Peru Historical Overview: Internal Armed Conflict

Internal Armed Conflict

Military rule continued until General Francisco Morales Bermúdez Cerruti - who deposed General Velasco in 1975 - agreed to return power to civilian authorities in 1980. On the eve of the first elections in 17 years, members of the Maoist organisation, the Shining Path (SP), demonstrated their rejection of electoral politics by burning ballot papers in a small town in Ayacucho. This was the first incident in a twenty-year internal conflict, in which nearly 70,000 people would lose their lives.

SP leader Abimael Guzmán, a former university professor, advocated the use of brutal terrorist tactics to achieve his goal of an agrarian revolution in Peru. The organisation sought to eradicate elements of the established political and social order – such as community leaders, teachers, professors, and political leaders - and to besiege and starve the cities. Its ideology and tactics, based on classic Maoism, were notably more radical than those of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (known by its Spanish acronym MRTA), a smaller insurgent organisation which emerged around the same time.

In an effort to combat the insurgency the government declared a state of emergency in parts of southern and central Peru in 1981. In 1983, the army was brought in to subdue SP. However, this ultimately proved counterproductive as accusations mounted that state forces were abusing the wide ranging powers they had been granted. During the early to mid-1980s the armed forces perpetrated several massacres in the region and were accused of torturing, raping and forcibly disappearing civilians. Such abuses served only to assist the growth of SP, which some locals came to see as the lesser of two evils. By the time of the 1990 presidential elections the organisation had developed a strong presence in south/central Peru and even in some public universities and shanty towns near Lima.