Abimael Guzmán

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Abimael Guzmán
Abimael Guzmán.jpg
Abimael Guzmán in 1993
Leader of the Shining Path
In office
1960s – September 12, 1992
Succeeded byÓscar Ramírez
Personal details
Manuel Rubén Abimael Guzmán Reynoso

(1934-12-03) 3 December 1934 (age 86)
Arequipa, Peru
Political partyCommunist Party of Peru – Shining Path
Spouse(s)Elena Iparraguirre (1989/2010–Present) Augusta la Torre (1964–1988)
ResidenceCallao Naval Base
OccupationFormer philosophy university teacher

Manuel Rubén Abimael Guzmán Reynoso (American Spanish: [maˈnwel ruˈβen aβimaˈel ɡusˈman rejˈnoso]; born 3 December 1934), also known by the nom de guerre Chairman Gonzalo (Spanish: Presidente Gonzalo), is a Peruvian Maoist, the former leader of the Shining Path during the Maoist insurgency known as the internal conflict in Peru. He was captured by the Peruvian government in September 1992 and sentenced to life imprisonment for terrorism and treason.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Guzmán was a professor of philosophy active in left-wing politics and strongly influenced by Marxism and Maoism. He developed an ideology of armed struggle stressing the empowerment of the indigenous people.[1] He went underground in the mid-1970s to become the leader of the Shining Path movement, which began what it called "the armed struggle" or "people's war" on 17 May 1980. He also ordered the 1983 Lucanamarca massacre.

Early life[edit]

Guzmán was born in the village of Tambo near Mollendo, a port town in the province of Islay, in the region of Arequipa, about 1,000 km (620 mi) south of Lima. He was the illegitimate son of a well-off merchant, who had eight children by five different women. Guzmán's mother, Berenice Reynoso, died when he was only five years old.[2]

From 1939 to 1946, Guzmán lived with his mother's family. After 1947 he lived with his father and his father's wife in the city of Arequipa, where he studied at Colegio De La Salle, a private Catholic secondary school. At the age of 19, he became a student at the Social Studies department of San Agustín National University, in Arequipa. His classmates at the university later described him as shy, disciplined, obsessive, and ascetic. Increasingly attracted by Marxism, his political thinking was influenced by the book Seven Essays on the Interpretation of the Peruvian Reality of José Carlos Mariátegui, the founder of the Peruvian Communist Party.

At Arequipa, Guzmán completed bachelor's degrees in philosophy and law. His dissertations were entitled The Kantian Theory of Space and The Bourgeois Democratic State. In 1962, Guzmán was recruited as a professor of philosophy by the rector of San Cristóbal of Huamanga University in Ayacucho, a city in the central Peruvian Andes. The rector was Dr. Efraín Morote Best, an anthropologist who some believe later became the true intellectual leader of the "Shining Path movement." Encouraged by Morote, Guzmán studied Quechua, the language spoken by Peru's indigenous population, and became increasingly active in left-wing political circles. He attracted several like-minded young academics committed to bringing about revolution in Peru. Guzmán was arrested twice during the 1970s because of his participation in violent riots in the city of Arequipa against the government of presidents Velasco Alvarado and Belaunde Terry. He visited the People's Republic of China with his then-wife Augusta La Torre for the first time in 1965. After serving as the head of personnel for San Cristóbal of Huamanga University, Guzmán left the institution in the mid-1970s and went underground.

In the 1960s, the Peruvian Communist Party had splintered over ideological and personal disputes. Guzmán, who had taken a pro-Chinese rather than pro-Soviet line, emerged as the leader of the faction which came to be known as the "Shining Path" (Mariátegui wrote once: "Marxism–Leninism is the shining path of the future").[citation needed] Guzmán adopted the nom de guerre Presidente or Comrade Gonzalo and began advocating a peasant-led revolution on the Maoist model. His followers declared Guzmán, who cultivated anonymity, to be the "Fourth Sword of Communism" (after Marx, Lenin, and Mao). In his political declarations, Guzmán praised Mao's development of Lenin's thesis regarding "the role of imperialism" in propping up the "bourgeois capitalist system". He claimed that imperialism ultimately "creates disruption and is unsuccessful, and it will end up in ruins in the next 50 to 100 years". Guzmán applied this criticism not only to U.S. imperialism, but also Soviet imperialism, to what he termed as "social-imperialism".

