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Lima,  Peru


A New Revolution?

Over four million peasants now live in the shantytowns of Lima. Most came in search of environmental equities but today they still live in poverty with even greater scarcities and a government unable to come up with solutions. This raises the question; is Peru ripe for a new revolutionary movement?

Recently, a group of protestors marched from their illegal settlement across a surrounding stretch of desert. Their voices are raised against unfair housing regulations. Their destination is the local police headquarters.

Is there among the next generation another Abimeal Guzman waiting to ignite a revolution? Unless the issue of environmental inequities is resolved, millions of Peruvians have very few choices — a continued life of poverty, the start of a new revolutionary movement or a mass migration north. The future of their nation is in their hands.

Violence | Disease | Water

On a cliff overlooking Peru's Pacific coast are the remains of an ancient Inca shrine called the Temple Of The Sun. It's not a particularly impressive site; it's more of a graveyard of memories, a reminder of long ago struggles. Destroyed by the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro in 1532, its inhabitants were exiled to the most remote parts of the Andes Mountains.

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

Several years later, Pizarro established a permanent settlement 25 miles to the north, along Peru's coastal desert. Today, the people of Lima are commemorating the city's 466th birthday. The celebration reflects a mixture of Spanish and indigenous customs — with a touch of contemporary commercialism.

Thanks to an increase in tourism, Lima has undergone a major face-lift. An architectural refurbishing of the city's center has restored of the colonial look that has distinguished Peru's capital. But the urban renewal never reached Lima's shantytowns that line the city's perimeter.

Built atop one of the world's driest deserts, this is not an easy place to live — yet it is home to half of Lima's population. Most are unemployed migrants forced from the remote highlands of the Andes — the very land Pizarro exiled their ancestors to nearly 500 years ago.

This is an area of exceptional natural beauty. But looks can often be deceiving. Life is hard for the subsistence farmers here, who own very little land, yet must produce enough food to live on for the entire year. If there is a drought, there's hunger. If there's a surplus, it's sold at local markets. Even in the best of years this is a difficult existence. For years these people have toiled on marginal land and in extreme poverty — often the perfect conditions for igniting a revolution.

Mother and child in rural Peru

Mother and child in rural Peru

That's exactly what happened more than three decades ago. They called themselves Sendero Luminoso — "The Shining Path" — and its leader was Abimeal Guzman, a charismatic university philosophy professor. From the beginning in the early 1970s, Guzman was supported by peasants made desperate by environmentally based grievances.

For nearly 20 years Guzman's Shining Path waged a brutal guerrilla war. Violence and torture were directed at anyone who disagreed with the revolutionary movement. The government's vicious counter-insurgency efforts were equally as bloody. Politicians, rebel leaders and the innocent were routinely assassinated.

Caught in the crossfire, the rural poor — looking for nothing more than government land reforms — felt betrayed by both sides.

On July 16, 1992 the Shining Path mounted an attack on Lima. They detonated a truck bomb in the heart of the city's business district. Twenty-two were killed, 250 were injured, and a weeklong reign of terror followed. At the peak of the violence, the Shining Path came close to capturing Lima and taking control of the nation.

Several weeks later security forces discovered Guzman's hiding place. They videotaped him meekly surrendering to the police, and repeatedly aired the footage on Peruvian television. It was the start of a carefully orchestrated campaign to strip him of any credibility.

His capture was followed by a circus-like media event. Guzman, forced to wear a clownish prison costume, was put on display before the world's press. He no longer resembled the god-like image his followers believed him to be.

Without its leader, the Shining Path movement ultimately fell apart. Guzman was sentenced to life in prison — but not before leaving behind a legacy of 30,000 deaths and a climate of fear that drove nearly a million people from the countryside.



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