Deadly legacy of shabby guerrilla: Peru's euphoria at the fall of the 'people's war' leader may be premature. Colin Harding explains the potency of Abimael Guzman's ideas

HE was known as 'The Chairman', the all-knowing, all-powerful brains behind one of the most ferocious revolutionary organisations of the 20th century. But Abimael Guzman turned out to be a little, middle-aged fat man with a straggly beard and shabby clothes.

Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori had no doubts about the kind of enemy he had faced in Guzman. On television, he described the captured leader of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrillas as a criminal monster, on a par with the Nazi butchers of the Second World War.

To Peru's beleaguered middle classes, who had come to dread the bombings, blackouts and 'annihilation squads' of the past 12 years, this must have seemed like no exaggeration.

Peering through the bars of his cell, Abimael Guzman Reynoso appeared an unlikely cult figure. But he had never had anything in common with the romantic Latin American revolutionaries of the Che Guevara type: the badges, berets and brandished weapons. For all his unprepossessing appearance, Guzman's ambitions were on a world scale. His vision was no less than to turn Peru into the fount of a revolution that, from its source in a remote corner of the Andes, would eventually cover the world. It is for this reason that his followers regard him as the 'fourth sword' of Marxism, the worthy heir of Marx, Lenin and Mao Tse-tung.

Guzman's hold over his supporters has never been based on charisma or spell-binding oratory, but rather on his mastery of ideology. Above all, he showed how to translate political theory into a detailed prescription for political and military action. His route to power, he said, would be 'people's war'.

A mestizo of obscure origins in the small southern port of Mollendo, Guzman graduated in philosophy from the state university of Arequipa. He later secured a lecturing post in Ayacucho, a small town in the south-central Andes, at a time when its ancient and long-somnolent university was changing fast.

In Ayacucho, he seized the opportunity offered by the reverberations of the Sino-Soviet split of 1964 to gain control of the pro-Chinese tendency in the local communist party. Thereafter, through a complicated succession of splits and purges, he 'reconstituted' the local party and made it an instrument of his political will.

For a time in the early 1970s, Shining Path (a name taken from a party publication) dominated the staff and student bodies at Ayacucho's San Cristobal de Huamanga University, where Guzman was head of personnel. Opponents were impressed by the group's discipline and organisation, and by Guzman's powers of persuasion. But they were appalled by its rigid dogmatism and refusal to co-operate with anyone.

Ayacucho was - and is - at the centre of a poor, arid upland region of Indian farming communities and large decaying estates. As far as Shining Path was concerned, the conditions for revolution were already there. But where Guzman showed considerable political acumen was in identifying and harnessing to the cause of 'people's war' the social and political changes taking place in this apparently stagnating region.

Guzman saw the uprooted sons and daughters of illiterate Quechua-speaking campesinos as potential cadres for the revolutionary party and its guerrilla army. He suspected that the ambitious government plans for modern commercial agriculture and ranching in the bone-dry wastes of Ayacucho and neighbouring departments were doomed to failure. He also saw that the teachers and professionals turned out by the university were destined for estrangement from their own over-populated and tradition-bound communities, and discrimination and probable unemployment in the modern urban world outside.

He was right. The products of the university's teacher-training course formed the spearhead of Shining Path's political and military indoctrination drive in rural Ayacucho from the late 1970s onwards.

Shining Path and its People's Guerrilla Army (with perhaps 5,000 full-time members) claim to have reached 'strategic equilibrium' with government forces. More than half of Peruvian territory is under a state of emergency.

But, even before the capture of Guzman, there were signs that Shining Path might have been running out of steam. The party's determination to bring the rural economy to its knees, by closing markets and cutting off supplies to the towns, earned it the opposition of many peasant farmers, who have formed the basis of 'self-defence patrols' controlled by the military. And Shining Path's recent campaign of assassinations of left-wing mayors and town councillors all over Peru appeared to be a sign of frustration, even desperation, at its growing isolation.

Since the capture of Guzman, many second-rank leaders have been rounded up as President Fujimori drives home his advantage. The euphoria in government circles in Lima is palpable. Only time will tell if it is justified.

THE CHAIRMAN SAYS

We are but fragments of time, mere flickers, but our works will last through the centuries.

The armed struggle gleams in our minds, beats in our hearts and leaps irresistibly from our wills.

The Whirlwind is coming, the invincible flames of the revolution will leap up and turn into lead and steel, from the din of battle with its unquenchable fire will come the light, from the dark a luminous glow and there will be another world.

The party cannot be an electoral machine but an organisation for the seizure of power.

The roar of the masses grows. We will make a new and final dawn.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
News
Robyn Lawley
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
Voices
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

All Primary NQT's

£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star