In February 1964, he married Augusta la Torre, who was instrumental in founding Shining Path,[3][4] who died under unclear circumstances in 1988. It has been rumored that she was murdered by Elena Iparraguirre, a long-time lieutenant of Guzmán's and his lover, with his complicity.[citation needed] Both have refused to talk about La Torre's fate since their imprisonment. In the fall of 2006, while in prison, Guzmán proposed to Iparraguirre, who is also serving a life sentence in a separate prison. After fighting for the permission to marry with a hunger strike, the couple wed in late August 2010.[5]

Guzmán has always identified with atheism.[6] He agreed with Karl Marx about religion as the "opium of the people", and viewed it as a "social phenomena product of the exploitation and that will extinguish while exploitation finishes to be swept and a new society arise". However, he pleaded respect for religious diversity and claimed religion would not be an obstacle for the armed struggle.[7]


The Shining Path movement was at first largely confined to academic circles in Peruvian universities. In the late 1970s, however, the movement developed into a guerrilla group centered around Ayacucho. In May 1980, the group launched its war against the government of Peru by burning the ballot boxes in Chuschi, a village near Ayacucho, in an effort to disrupt the first democratic elections in the country since 1964. Shining Path eventually grew to control vast rural territories in central and southern Peru and achieved a presence even in the outskirts of Lima, where it staged numerous attacks. The purpose of Shining Path's campaign was to demoralize and undermine the government of Peru in order to create a situation conducive to a violent coup which would put its leaders in power. The Shining Path targeted not only the army and police, but also government employees at all levels, other leftist militants such as members of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), workers who did not participate in the strikes organized by the group, peasants who cooperated with the government in any way (including by voting in democratic elections), and ordinary middle-class inhabitants of Peru's main cities. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission later estimated that the resulting conflict led to the deaths of some seventy thousand people, approximately half of them at the hands of the Shining Path and a third at the hands of the state.[8]

Initially Guzmán attempted to win over the support of citizens by punishing people they viewed as corrupt government officials and other unpopular leaders. However, Shining Path's increasingly brutal methods together with strictly imposed curfews, the prohibition of alcohol and an overall sense of insecurity and fear led to an increased popular reaction against the communist party[citation needed]. Eventually Guzmán's plan backfired as rural militia or "rondas" rallied support for the military against Shining Path. The very peasants Guzmán claimed to defend had turned against the Shining Path[citation needed]. This resulted in a cyclical state of violence in which Maoist guerillas embarked in ruthless punitive expeditions against Peruvian civilians living in the Andean region. In 1983, 69 people (including women and children) from the highland town of Lucanamarca were tortured and murdered by the Shining Path in what became known as the Lucanamarca massacre.[citation needed]

Guzmán's image as a dispassionate murderer became widespread after he moved against the city of Lima. After a series of bombings and selective assassinations the whole nation was shocked in 1992 when a car bomb exploded in one of Lima's busiest commercial districts on Tarata street, thus causing many casualties and enormous material losses. To this day, Guzmán denies responsibility[9] for the Tarata bombing by claiming that it was carried out without his knowledge.

The movement promoted the writings of Guzmán, called Gonzalo Thought, a new "theoretical understanding" that built upon Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism whereby he declared Maoism to be a "third and higher stage of Marxism," having defined Maoism as "people's war." In 1989, Guzmán declared that the Shining Path (which he referred to as the "Communist Party of Peru") had progressed from waging a people's war to waging a "war of movements." He further argued that this was a step towards achieving "strategic equilibrium" in the near future, based on Maoist theories of waging people's war. Guzmán claimed that such an equilibrium would manifest itself by ungovernability under the "old order." When that moment arrived, Guzmán believed that Shining Path would be ready to move on to its "strategic offensive".

