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The War Nerd July 24, 2003
 
Shining Path - the Comeback Tour
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
 
Page 2 of 2
 
"Keep men, lose land--Land can be taken again.

Keep land, lose men -- Land and men both lost."

So Mao is the original advocate of the "Hearts & Minds Strategy." Guzman learned his lesson and worked on organization for fifteen years before his guerrillas fired a shot. He took all his radical students out to the villages where the Inca peasants lived, hunkered down with them and won them over.

To see how that could happen, you have to realize how bad these people were living. Peru is one of those places that's just never had one good day in history, ever. The Inca were just plain weird, with their rope notes and rope bridges and whatever. And then Pizarro comes in and with a few dozen Spanish soldiers kills the Inca emperor, steals all the gold, and puts the peasants to work in the gold and silver mines as slaves. No pay, no nothing, just the whip if you slow down and the sword if you complain. Nobody knows how many Indians died in those mines, but it's well into seven figures. Then it's the usual Latin American transition from Spain to the local Mestizos taking over -- except they treat the Indians just as bad as the Spanish did and nothing changes.

Hell, at the altitude some of those Quechua live, you can't even say "the air is free," because there's barely enough oxygen to go around.

Life is corn and potatoes and not much of either. All they've got is the coca leaves -- they chew 'em with a piece of coal and go around drooling big black ropes of cocaine spit. If somebody calls you an Indian ("indio") in Peru, you're supposed to be ashamed. If you're a Quechua who wants to move up, George and Weezie Jefferson style, you turn into a "Cholo." (That sure ain't what "Cholo" meant where I come from, but hey....)

So it made a big impression on the Inca peasants when all these rich, shiny white people from the cities came to their villages and told them about a Workers' Paradise where everybody would be equal.

Guzman played it smart, the way Mao said: by the time he gave his cadre the word to start the war in 1980, he had a big strong network in place all over Peru. The revolution hit high gear around 1985. For five or six years, Shining Path looked unbeatable. They were strong in the cities as well as the villages. And they were smart, adaptable guerrillas who added some techniques of their own. Like shawls and dynamite. One thing Peru has plenty of is dynamite -- all those mines means a lot of blasting. And the other thing it has is Quechua women in big shawls. So Shining Path taught women how to turn their shawls into slings. They'd light a stick of dynamite, throw it in their shawls, whirl it to get some torque and let fly at the target. They bombed embassies, ambushed army units, killed villagers who didn't want to join and just generally raised Hell all over Peru. It wasn't pretty but it was working.

Then the cops found Guzman and it just seemed to collapse. Now that's a little odd. A lot of revolutionary movements have kept going after the big charismatic leader gets captured. So why the sudden collapse after they got Guzman? Maybe it was the way PsyOps (with some CIA help) made Guzman look so lame in his bumblebee suit. But maybe it goes back further. If you remember learning about the Inca in elementary school (do they still make kids do that in California? I sure had to.), you might recall that once the Inca himself, the emperor, got captured, everything stopped dead. No more resistance. From then on the Spanish were able to order millions of Inca peasants around like cattle. So maybe the way Shining Path stopped dead after Guzman was captured is just the way Inca culture works.

Or maybe they can find a new Guzman, a new Inca. It's happened before. The Spanish killed Atahualpa, the Inca emperor, in 1532. But Tupac Amaru started a revolt against them in 1780. That's right -- 250 years after the conquest, right when America was fighting the British, the Incas were still fighting the Spanish.

These people are patient. You can stomp them for a while, but like Arnie, they'll be back. Maybe in another 250 years or so they'll finally win one.

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Gary Brecher
Browse author
Email Gary at war_nerd@exile.ru, but, more importantly, buy his book.
 
 
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