusations of the opposition and opinion leaders to the Prime Minister, Guido Bellido, and the Minister of Labor, Iver Maraví, of alleged proximity to a political arm of the defunct Shining Path are continuous. The group called Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (Movadef) wanted Guzmán’s amnesty and wanted to register as a political party in 2016, but the electoral court denied registration for signing Guzmán’s proposals. Both ministers of the Castillo government have denied having any link with terrorism or with said organization.
One of the first reactions after the confirmation of Guzmán’s death was from the Minister of Women, Anahí Durand, who commented on Twitter: “Abimael Guzmán, leader of the Shining Path terrorist organization, has passed away. It left destruction, death of families, peasant communities, police, Armed Forces and social leaders. Let us work to strengthen a democracy without extremism or authoritarianism. We want a society of peace ”.
One of the congresswomen from the government party, Peru Libre, insisted on this disengagement from violent organizations. Betssy Chávez tweeted: “Terrorist Abimael Guzmán died defeated. Fulfilling the sentence of the Peruvian justice. It is our task to inculcate that the new generations work for Peru only in democracy and never in extremism ”.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.