Ulster Logo
Link to facebook  Link to INCOREinfo on twitter  Link to INCORE rss feed    Linkedin link Linkedin link

The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

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

(Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999)
290pp. Index. Hb.: $60.00; ISBN 0-8078-2373-2. Pb.: $24.95; ISBN 0-8078-4676-7.

This journalistic account of the early years of one of Latin America's most brutal and virulent insurgencies arrives almost a decade after the appearance of the original Spanish version. Gustavo Gorriti, who covered the Shining Path as a journalist for the Peruvian magazine Caretas, uses the movement's own documents and numerous interviews to weave a psychological narrative of the development of Shining Path ideology, and its political and military strategies, during a three-year period, beginning with its first violent attacks in 1980 and ending with President Belaunde's decision in 1982 to call in the armed forces. Gorriti demonstrates with understated disgust how the Peruvian government's reluctance to call in the military, only recently retired from government, and the incompetence and venality of police and intelligence units, prevented the government from crushing the movement when it was still fragile.

The book was originally intended to be the first of three volumes on the Shining Path's bloody war against the Peruvian state. That war raged into the mid-1990s, when Peruvian intelligence officers finally captured the group's messianic leader, Abimael Guzman. These intentions were abandoned when Gorriti fled Peru after his imprisonment by the Fujimori government in 1992.

Gorriti was among the first to put the movement's seemingly random and inexplicable attacks on state institutions and humble peasants alike into a coherent narrative. His meticulous dissection of the evolution of Shining Path's political line - Marxist-Leninist-Maoist doctrine pushed by Guzman to its illogical extreme - challenged prevailing interpretations derived from the movement's origin in the most Indian province of the country, as well as deep-seated fears among Peru's white elite of the violent revenge of the Inca kingdom.

Military intelligence analysts throughout the hemisphere continue to interpret the ethnic origin of many of the movement's combatants as a resurgence of ethnic violence - a tendency exacerbated by superficial comparisons to Mexico's Maya-based Chiapas rebellion. In contrast, Gorriti demonstrates the lower-middle-class, light-skinned, urban, university-educated origin of the movement's leaders and its primary ideologue. Unfortunately, the book fails to examine fully the social and cultural context in which the movement emerged, which might help explain how the fanatical movement gained a loyal following in the mid-1980s.

Donna Lee Van Cott,
University of Tennessee

Disclaimer: © INCORE 2010 Last Updated on Monday, 10-Aug-2015 12:20
contact usgoto the search page
go to the top of this page