LIMA, Peru – Abimael Guzman, the leader of the brutal Peruvian Shining Path rebellion who was captured in 1992, died Saturday in a military hospital after falling ill, the Peruvian government said.
Justice Minister Anibal Torres said Guzman, 86, died at 6:40 a.m. after contracting an infection.
Guzmán, a former philosophy professor, launched a rebellion against the state in 1980 and presided over several car bombings and assassinations in the years that followed. Guzmán was arrested in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison for terrorism and other crimes.
Economy Minister Pedro Franck said the Shining Path “killed thousands of innocent people and disturbed the peace of the country. Let us not forget the horror of that time and his death will not erase his crimes.”
Guzmán preached a messianic vision of a classless Maoist utopia based on pure communism, considering himself the “fourth sword of Marxism” after Karl Marx, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Mao Zedong.
He called for a peasant revolution in which the rebels first took control of the countryside and then advanced into the cities.
Guzmán’s movement declared armed struggle on the eve of the presidential elections in Peru in May 1980, the first democratic vote after 12 years of military rule.
Throughout the 1980s, the man known to his followers as President Gonzalo established an organization that grew to 10,000 armed combatants before being captured inside a Lima bunker in September 1992 by a special intelligence group of the Peruvian police backed by the United States. Since then, he has been placed in a military prison on the shores of the Pacific Ocean built to hold him.
By the time Guzmán called for peace talks a year after his arrest, guerrilla violence had claimed tens of thousands of lives in Peru, displaced at least 600,000 people and caused an estimated $22 billion in damage.
The Truth Commission in 2003 blamed The Shining Path for more than half of the nearly 70,000 deaths and disappearances caused by various rebel groups and the government’s brutal counterinsurgency efforts between 1980 and 2000.
Yet he lived through a political movement formed by Guzmán’s followers that sought amnesty for all “political prisoners”, including the founder of the Shining Path. However, the Amnesty Movement and the Basic Right failed to register as a political party in 2012 in the face of fierce opposition from Peruvians with bitter memories of the devastation wrought by Shining Road.
The “Lighting Path” in its songs and slogans celebrated bloodshed, describing death as the necessity of “irrigating” the revolution.
Its militants bombed electricity towers, bridges, and factories in the countryside, assassinated mayors and killed villagers. In the last years of the insurgency, they targeted civilians in Lima with indiscriminate bombing.
For 12 years, the Peruvian authorities could not break the ranks of the luminous path, organized in an almost impenetrable columnar cell structure. Guzman was nearly captured in a bunker in Lima in June 1990, but he slipped away.
A January 1991 police raid in Lima found a videotape showing Guzmán and other rebel leaders in mourning at the funeral of his wife, Augusta la Torre, known as “Comrade Nora”. La Torre was about 15 years younger than Guzman, and was No. 2 in the Shining Path command structure before dying under mysterious circumstances in 1988.
Analysts believe she may have been killed or forced to commit suicide due to an internal political dispute.
The video showed a chubby Guzmán, wearing thick glasses and tapping his fingers as he danced while drunk to music from the 1960s movie. Zorba the Greek. This was the first photo that Peruvians had seen of him since a shot in a mug taken during a 1978 arrest.
After La Torre’s death, she was replaced in second place by Elena Iparraguirre, the pseudonym “Comrade Miriam”, who later became Guzmán’s wife.
Guzman married Iparraguirre in 2010 in a maximum security prison inside the naval base in Lima where he was serving a life sentence. Iparraguirre, who was also arrested in 1992, was brought from the women’s prison to attend the ceremony.
Guzmán was initially sentenced to life in prison by a secret military court, but the Peruvian Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the original ruling was unconstitutional and ordered a new trial. He was also sentenced to life imprisonment in a 2006 retrial.
The Shining Path was severely weakened after Guzmán’s arrest and his subsequent calls for peace talks. However, small groups of insurgents remained active in the remote valleys, producing cocaine and protecting drug smugglers.
Guzmán was born the illegitimate son of a prosperous merchant in Tambo, Arequipa, in the southern Peruvian Andes on December 3, 1934.
He studied law and philosophy at the University of San Agustin in Arequipa, where he wrote two postgraduate theses: “Kant’s Space Theory” and another on law entitled “The Bourgeois Democratic State”.
“Mr. Guzmán was an extraordinarily brilliant man, very hardworking and very disciplined,” recalls Miguel Rodríguez Rivas, one of his teachers.
Guzmán took a teaching job in 1963 at the State University of San Cristobal de Huamanga in Ayacucho, an impoverished Andean capital neglected for centuries by Peru’s traditional elite in coastal Lima.
In Ayacucho, he joined the pro-Chinese political party Bandera Ruja, or “Red Flag”, becoming head of his “military commission” and visited China in 1965.
After returning to Ayacucho, Guzmán discovered that political rivals had expelled him from the party and formed his own splinter group.
A descendant of the white elite that has ruled Peru since the Spanish destroyed the Inca Empire nearly 500 years ago, Guzmán enlisted the sons and daughters of indigenous Quechua-speaking peasants as he gradually took control of the university.
During the 1970s, his student following extended to the countryside to make detailed studies of the societies that would be used years later to consolidate guerrilla control in the region.
Over the course of 10 years, Guzmán patiently plotted before launching his war on what he described as the “corrupt and antiquated” state of Peru, taking the government by surprise.