Theodore Dalrymple, a conservative English journalist, has written that "the worst brutality I ever saw was that committed by Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) in Peru, in the days when it seemed possible that it might come to power. If it had, I think its massacres would have dwarfed those of the Khmer Rouge. As a doctor, I am accustomed to unpleasant sights, but nothing prepared me for what I saw in Ayacucho, where Sendero first developed under the sway of a professor of philosophy, Abimael Guzmán."[10]


In 1992, during the first administration of President Alberto Fujimori, the National Directorate Against Terrorism (DIRCOTE) began casing several residences in Lima because agents suspected that terrorists were using them as safehouses. One of those residences, in the upper-class neighborhood of Surco, had been operating as a ballet studio. The DIRCOTE operatives routinely searched the garbage taken out from the house. The house was supposedly inhabited by only one person, the dance teacher Maritza Garrido Lecca, but it was soon noticed that the household produced more garbage than one person could account for. Furthermore, agents found discarded tubes of cream for the treatment of psoriasis, an ailment that Guzmán was known to have.[11] On September 12, 1992, an elite unit of the DIRCOTE raided the Surco residence. On the second floor of the house, they found and arrested Guzmán and eight others, including Laura Zambrano and Elena Iparraguirre, Guzmán's female companion.

At the time of capture, the police seized Guzmán's computer, in which they found a very detailed register of his armed forces and the weapons each regiment, militia and support base had in each region of the country. Guzmán had recorded that, in 1990, the Shining Path had 23,430 members armed with approximately 235 revolvers, 500 rifles and 300 other items of military hardware such as grenades. The Shining Path remained active after Guzman's arrest.

Trials and imprisonment[edit]

Guzmán was tried by a court of hooded military judges under provisions of articles 15 and 16 of Law 25475 adopted by Fujimori's government in May 1992 after April's constitutional crisis.[12] The reason for this was to protect the judges' lives, as Shining Path was known for brutal retaliation against judges who convicted their members. After a three-day trial, Guzmán was sentenced to life imprisonment and incarcerated at the naval base on the island of San Lorenzo off the coast of Lima.[13]

Subsequently, he is said to have negotiated with a presidential advisor at the time, Vladimiro Montesinos, in order to receive some benefits in exchange for helping the Peruvian government put an end to the Shining Path's militant activities. Guzmán appeared several times on Peruvian television and on October 1, 1993, he publicly declared "peace" with the Peruvian government.[14] This declaration split the Shining Path and raised questions about the organization's future. About 6,000 guerrillas within the party accepted it as a sign of defeat and surrendered.[15] Others held that it was either a forgery or an insincere statement made under duress.

Although there is little doubt that Guzmán was indeed the leader of the Shining Path, more than 5,000 individuals presented an appeal to Peru's Constitutional Court in 2003 asking that the verdicts against more than 1,800 prisoners convicted of terrorism, including Guzmán, be voided. The court agreed, declaring that the military trials had been unconstitutional and ordering new trials before civilian courts. The new trials began in 2003. Since then, more than 400 prisoners who had been found guilty by military courts have been freed.

Guzmán's re-trial began on 5 November 2004. The international press was held in a sound-proof chamber and all media was banned from observing the trial after the Shining Path cadre turned their backs on the judges and delivered a revolutionary salute to the media gallery. The only words Guzmán spoke in the presence of the international press were "Long live the Communist Party of Peru! Glory to Marxism–Leninism–Maoism! Glory to the Peruvian people! Long live the heroes of the people’s war!" After he made this statement, the courtroom microphones were silenced and the press was unable to hear any of the proceedings that followed. When the trial resumed on 12 November, no reporters were allowed to observe the proceedings. Eventually two of the judges recused themselves and the trial ended in chaos. Guzmán's third trial began in September 2005 and was opened and closed amid a media blackout. No reporters were allowed to attend. On 13 October 2006, Guzmán was sentenced to life in prison on charges of aggravated terrorism[16] and murder.[17] At his sentencing, three judges read the charges in a verdict that lasted more than six hours.[17]

In 2014, Guzmán and his wife Iparraguirre were tried again, for the 1992 Tarata bombing in Lima in which 25 people died.[18] On 11 September 2018, he was sentenced to a second life term in prison.[19]

Guzmán is currently incarcerated in the maximum security prison of the naval base of Callao, the port of Lima. Fellow prisoners there include Víctor Polay, leader of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, and Vladimiro Montesinos, the former head of the National Intelligence Service who supervised the construction of the prison and served under the (now also imprisoned) President Alberto Fujimori.[13][20]

In popular culture[edit]

The 1995 novel The Dancer Upstairs and the 2002 film of the same title are loosely based on Guzmán's capture when living in the house of dance teacher Maritza Garrido Lecca in Lima. The character of "President Ezequiel" is based on Guzmán.

