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In Peru’s Andes, Shining Path leader’s death stirs buried memories of terror By Reuters


© Reuters. A street in Ayacucho (Peru) is visible at night. The area Shining Path, a Peruvian terrorist group founded by AbimaelGuzman has recently been destroyed. Picture taken September 13, 2021. REUTERS/Alessandro Cinque

By Marcelo Rochabrun

ÑUÑUNHUAYCCO, Peru (Reuters) – In Ñuñunhuaycco, a tiny village in the Peruvian Andes, residents recall almost daily a terror that once haunted them every time the sun went down.

Locals used to run up the hills before dusk, in order to escape the Shining Path militants who were trying to overthrow the Peruvian government and establish their Maoist-style communism.

“We had two small children. “We had small children. (My wife) used to carry one child and pull the second, even though she was pregnant. We’d then go sleep in a ditch,” said Cirilo Huallanca, 62, a farmer who has lived all his life in Ñuñunhuaycco.

He wept as he spoke of the sadness he felt.

The death of Abimael Guizman, who was the Shining Path’s founder and professor, has stirred memories of these years. Arrested in 1992, he died in prison on Sept. 11 while serving a life sentence.

In Ñuñunhuaycco and the surrounding Ayacucho region, where Guzman first launched his insurgency, many people Reuters spoke with said his death could not heal wounds and grief that they had bottled up over decades.

A total of 69,000 Peruvians died in the conflict between the Shining Path (the state) and violence by both the Shining Path. Many bodies were never found.

Rodomila Segovia, who was a social worker and claimed that her uncle and mother were murdered by the Shining Path. She also claims she was subject to sexual assaults by the military during the 1980s.

The Truth and Reconciliation commission of Peru says that the most suffering came from indigenous Quechua-speaking peoples in Ayacucho. According to the Truth and Reconciliation commission, slightly more than half the victims were killed by The Shining Path. Another third were killed at the hands of military authorities. Others were attacked by self-defense peasant communities.

Guzman is still a controversial figure. There are disagreements over his remains.

To avoid creating a gathering place for his supporters, many want to scatter and cremate Guzman’s ashes. Sebastian Chavez Sifuentes (a Guzman lawyer and the widow of Guzman who is currently in prison) told Reuters that they would prefer cremation, but keep their ashes. The public ministry of Peru denied Wednesday’s request for the body to be handed over.


Guzman launched his bloody Maoist insurgency in 1980 by burning electoral ballots. In Latin America, Shining Path was quickly one of the deadliest guerrilla movements.

After the Shining Path was defeated, the government turned to military forces and sent troops to Ayacucho where they had to differentiate between insurgents from peasants.

Guzman’s escape was famous as Peru plunged into chaos. He was eventually captured in Lima’s middle class neighborhood in 1992.

While the Shining Path was no longer considered to be a threat militaryly, violence has stopped and it is now not believed that Shining Path remains a danger. Militants from a dissident faction killed 16 people in May this year, authorities said.

A law that defines ‘apologizing for terrorist acts’ as a crime and can lead to imprisonment is criticised. Former militants and victims said that they fear speaking out because their words could be misinterpreted, or twisted.

“We can’t talk freely,” Lurgio Gavilan said. He was 13 when he joined the Shining Path. Later, he became a soldier, and now teaches anthropology at Ayacucho’s San Cristobal University. This is the exact same university where Guzman used to teach philosophy.

We are called terrorists when someone speaks and then takes it out of context.


The town of Ñuñunhuaycco, like much of Ayacucho, shows little outward signs of trauma.

There are only a dozen houses made of mud, all surrounded by hills. The town has no police station. The streets are filled with cows, and there is no obvious monument. It sits high up on a hill without any path to reach it.

The truth is that there are many victims of trauma beneath the surface.

Porfiria, who is the owner of a small store, claimed that one of her daughters was born while she was hiding in the hills.

We couldn’t even eat because it was so painful. Cuenca said Quechua, “When the sun set, we prepared to climb hills.” It’s hard to fall asleep when I recall that.

Jorge Castro is Cuenca’s nephew. He said that he was 13 when he joined Shining Path after they had a recruiting meeting. His father, who was a teacher, had been a member of a centralist political party. Soon, however, Castro became a target for the rebels.

Cuenca claimed Castro asked for his freedom. Castro is now an elementary teacher in Ayacucho, and a taxi driver.

A lot of Ayacucho’s young people were either forced or participated in the Shining Path’s events.

Those nuances are present in the memorial overlooking Ñuñunhuaycco. In May 1983 there were eight deaths. In 2012, their relatives put up a memorial plaque.

While the plaque says that their deaths occurred during political violence, it does not give any specific blame.

Huallanca stated that they were as persecuted by the Shining Path as the military.

Segovia last saw her mother in person was the day she took her to Lima for safety. Her quest for her mother’s body in Ayacucho led to DNA analysis and the identification of bones. According to her, the body had been torn up and eaten by an animal. Guzman’s passing does not give her any closure.

He committed genocide. He has been taken to the hospital, but he is now dead,” she stated.

Have we ever found our loved ones’ bodies? It’s not possible to give flowers or bring them flowers anywhere, even for their birthday.

Huallanca wept.