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A Look Back At The Dark Legacy Of Abimael Guzmán

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A notorious figure in Peru and across Latin America whose leadership marked an era of violence is dead. Abimael Guzman, the founder and leader of the Shining Path guerrilla movement, died in prison over the weekend at 86 years old. Between bombings, kidnappings and other acts of violence, an estimated 70,000 people died during the Shining Path's insurgency. Many deaths were attributed to Guzman's orders. We're joined now by Renzo Aroni, a historian of Latin America.

Welcome.

RENZO ARONI: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So I want to start by asking, you know, for people in the audience who don't know, who exactly was Abimael Guzman?

ARONI: Well, Abimael Guzman was a native from the Andean city of Arequipa in southern Peru, where he got degrees in philosophy and law. And then later in the early 1960s, he moved to Ecuador City, where he got this position as a professor. Most students at this university were first-generation college students and Indigenous Quechua descendants. However, Abimael Guzman guided these students to a radical politics. And the students soon ventured into the countryside as teachers to convert rural peasants to the goals of the revolution.

CHANG: Well, as you explained, the Shining Path movement initially relied on the Indigenous people of the Andes, but later the Indigenous community turned their support away from the Shining Path. How did that happen?

ARONI: At the beginning, the Shining Path rapidly, you know, gained some support in the early years. But later, because this authoritarianism of the Shining Path and some of this fierce actions that was killing local authorities, Indigenous peasant decided, you know, to refuse. So they began to organize themselves in a building, this multicommunal coalition against the Shining Path.

CHANG: The Shining Path guerrilla movement was known for its extremely cruel tactics, but tens of thousands of deaths during those years were also attributed to the government in Peru. What was the role of the government during those years?

ARONI: Very early years 1980s was difficult, I guess, for most of the government security forces to struggle against this insurgence moving, you know, in this Indigenous communities as kind of civilians. So they committed a lot of human rights abuses, including massacres, disappearances. But later, the government armed forces learned that they have to gain the peace and support in order to defeat the Shining Path. And they did it.

CHANG: Well, now Peru has a new president, Pedro Castillo, whose new government is clearly left-leaning. He, of course, has denounced any form of violence, but some members of the political opposition still try to link his government to the legacy of the Shining Path. So how do you see Castillo still grappling with all this history?

ARONI: Well, I mean, the new president - he takes the new administration over under very challenging circumstances. And, of course, there are some critiques against part of his cabinet accused being apologetic along with the Shining Path. And I think he needed, you know, to take a position clear - right? - and to be more confrontational, you know, to be more strong in this decision, to be against, you know, anything that related to Shining Path, the brutality and the terror and the trauma and the consequences that we're still, you know, struggling on. I don't know if he's going to do that, but, I mean, the process is still going on around the divide, so...

CHANG: Renzo Aroni is a historian and lecturer at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University.

Thank you very much for joining us.

ARONI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALT-J SONG, "3WW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.