Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sendero Luminoso: Peruvian Social Reality

The barefoot, ragged boys in the Diagonal attack every car like a pack of dogs, offering to wash it, guard it, scrub the whitewalls. Others wander from table to table, offering to make the customers’ shoes shine like mirrors. (They say the bomb that exploded here was placed by boys like these.) (149)

This quote from The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta is an observation from the protagonist as he sits in the late 1980’s in the Miraflores restaurant Haiti.

I walk by Haiti nearly every day. It looks lovely now and is always crowded. One would never imagine that it had once been a place of violence and fear. Vargas Llosa's book helped me to understand a little better the terror of the days when restaurants could become killing fields.

Many people are loath to speak about this time of fear. I was able to speak to my host family’s empleada about the time of Sendero Luminoso. She lived in a rural community as a child during that time, and she told me that even gossips were targeted, that if you simply talked too much Sendero could come. She said that if someone didn’t like someone else, they would denounce them to Sendero. She talked about it as a time of great fear, but yet somehow detached. Perhaps because she was only a child, or perhaps she did not want to delve deeper. I did not press about it.

Sendero is not only a thing of the past.

The New York Times reported in 2007:

LIMA, Peru, Jan. 10 — A ruling by an international human rights court telling Peru’s government to honor 41 leftist rebels killed in a 1992 prison raid has provoked public indignation, and the government is considering withdrawing from the court.

The article reports that Peruvians were enraged that these prisoners, killed after they had surrounded history tells us, would be at all honored. This shows how much, years later, people are still (and rightly so) sensitive to the topic of Sendero. There is naturally still fall out from such an atrocious period of time.

Only recently (June 5th 2011), Sendero acted again, Milenio reports:

Tres soldados muertos y otros seis heridos dejó el sábado una emboscada de presuntos miembros de Sendero Luminoso a una patrulla que se dirigía a custodiar los comicios presidenciales del domingo en una zona del sureste, dijeron autoridades militares.

Sendero has become involved in narcotics trafficking, keeping their activities in the jungle area of drug labs, as you can watch on Al Jazeera's short documentary.

The New York Times had a hopeful tone when they reported in 2006 that new and more peaceful times had brought a growth in literary art in Lima.

But Lima is once again one of Latin America’s brightest literary scenes, and in the last year, Peruvian writers have won prestigious literary prizes in the Spanish-speaking world for novels that deal with fallout from the war years and, in doing so, add to a growing literature of terrorism and the risks to democracy in fighting it.

Alonso Cueto is a famous Peruvian author.

But the article ends with this ominious quote:

“This was the man who was within a breath of leading Peru,” said Jorge Bruce, a psychoanalyst and social commentator. “Now he is marginalized and shunned, but tomorrow who knows?”

Tomorrow is now, and Ollanta Humala,

whom the quote references, is Peru's next president.

Who knows what will become of Peru?

As a study abroad student who has never lived through violence or fear, it is hard for me to wrap my mind around the daily life of a Peruvian during Sendero Luminoso. Even having read novels about it, watched movies such as La Boca Del Lobo, I simply cannot imagine how brutal such a life was, nor how people can be socialized to become killing squads. Watching Youtube videos of Senderistas in prison shows them to be a disciplined army. I would be interested to read further about the sort of training new Senderistas undertook to allow them to go from being university students to ideological killers.

Perhaps (and hopefully) I will never understand Sendero Luminoso fully. I only hope that the conditions that supported their birth have been understood enough to have them changed.

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