Peru Forced to Confront Deep Scars of Civil War
IMA, Peru — During a scorched earth military campaign that threatened to topple the government here, the Maoist guerrilla group known as the Shining Path terrorized Peru with assassinations, bombings, beheadings and massacres. So Peruvians were rattled last year when a group of former guerrillas began collecting signatures to create a political party to participate in the democratic process they had once sought to destroy.
Among their goals was an amnesty for crimes committed during the war, which lasted from the early 1980s to 2000; it would allow the release of jailed Shining Path leaders, including the group’s reviled founder, Abimael Guzmán Reynoso.
More than a decade after the struggle largely ceased, the rebels’ attempt to move into politics has stirred emotions that are still raw and reopened a searing national debate on what the war meant and how to move on.
“We are at this moment in a fight over what to remember and how to remember,” said José Pablo Baraybar, executive director of the Peruvian Team for Forensic Anthropology, which has exhumed bodies from several mass graves from the war years.
What alarmed many Peruvians about the Shining Path’s effort to reinvent itself was that many of the hundreds of thousands of signatures the former guerrillas collected came from college students too young to recall the turmoil of the war. Driving home the point, a television station broadcast interviews with young people who were unable to identify a photograph of Mr. Guzmán, whose bearded face was once as recognizable as that of the president.
“It showed that many young people don’t know anything about what happened,” said Fernando Carvallo, national director of the Place of Memory, a three-story museum being built in Lima to commemorate the conflict. In a sign of how deep the wounds remain, even a project intended to be as evenhanded as this one was initially opposed by the previous president, Alan García, and has depended on foreign financing, mainly from Germany and the European Union.
In January, election officials rejected the effort to create a new Shining Path-linked party, ruling that the group adhered to anti-democratic principles and had failed to meet some technical requirements of the election law.
Peru has seen impressive, although uneven, economic growth in recent years, but many of the inequities that helped set off the guerrilla conflict remain, including crushing poverty in urban slums and villages and marginalization of indigenous populations.
At least one faction of the Shining Path remains active in a remote jungle in central Peru, where its activities are focused on drug trafficking. It recently shot down a military helicopter and killed several soldiers, giving Peruvians an uneasy feeling that the awful past was not so distant.