The World Today for October 04, 2021


Death of a Salesman


Peru will cremate the remains of Abimael Guzmán, the founder of the Shining Path rebel group that caused tens of thousands of deaths in the South American country in the 1980s and 1990s. Guzmán died in prison on Sept.11 at the age of 86. An ex-philosophy professor and Maoist revolutionary, he was serving a life sentence on treason and terrorism charges.

As Reuters explained, the fate of his body after his death has been controversial. Peruvian authorities did not want to bury the late terrorist out of fear of creating a shrine for some who might see him as a martyr. His widow, who is still in jail on treason and terrorism charges, wanted to have his ashes but her request was denied.

Shining Path was one of many insurgencies in Latin American from the 1970s through the 1990s that began as an effort to enact leftist policies to help the poor, small farmers and others but evolved into a fighting operation. It, however, was “a totalitarian outlier, a Maoist cult of personality constructed to glorify Guzmán’s messianic fantasies,” wrote the New Yorker. On Mao’s birthday in 1980, for instance, Guzman ordered his followers to kill and mutilate street dogs in protest of then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s tolerance of free markets.

The public debate over the cremation illustrates how Peru is still grappling with the legacy of one of Latin America’s bloodiest rebel conflicts. “What is Guzmán’s place in the history of Peru?” asked Carlos Meléndez, a political analyst at Diego Portales University in Chile, in the Washington Post. “Without statues, without tombs, without pilgrimage sites, what will be the symbolism with which we bury Guzmán in Peru’s history?”

He noted that the reckoning with the past has yet to occur: The violence is “something that we as Peruvians have not yet collectively processed,” he said. “Many of the ingredients that caused the Shining Path to explode are still present.”

Ironically, Guzmán lived long enough to see the first Marxist-Leninist president of Peru, Pedro Castillo, assume power in July, no mean feat in a country which has, thanks to Shining Path, often demonized the left. Guzmán’s acolytes are members of Castillo’s cabinet and serve in the Peruvian Congress, noted a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. Castillo has been pushing to concentrate power in his office and install more Shining Path leaders throughout government, too.

Around 40 percent of Peruvians believe that some top officials harbor sympathies for the Shining Path, according to polls cited in the Rio Times, an English-language newspaper based in Brazil. Critics are waiting with “knives out” to stop Castillo if he missteps, wrote Jacobin, a leftwing news magazine. The president, meanwhile, faces poor odds. Peru has had four presidents since 2016. Prosecutors have charged three with corruption. A fourth committed suicide before his trial, Le Monde Diplomatique noted.

Still, Castillo condemned Guzmán’s violence after his death, distancing himself, perhaps, from the revolutionary’s worst impulses, Americas Quarterly wrote. But as the publication noted, that a leftist president now leads Peru shows how much the country has already moved on.

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