Documenting the Peruvian Insurrection

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From the holdings of the Firestone Library at Princeton University

On May 17, 1980, four militants of the Communist Party of Peru-Shining Path entered the provincial Ayachucho market town of Chuschi and burned the ballot boxes to ashes. With this, they launched a "people's war" against the Peruvian government. Their offensive, which provoked an equally horrific military response from the Peruvian state, waxed and waned for fifteen years. The death toll ultimately totaled more than 30,000 people. Remnants of this guerrilla force remain encamped today in the Peruvian highlands, but the insurgency was basically crushed with the 1992 imprisonment of the Shining Path's leader, Abimael Guzmán.

Today, the insurrection continues to be the object of intense scholarly scrutiny because of its unique features. The Shining Path's use of messianic rhetoric and military means coincided, ironically, with the beginning of a period of liberalization in Peru and the country's return to a limited democracy after twelve years of dictatorship and repression. Equally surprising is the fact that a great deal of Guzman's wrath fell upon leftist opponents, trade unionists, intellectuals, and peasant communities, whom he saw as providing insufficient support for Shining Path goals. In the end, the Shining Path militants, who as one scholar has noted, employed the methods of Pol Pot in the decade of Perestroika, became notable first and foremost for their voluntarist "refusal of history."

This collection includes party documents and ephemera from the 1960s, 1970s,and 1980s, which cast a bright light on the theoretical, political, and psychological genesis of the Shining Path's descent into an apocalyptic and bloody rural campaign for power. This political material is complemented by a large assemblage of government counterinsurgency strategy discussions and surveillance reports, as well as documentation of specific events of the war.

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