Max Collini and Arturo Bertoldi, members of the Italian indie formation Spartiti, wrote a song - "Sendero Luminoso" - that transcribed a somewhat satirical document drafted in the mid 1980s by dissidents of the Italian Communist Party's youth wing; in the document, Guzmán is described as the new political guide of a rising internationalist movement.[21][22]

Santiago Roncagliolo's 2006 novel Abril rojo is a whodunit set against the backdrop of Sendero Luminoso guerrilla warfare and governmental corruption in Peru. Prior to its publication, it was awarded the Alfaguara Prize, one of the most prestigious fiction awards in the Spanish-speaking world. Roncagliolo had carefully researched the subject and, furthermore, previously published a non-fiction book on the very same matter entitled La cuarta espada: la historia de Abimael Guzmán y Sendero Luminoso (The Fourth Spear: The Story of Abimael Guzmán and Sendero Luminoso).


  1. ^ Nash, Nathaniel C. (1992-09-14). "Blow to Rebels in Peru: An Elusive Aura Is Lost". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Martin, Gus (2011-06-15). The SAGE Encyclopedia of Terrorism, Second Edition. SAGE. ISBN 9781412980166.
  3. ^ "Women's popular movement and the Shining Path: The contradictions of patriarchal women's emancipation". libcom.org. Retrieved 2018-05-05.
  4. ^ "Bloody Peruvian terrorist also had fuzzy side", Latin American Herald Tribune, 2008, retrieved 06-01-2009
  5. ^ "Peru's Shining Path rebel leaders marry". BBC News. 20 August 2010.
  6. ^ "¿Indulto para líder de SL? - Crespo: Abimael se ha planteado asumir su responsabilidad política". 27 December 2017.
  7. ^ "Entrevista al Presidente Gonzalo". www.solrojo.org.
  8. ^ LOS NÚMEROS DE LA VIOLENCIA Archived October 23, 2004, at the Wayback Machine, 29 August 2003, peru.com
  9. ^ "Founder of Peru Shining Path rebellion given second life sentence". Reuters. 2018-09-11. Retrieved 2020-02-25.
  10. ^ Theodore Dalrymple, The Realities of Evil, New English Review, September 2006.
  11. ^ McDermott, Jeremy (2005-10-05). "Ballerina hid brutal terrorist chief". The Telegraph.
  12. ^ "Simple Dissertation Writing Help and Guidancegafisud.info" (PDF).
  13. ^ a b "Alberga prisión peruana a ex líderes rebeldes y a Montesinos". Retrieved 11 November 2017.
  14. ^ "Historia de la lucha armada de Sendero Luminoso en Perú". elmundo.es. 2006-10-14. Retrieved 2013-08-16.
  15. ^ "Profile: Peru's Shining Path". BBC. 2005-11-05. Archived from the original on 16 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-08.
  16. ^ CBC News, Shining Path militant leaders given life sentences in Peru. 13 October 2006. Retrieved on 16 March 2008.
  17. ^ a b Peru's Shining Path founder sentenced to life for terrorism, murder. ABC News, October 14, 2006
  18. ^ Collyns, Dan (2014-01-20). "Former Shining Path leader 'Presidente Gonzalo' faces Peru court". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-04-11.
  19. ^ "Founder of Peru Shining Path rebellion given second life sentence". Reuters. Retrieved 2018-09-14.
  20. ^ "At home in Peru's nastiest cell-block". The First Post. 2006-10-14. Archived from the original on 2007-09-26.
  21. ^ Sendero luminoso - Spartiti (lyrics)
  22. ^ Max Collini e Jukka Reverberi (Spartiti), ecco il primo singolo "Sendero Luminoso". La bottega di hamlin, 22 February 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Koppel, Martin. Peru's 'Shining Path' Evolution of a Stalinist Sect (1994)
  • Lovell, Julia. Maoism: A Global History (2019) pp 306–346 on Peru.
  • Palmer, David Scott. ed. The Shining Path of Peru (2nd ed 1994) excerpt
  • Starn, Orin. "Maoism in the Andes: The Communist Party of Peru-Shining Path and the refusal of history." Journal of Latin American Studies 27.2 (1995): 399–421. online

External links[edit]